Tag Archives: Stu Levitan

Stu Levitan Tells Rotarians About Madison and Club Members in the Sixties

submitted by Jerry Thain

Stu LevitanThe 1960s were a tumultuous decade in the United States and certainly in Madison.  Club member Stu Levitan drew on his new book “Madison in the Sixties” to illustrate his talk to the Club on November 7th.  The book, whose genesis was 34,000 articles from Madison newspapers of the decade reviewed by Stu by digital scanning (followed by more in depth research) focuses on five major issues of the time –civil rights, University of Wisconsin, urban renewal, Monona Terrace and student unrest – but Stu’s remarks to the Club dealt with the involvement of Club members in the 1960s, not only appropriate to the audience but also a natural theme given the prominence of so many Rotarians in the life of Madison then, as always.  Space does not allow for more than a few examples of the highlights of the presentation so for a full listing one will just have to buy the book!

Among the Rotarians prominent in the chronicle of Madison in the 1960s were current member Mitch Javid, the physician who treated UW boxer Charlie Mohr after his injury, ultimately fatal, in the ring at the NCAA boxing tourney in Madison.  Two mayors during the decade were Rotarians – Henry Reynolds & Bill Dyke.  Pat Lucey, who eventually would be elected Governor, was a Rotarian and prominent realtor in the city.  He was the only realtor to speak in favor of a fair housing ordinance which eventually passed.  Other Rotarians of the time included the two Madison police chiefs of the decade and the UW football coach, Ivy Williamson.  Rotarian Arlie Mucks advocated, initially unsuccessfully, for admission of Jews to the Madison Club in the nid-1960s.  Current member Nelson Cummings joined the Club in that decade as the leader of the Madison Urban League and, as older Club members know, was able to find housing for his family in the city only after a long struggle to do so.

Rotarian Judge Joe Jackson was the presiding jurist at the trial of students charged in the disturbances related to protests of Dow Chemical conducting interviews on campus.  Jackson also was the judge in the trial of the female performers who danced nude in a psychedelic theatrical version of Peter Pan.  Rotarian James Boll was the prosecuting attorney in each instance.

Among those speaking to the Club in the 1960s were General Lewis Hershey, head of the draft, whose presence drew many protestors, and Warren Knowles, whose remarks denouncing student activism on the Madison campus apparently were well received, and came less than a month before his re-election as Governor of Wisconsin.

For greater detail, see the book!

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

The UW in the 1960s

–submitted by Rich Leffler; photo by Will Anzenberger

Stu Levitan (2)Stu Levitan offered an impressionistic, kaleidescopic, sprightly, and, most importantly, insightful history of the UW in the tumultuous 1960s. He began with an aerial photo of the campus in 1962. No Humanities Building, no Elvehjem Museum, no Vilas Hall, Helen C. White, Sellery, Ogg, and Witte halls. All were added during the 1960s as the campus burgeoned.

He mentioned people who were students at the time: Dick Cheney, Tommy Thompson, Jim Doyle, Ed Garvey, Shirley Abrahamson, David Prosser, Barbara Crabb, Paul Soglin, David Maraniss, Andrew Goodman (for one semester), Steve Ambrose, Dave Zweifel, Ben Sidran, Pat Richter]and Joyce Carol Oates. They became leaders in their professions and some still are. Stu also spoke of the people who shaped the decade (and Stu holds a minority view among historians that it is individuals who make history): the aforementioned Soglin, the great Fred Harvey Harrington (who as president “super-sized” the UW), Robben Fleming, William Sewell, Ed Young, Milt Bruhn, Richter, Ron VanderKellen and Crazy Legs Hirsch.

But the sixties are remembered for one big thing: the student anti-war activism. The origins of that activism were, said Stu, in the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s, when students went down South at considerable risk to fight against racial segregation. They demonstrated a deep “level of commitment and fearlessness.” Students who challenged the Klan were not intimidated by university administrators. Antiwar activism was, “to a considerable extent shaped” by the civil rights movement. When the first sit-in took place to oppose the draft, it was to protest student deferments that increased the exposure of non-students–the poor and minorities. Resistance to the war, though it had an element of self-interest, was also driven by principle. Peaceful resistance yielded to the Dow “riot” in fall 1967, which Stu called “the single most important political event of the decade. It marked the end of the summer of love and the start of the days of rage.” There was a cost to all this: the Regents, once defenders of the university, “took the lead in attacking” students, faculty, and administrators. The UW lost support among the people of Wisconsin, support that is still not recovered. When Stu asked an activist if the demonstrations were worth it, he answered that the more important question is were the demonstrations necessary? Stu is still working on the answer to that question. Watch for his conclusion in his book to be published next year by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

Did you miss our meeting this week?  Watch the video HERE.