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THEN & NOW: Protests in Northeast Wisconsin

From the Local 5 Digital Desk

(WFRV) – Northeast Wisconsin, like many communities across the U.S., became host to protests following the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

And while the Black Lives Matter protests have been front and center across the nation in 2020, Northeast Wisconsin is not unfamiliar with demonstrations that have marked key turning points in its local history.

To jump to a certain event, click below:

Appleton Peace Day Parade | Oshkosh Black Thursday | Green Bay Open Housing Ordinance | Occupation of the Alexian Brothers’ Novitiate | Northeast Wisconsin George Floyd Reaction

PEACE DAY 1936 – APPLETON

  • The Veterans of Future Wars began as a parody of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It was “the brain child of three Princeton undergraduates with a hilarious idea of prepaid patriotism and a bonus before they fight,” according to The Lawrentian.
  • The parade was intended to move from Lawrence’s campus through Appleton, but students were informed: “the permit to parade down College Avenue was withdrawn and that no one would be allowed to march off the campus” by Chief of Police George Prim.
  • At least four participants in the parade were injured by authorities, according to The Lawrentian.
  • Professors, campus officials express support for students, call for the removal of the Chief of Police.

Lawerence University – then Lawerence College – students met a heavy police presence on April 22, 1936, when they gathered without a permit for a Peace Day parade in response to the Veterans of Future Wars. At least four participants in the parade were injured by authorities, according to The Lawrentian.

The permit for the parade – which was originally approved – had been revoked. Louis Cherney, the demonstration leader, called Appleton Mayor John Goodland and asked for a permit to be reapproved. Mayor Goodland said he would not, explaining that “as far as the parade was concerned ‘he did not believe in it,'” according to The Lawrentian.

Days after the march, Mayor Goodland would say he and the Chief of Police were concerned that violence may have ensued if the demonstration was not kept on Lawrence’s campus.

Organizers were warned to break up the parade or violence would occur, causing them to ask for additional police presence at the event. Police Chief Prim was originally to lead the parade and had permitted the parade to leave the campus, but revoked it “at the last minute.” Had the parade been allowed to leave campus, The Lawrentian estimates it “would have been blocks long.”

Lawrence University Archives report 700 students were participating in the march. Women were pushing baby buggies followed by signs identifying them as the “Infant-Ry.” Men followed with stretchers and coffins carrying banners reading “St. Peter Pays no Bonus!,” “The Living Dead,” “We Haven’t been Gassed Yet,” and numerous other phrases.

The Lawrentian says students arrived at the corner of East College and Drew Street and were circling the campus. Eyewitnesses said some students stepped off of the curb and were heading toward the downtown area.

One article on the front page outlined the clash between students and police, saying:

“Appleton police climaxed the Lawrence Veterans of Future Wars Peace demonstration when an officer seized Albert Haak, former Wauwatosa High football player, by the shoulder and clubbed him on the head. Students rushed to the aid of Haak, who collapsed as he was knocked out, and carried him to the infirmary where the gash in his head was sewed up. Kenneth Walker, business manager of the Ariel, was bashed on the head as he encountered the police led by Chief Prim. Robert Shroeder, Milwaukee East’s track star, succeeded in crossing the street but took a clip on the neck with a policeman’s club as he ventured back in no man’s land. Gerard Hecker, last season’s football captain and a Phi Beta Kappa member, received blows on his arms as he maneuvered near the front lines in the thick of the struggle.”

Numerous Reverends in attendance “pleaded with police officers to control themselves and their clubs.” One, Rev. John Hanna, submitted a letter to the editor, saying in part:

“You have acquitted yourselves with distinction in the face of an opposition that was as ruthless as it was stupid. Let no one cause you to think that you are ‘yellow’—as a bystander said to me, because you did not attempt to beat up the cops after they had slugged Albert Haak. Your conduct was of the kind that give hope and encouragement to all who put their trust in persistent heads and hearts rather than impulsive fists and guns.”

The Lawrentian says bulletins were distributed to “the business men of Appleton” after conflicting reports arose following the demonstration. The bulletins outlined the position of Lawrence students, saying:

“’First, college students would like to convey the fact that present-day American youth have no desire to be drawn into another war.’ Secondly ‘Our aim is to ridicule the recent bonus fight in Washington without criticizing the accomplishments of the American Expeditionary Forces and the Gold Star Mothers’ contributions.’

During a meeting of the Board of Trustees, The Lawrentian reports that the committee requested the Police Chief and members of the department involved in harming students be reprimanded.

By the time students were leaving campus for the summer, Mayor Goodland sent a letter to university president Dr. Wriston. The mayor says that as time passed, it became apparent that students were allowed by university authorities to hold the parade and that he “certainly did not anticipate the use of clubs on students who did not offer any violence to police or who apparently were not committing any offense for which they could be arrested.” He went on to express his regret for what happened.

Dr. Wriston responded, saying that the students are not “fully mature,” but that is why they are attending college. He adds, “It is to be expected, therefore, that some of them will from time to time do things which older people do not regard as wise.” He closes by saying that he hopes they may now move on.

BLACK THURSDAY 1968 – OSHKOSH

UW-Oshkosh Black Thursday, November 21, 1968 Oshkosh Northwestern photo
  • The 1960s was a time of unrest for much of the U.S. due to the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. Northeast Wisconsin did not go unaffected.
  • In response to Black students experiencing violent encounters with other students, difficulty getting financial aid, and concerns that their voices weren’t being heard, Black students flooded the office of WSU-O President Roger Guiles.
  • 90 students were expelled and protests ensued at other Wisconsin colleges and universities. Just over a handful re-enrolled and returned to WSU-O.

In the fall of 1968, African American freshman students at UW-Oshkosh – then known as Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh (WSU-O) – faced numerous problems due to an unfavorable racial climate in Northeast Wisconsin, according to the Black Thursday Oral History Project, UW Oshkosh.

Following growing concerns over housing discrimination in Oshkosh, the harassment of Black students in campus housing, and fair grading policies, dozens of Black WSU-O students organized the first Black Student Union (BSU) in Wisconsin in February 1968. According to the Black Thursday Oral History Project, the BSU was not accepted by some students and local residents.

By the fall of 1968, the number of African American students on WSU-O’s campus increased. Violent encounters between Black students, other WSU-O students, and Oshkosh teenagers were reported.

“One student, a co-chair of the campus right-wing Young Americans for Freedom organization described the campus as being in a ‘state of turmoil’ and therefore pledged to form a ‘white protection society,'” reports the Black Thursday Oral History Project.

Incoming students found financial aid that had been promised to them was difficult to receive. A shortage of dormitory space resulted in some new Black female students being forced to room in subdivided spaces within floor lounges. Students began suspecting WSU-O administration cared little about their concerns, according to Black Thursday Oral History Project. In October, BSU members presented administration staff with a list of requests.

Photo courtesy Black Thursday Oral History Project, UW Oshkosh

BSU not only pushed for the hiring of Black faculty and courses on the African American experience, they asked for the creation of a new African American cultural center, giving Black students a place to congregate and enjoy distinctive elements of their shared experience as African Americans. According to the Black Thursday Oral History Project, BSU members became impatient and suspected that their concerns and demands were not reaching President Roger Guiles.

On November 20, BSU members met at the Newman Center on campus and decided to do something to ensure they were heard. They decided to come together as a group, march to executive administrative offices in Dempsey Hall, and confront President Guiles in person.

On November 21, 90 Black students assembled on Algoma Boulevard at 8:30 a.m. to deliver President Guiles a list of demands that was more determined than October’s list.

The Black Thursday Oral History Project says that when the students reached the executive offices, President Guiles asked, “Do you have an appointment?” Forty students then crowded into his office, silently, to present the demands. Guiles refused, saying he didn’t have the authority to take action. According to those working on the Black Thursday Oral History Project, what happened next has been disputed for decades:

According to Roger Guiles and a second administrator present at the scene, a directive to “do your thing” issued by one of the students signaled a brief but intense bout of vandalism, with typewriters thrown to the ground, desks overturned, ink spilled onto carpets, windows broken, and administrative files and records strewn about.  Disputing the notion of a premeditated plan of attack, many students have claimed that the destruction erupted spontaneously spurred on by the anger and frustration that had been building within them for weeks and now suddenly triggered by the countenance of the obstinate white authority figure who was before them.

The students decided to sit in the Executive Offices and await action from President Guiles. Eventually, police in riot gear approached, according to The Black Thursday Oral History Project. Students elected to “go to jail peacefully” and were herded into rented Hertz trucks idling outside. The students were formally charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct at the Winnebago County courthouse.

Later in the day, now known as Black Thursday, authorities stopped plans for a sit-in. Instead, nearly 1,000 students and activists marched down Algoma Boulevard toward the County Courthouse. Meanwhile, President Guiles met with his advisors and decided to close WSU-O for Thanksgiving break early to ease tensions and to initiate procedures to have those who occupied his office permanently expelled.

Juanita Moore, Herb Gaede, Robert Hayes, Gladys Coleman, Henry Brown, Geoff McCreary, Sandy McCreary, telephone wiring technician Jim Barr, Franklin Utech, Oshkosh police ofÞcer Bill Gonyo, Noreen Debnam, Vada Harris, and John Schuh relate their memories of November 21 | Audio courtesy the Black Thursday Oral History Project

One month after Black Thursday, 90 students were expelled following a unanimous decision by the Board of Regents. White WSU-O students spoke out against the treatment of the ‘Oshkosh 94,’ according to The Black Thursday Oral History Project. Members of the student government voted in favor of a strike, which would force the university to shut down. President Guiles prevented the strike after promising a special investigation into Black Thursday. Students at WSU-Whitewater, UW Milwaukee, and Lawrence in Appleton had already planned their own demonstrations in response to Black Thursday. UW Madison students came together for a week-long strike on their campus after students expelled from WSU-O were being denied admission to the university.

In the fall of 1969, the Black Thursday Oral History Project says WSU-O made some changes – it recognized a new Black student organization and created a new Afro-American Center, which began sponsoring a speaker series, music festival, and a Black theater workshop.

Over a dozen students previously expelled for their participation in Black Thursday re-enrolled and returned to WSU-O’s campus. While many would go on to attain successful careers many other members saw their dream of obtaining a college education end on November Thursday in 1968.

OPEN HOUSING ORDINANCE 1968 – GREEN BAY

  • In the late 1960s, open housing ordinances were being enacted across the nation, intended to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, ancestry, or nationality against someone looking to buy, rent, lease, or finance housing.
  • Appleton and Oshkosh enacted ordinances before Green Bay, but neither were as strict as Green Bay’s would be.
  • Milwaukee saw 200 consecutive days of civil rights marches in 1967 and 1968 before an opening housing ordinance was enacted.

While students in Oshkosh were fighting to be heard, Green Bay residents were witnessing the start of one of the strictest open housing ordinances in Wisconsin.

Following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. It allowed those that had been racially discriminated against in most home rental sales transactions to file for remedy through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Voyageur reports. Wisconsin had passed an open housing law in late 1965, but it covered limited residential spaces, specifically large apartments.

After 200 consecutive days of marches for civil rights, Milwaukee had passed an ordinance that covered 95 percent of housing sales within the city in April 1968. While Green Bay had a very small population of Black people, residents strived to have a stricter open housing ordinance passed.

In May 1968, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Student Government Association held a referendum to demonstrate the student body’s position on an open housing ordinance, according to Voyageur. Turnout was low, but those in attendance voted in favor of urging the local government to enact an open housing ordinance.

Throughout the summer, local officials worked to create and pass an open housing ordinance. A draft was approved in June but the problem of enforcing the ordinance across municipal boundary lines became an obstacle in August. While the Brown County Board worked to develop an ordinance, Green Bay’s was delayed.

According to Voyageur, Green Bay attorney Arthur Kaftan, who specialized in environmental law, made the following statement during a September 1968 public meeting on the ordinance:

“If you can pass an open housing law before it gets to be a big issue as it was in Milwaukee, I think you can be a jump ahead of the situation…It shows the black man, for example, that the city is not at least officially going to slam the door in his face.”

While no protests ensued like Northeast Wisconsin saw with Appleton’s Peace Day Parade or Oshkosh’s Black Thursday, Green Bay youth ensured that local leaders didn’t forget the issue at hand when classes resumed in September.

There were stories in the student newspaper, the Bay Badger; the Green Bay Equal Rights Council worked with others to secure over 1,000 signatures in support of the bill. An ad in support of the ordinance was placed in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, and press conferences and student forums were held at UWGB’s campus. When City Council took up the issue on October 1, students from UWGB and St. Norbert College made up a large part of the overflowing crowd.

About 350 people observed a three-hour debate regarding the ordinance, which “outlawed any discrimination based on ‘race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin in the sale, rental, leasing, financing, or servicing of all housing.'” The proposal included two amendments – “one exempted an owner-occupier who rented out one room of a single-family home and the other added the ‘blockbusting clause’ to prevent real estate agents from profiting from racism.” Voyageur says the proposal, one of the strictest in the state, passed, 26-2.

OCCUPATION OF THE ALEXIAN BROTHERS’ NOVITIATE 1975 – GRESHAM

  • In 1953, the federal government enacted a policy to terminate Indian tribes across the nation.
  • Over 20 years later, as the Menominee Indian Tribe began to transition back to tribal standing, some openly opposed.
  • Three Menominee Warriors were convicted or pled guilty to occupation-related felonies following the 34-day standoff.

The year 1975 began with a 34-day standoff between the Menominee Warrior Society and the Wisconsin National Guard in Gresham. On January 1, an armed group from the Menominee Warrior Society had seized the vacant Alexian Brothers’ Novitiate, according to Voyageur, demanding it be repurposed to meet Menominee needs.

In the early 1950s, the federal government enacted a policy to terminate Indian tribes across the nation. In 1961, the Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Stockholders (DRUMS) reversed the termination of the Menominee Indian Tribe. Voyageur goes on to say the reversal resulted in the loss of federal aid and the imposition of state taxes when the tribe was already experiencing financial struggles.

By 1973, DRUMS secured the restoration of the reservation and the recognition of tribal status. By 1974, some Menominee opposed the transition back to tribal standing. The Menominee Restoration Committee had taken complete control of tribal affairs in December 1974. On New Year’s Day 1975, 45 occupiers briefly held the novitiate’s caretaker and his family, according to Voyageur, and took up positions in the abandoned abbey.

Voyageur says the Warriors requested the novitiate become a hospital initially to replace the facility that had closed on the Menominee Reservation. According to Voyageur:

“Their interpretation of federal law was that as Indian land ‘no longer used for mission or school purposes’ the novitiate, although not on the reservation, ‘shall revert to the Indian owner. The opinion of local whites was that the Warriors were simply tresspassers who should immediately be arrested. Shawano County Sheriff Robert ‘Sandy’ Montour organized local law enforcement in a close perimeter around the abbey and attempted to cut off the Warriors from food, water, heat, and other supplies. Exchanges of gunfire became frequent.”

On January 6, Sheriff Montour asked Governor Patrick Lucey for assistance. National Guard units were then sent to Gresham to assist local authorities. Deputy state adjutant general Colonel Hugh Simonson commanded the units and restarted negotiations between the Warriors and the Alexians, according to Voyageur.

Over the next several weeks, Voyageur reports representatives of the militant Indian Movement, AIM, and celebrities like Marlon Brando and Reverend James E. Groppi arrived, complicating the situation. Alternative uses for the novitiate were considered and ways to compensate the Alexians were sought. By the end of January, shooting incidents began again “and white vigilantes, encouraged by Republican assemblyman Earl Schmidt, openly prepared to assault the abbey,” according to Voyageur.

On February 4, 39 remaining occupiers peacefully left when the Alexians, who Voyageur reports were “alarmed by the possibility of further violence,” agreed to give the title of the novitiate to the tribe for $1 after tribal restoration was complete and “a ‘good faith effort to provide fair re-imbursement to the Brothers for the value of the property.'” The Alexian Brothers believed the property value, at the time, was at least $75,000.

Three Warriors were ultimately convicted or pled guilty to occupation-related felonies. The Associated Press reports that the Menominee Tribe never took possession of the property.

In 2003, investors Whitewater Gresham Estates purchased the novitiate. At the time, partners said a housing development was a possibility, but that it could take time. In January 2005, the leader of the takeover, Michael Sturdevant, died of cancer at the age of 60. Later on, in 2005, the novitiate went on the auction block. Plans were in place to divide the property into 17 parcels to be auctioned off. Menominee tribal members told WFRV Local 5 that the lands historically belonged to them, but they wouldn’t place any bids on it.

PROTESTS FOLLOWING THE IN-CUSTODY DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD 2020 – NORTHEAST WISCONSIN

On May 25, a bystander’s video taken outside a south Minneapolis grocery store showed an officer kneeling on a handcuffed man’s neck, even after he pleaded that he could not breathe and stopped moving.

The man, who died, was later identified as George Floyd. Four officers, who were quickly fired, are now facing charges in connection with his death:

  • Derek Chauvin, 44, is charged with second-degree murder and other counts
  • Thomas Lane, 37, charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin
  • J. Kueng, 26, charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin
  • Tou Thao, 34, charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin
This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, shows Derek Chauvin, from left, J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. Chauvin is charged with second-degree murder of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by him and the other Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Kueng, Lane and Thao have been charged with aiding and abetting Chauvin. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Floyd’s death sparked protests across the nation, including in Northeast Wisconsin.

Appleton, De Pere, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Manitowoc, and Sturgeon Bay were among cities that saw multiple protests, both peaceful and violent. Protests remembered others killed by law enforcement, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Multiple people were arrested or cited after law enforcement vehicles were damaged and downtown Green Bay businesses were looted on the night of May 31. Volunteers and protesters came together the next day to help clean up and repair the damages.

Many municipalities, including Green Bay, Suamico, and Howard, enacted curfews to help dissipate some of the violence.

Nationally, there have been many changes in response to Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter protests:

“I think we need to localize that discussion. Some will say – I will say – that we’ve been defunding the police for years. We’ve been trying to do more with less, struggling under the budget restrictions that we have from the state. So I think we’ve been defunding for years and it’s the matter of making it a local discussion. What I hear from our community when we have community surveys is they want to see officers more and they’re wondering why they don’t see them in their neighborhood, why aren’t they doing more speeding enforcement, why aren’t they taking care of this issue or that issue. So I think that’s why we have to have a local discussion and stay away from that national narrative that may not apply to us.”

At this time, Black Lives Matter protests and discussions regarding race, police reform, and more continue across not only Wisconsin, but the U.S.

Other notable Green Bay area protests

Green Bay Vietnam War Moratorium Event, October 15, 1969, and Kent State Shooting Protest, May 5, 1970

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