Tag Archives: Michael Edmonds

Stories from Our State Capitol’s History

–submitted by Linda Baldwin; photo by Donna Beestman

Michael Edmonds 8 16 17“Fraternizing between Republicans and Democrats in those days was not seen as a treasonable offense.”       —Governor Gaylord Nelson (1950’s)

In just a short while, historian Michael Edmonds weaved a four-century tale of political intrigue, heroism and leadership in the 100-year-old Capitol, its short-lived predecessors and in early territorial days. Throughout, I was struck by the vision, passion and integrity (in most) of our past leaders in Wisconsin.

Michael surely expressed our hopes in this closing statement. “For 100 years, the Capitol dome has been big enough to accommodate a broad spectrum of conflicting opinions.  Let’s hope that it continues to shelter a fearless sifting and winnowing of ideas, from all sides of every question for a long time to come.  That’s exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind.  And whatever else the Capitol may be – art museum, office building, tourist destination – it is first and foremost a symbol of the American experiment in self-government.”

Takes from the Tales of the Capitol –

  • The first two Capital Buildings burned down…the third and current building was completed in 1917.
  • Wisconsin was the first state to enact an equal rights act in 1921 and was the first state to approve the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote.
  • Local architect Lew Porter literally worked himself to death, ensuring that the new Capitol building would be built well to precise specifications.
  • Sam Pierce, a Pullman porter, became the Governor’s receptionist in 1922. He served 5 governors with wit and grace, and led Madison’s small black community.
  • The rebirth of the Democratic party in the 1940’s was led by a fringe group of women and men…from which future leaders Gaylord Nelson, Pat Lucey, John Reynolds and William Proxmire would launch their political careers.
  • Polarization and bipartisanship flamed in the Capitol throughout the 20th century – McCarthyism in the 40’s, Vietnam in the 60’s, earlier – Marxists, Progressives and Stalwarts – they all faced off in the Capitol and their differences were often even wider than ours today.

If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.

Michael Edmonds: Bold (Not to Say Crazy)

–submitted by Valerie Johnson; photo by Karl Wellensiek

Edmonds Michael

History is not only made by celebrities, it’s made by each of us and the choices we make every day.  That’s the lesson Michael Edmonds says we should take away from the 43,000 documents and images compiled by the Wisconsin Historical Society on the civil rights movement.

Edmonds brought to life the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer Project with some of the stories behind the people collecting these historical documents for Rotary members Feb 11.  This was the summer when volunteers arrived in the Deep South to register voters and teach nonviolence, and more than 60,000 black Mississippians risked everything to overturn a system that brutally exploited them.

Wisconsin has one of the richest civil rights collections anywhere, and the largest American history collection anywhere, according to Edwards.

Edmonds is Deputy Director of the Library–Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society and curator of its online collection of more than 25,000 pages documenting Freedom Summer. A 1976 graduate of Harvard University, he earned an MS degree at Simmons College in 1979 and taught part-time at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

These vivid primary sources shared by Edmonds, collected by the Wisconsin Historical Society, provided both firsthand accounts of this astounding grassroots struggle as well as a broader understanding of the civil rights movement and the work to collect them.

Edmonds closed by saying, “Remember, an archive is not a dusty old place, it’s an engine to remember our place in the world quite differently. For example, your grandmothers didn’t know they had to be so brave.”

For information on Edmond’s book Risking Everything: a Freedom Summer Reader click www.wisconsinhistory.org.  To view 43,000 pages of historical civil rights documents click: www.Wisconsinhistory.org/freedomsummer.