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Giffey, David / The people's stories of South Madison
Volume 1 (2001)

Richard H. Harris, Ph.D.,   pp. 20-22 PDF (1.8 MB)


Page 20


Richard H. Harris, Ph.D.
I was born in Madison April 14, 1937, and raised at 405 Brarn Street. My
par-
ents bought the property in 1924. To me at that time my world consisted of
Baird
Street, Bram Street, Fisher Street, the old Park Street which is now Beld
Street,
and across Park Street to what was a golf course called Burr Oaks Golf Course.
That was my world, and that area was inhabited predominantly by blacks who
had
all moved to South Madison and purchased their homes. I never realized until
I
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blacks, the city was totally white. My immediate surrounding was 80 to 90
percent black.
All my friends lived in homes. There were no apartments. All of our friends
had fathers in the homes. I
don't recall anyone living or growing up fatherless. And all the men seemed
to be about six-foot-eight. They
were all working in unskilled areas because job discrimination was tremendously
rampant.
The other thing that I recall is everyone had a small family garden where
they raised cabbage, greens,
string beans, tomatoes, and practically every house had an apple tree in
the back. There was always enough
food on the table. We were clothed sufficiently. Life consisted of going
to school and then going to church.
My dad only had a second grade education. My mother was a very strong person.
She was the one who
would really make the key decisions about the house.
Her family had a run-in with a white person. It was over parking, in those
days horse and buggies. This fel-
low pulled out a long pistol and shot at my cousin. He missed him, but my
cousin, who had a rifle under his
seat board, he shot him and he blew his shoulder off. So it was felt that
the family should get out of Georgia
because of night riders and what have you.
They said it was the most...they didn't use "racist" as that time
...but bigotry to them was just as rampant
here as it was in the south. And it wasn't sophisticated.
They went to apply for a loan. The first thing the banker said was we don't
have any problem making a
loan to you, but the house has to be built in one of three areas: South Madison,
the Bush, or the near east side,
nowhere else. And we found out that's what they told a lot of other people.
We had outhouses. We had cold water. We had to pump the water to put in a
big galvanized tub, make the
fire. We had to take a bath every night.
Bus service was tremendously poor. The Park Street bus ran once an hour.
Whereas to Nakoma and every-
where else it was every 15 minutes.
An admissions person said to get into the University of Wisconsin there were
10 criteria. This is why I get
so upset when people argue against affirmative action. If you were a former
4-H student you got in. If you
were a former Future Farmers of America. If your parents were members of
what they called the Sons and
Daughters of Norway. Even if your grades weren't good, they would accept
you on probation. But just when
the issue of race was raised, they said no, no, no. In other words, they
changed the rules of the game because it
would have benefited minorities.
When I graduated from university I worked part-time at the South Madison
Neighborhood Center.
My mother and a man by the name of George Gerard and another person named
Kenneth Newville, the
three of them alternated having children over for social recreational activities.
It got so popular that they began
to have 30 and 40 children each night. They approached Chester Zmudzinski,
who was the director of the
Madison Neighborhood Center and the Madison Neighborhood House on West Washington
Avenue. That must
have been about 1945. They then talked to a congressman from Wisconsin, his
name was Glen Davis. He
began to look at old military barracks at Truax, and they told him they had
a surplus of military barracks. They
said you just have to move them. So they began to talk...to move both buildings
up East Washington Avenue,
around the square, down West Washington Avenue, down off Park Street to the
present site where the South
Madison Neighborhood Center is.
Peoples Stre                                   20.
People's Stories
20


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