1969 UW Strike Against Racism

by William Schuth in , ,


In 1969, Black students at the University of Wisconsin took action to address the University's neglect of and veiled hostility toward the needs of the Black community. These students conveyed their demands, including the establishment of a Black Studies department, to the University administration. The images below document how Wisconsin responded to those Black students and over 10,000 other people on campus who stood up with them. This is our institutional legacy. We must know this history to understand the deep, persistent currents that have led us to #theRealUW.

Anti-racist graffiti featured prominently in 1969, too. 

Anti-racist graffiti featured prominently in 1969, too. 

An activist flanked by supporters, addresses UW students in a classroom. 

An activist flanked by supporters, addresses UW students in a classroom. 

Riot police arrive at the University of Wisconsin's campus. 

Riot police arrive at the University of Wisconsin's campus. 

Riot police clash with UW student protesters. 

Riot police clash with UW student protesters. 

National Guardsmen, some of the 1200 troops called up by Governor Warren Knowles, point their unloaded, Jeep-mounted M1919 .30-caliber machine gun at University of Wisconsin student protesters. 

National Guardsmen, some of the 1200 troops called up by Governor Warren Knowles, point their unloaded, Jeep-mounted M1919 .30-caliber machine gun at University of Wisconsin student protesters. 

Black campus activists amplify their voices to ensure they are heard. 

Black campus activists amplify their voices to ensure they are heard. 

National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets line up opposite University of Wisconsin student protesters.

National Guardsmen with fixed bayonets line up opposite University of Wisconsin student protesters.

A figure wearing a hard hat and University of Wisconsin letter jacket observes the deployment of tear gas and National Guardsmen. 

A figure wearing a hard hat and University of Wisconsin letter jacket observes the deployment of tear gas and National Guardsmen. 

Riot police harass a young man – possibly a reporter – across the street from a Woolworth's store. 

Riot police harass a young man – possibly a reporter – across the street from a Woolworth's store. 

Billy club-wielding police forcefully subdue one young man and threaten another with similar treatment.

Billy club-wielding police forcefully subdue one young man and threaten another with similar treatment.

A man with a camera runs beneath the fixed bayonets brandished by a line of National Guardsmen standing opposite University of Wisconsin student protesters near Charter Street in Madison.

A man with a camera runs beneath the fixed bayonets brandished by a line of National Guardsmen standing opposite University of Wisconsin student protesters near Charter Street in Madison.

A National Guardsman armed with an M79 grenade launcher stands in front of other Guardsmen pointing rifles with fixed bayonets at the photographer. 

A National Guardsman armed with an M79 grenade launcher stands in front of other Guardsmen pointing rifles with fixed bayonets at the photographer. 

These images are scans from Richard Faverty & Joel Brenner's On Strike – Shut It Down (Madison: Beckett Associates, 1969), a book I happened across on a shelf in UW-Madison's Memorial Library while searching for something else. Such is the serendipity of browsing the stacks.

Note the limited number of Black students captured in the photographs. While Black students were, and remain, a minority population in the UW's campus community, these images are noteworthy for their lack of focus on the Black students whose concerns initiated the demonstrations. As we contemplate the University of Wisconsin's problematic legacy of responding to the concerns of minority students, we will do well to compare these images to the way agency and solidarity are depicted and assigned in the images that come out of #theRealUW demonstrations.