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Black History in Madison and Around Wisconsin - Part 2

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In the first part of this series, we had just begun to delve into a jewel of the Midwest - Madison, Wisconsin – located only about a 1½ hour drive from Milwaukee, 2½ hours from both Chicago and Green Bay, and 4½ hours from Minneapolis.

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Now we’re learning about the city and state’s black history.

Although African Americans represent relatively small numbers here, they continue to play a significant role in the cultural, educational, civic and artistic heritage and landscape of the city and state.

Their influence dates back to the early 1700s when they, and many Native Americans, were slaves owned by the French who at that time occupied the territory. In the late 1700s, African-American fur traders began to settle in the state, and in the 1820s and 1830s, many came as slaves from the south with their owners who flocked to Wisconsin for better employment opportunities. As time passed, many slaves were either granted or permitted to purchase their freedom.

Their positive influence is noted in many historical accounts, such as this one at the Wisconsin Historical Society, located in Madison: When Wisconsin was preparing to become a state in 1846, leading citizens drafted a constitution that would have allowed African Americans to vote. This was too radical an idea for the time and was rejected by voters … Not until 1866, when Ezekiel Gillespie, a leader in Milwaukee's black community, sued for the right to vote and carried his case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, were African Americans able to cast ballots in the Badger State.”

The number of Blacks living in Wisconsin continued to increase over the years, spawned in large part by the outbreak of the Civil War when many arrived from the southern states. This, coupled with large contingents of abolitionists from the east coast who came about the same time and helped those moving along the Underground Railroad through the state and into Canada.

For the next several decades, the plight of African Americans in Madison and around the state ebbed and flowed through World Wars I and II, the Civil Rights Movement and into the modern day, as it did in every state in the country.

Today in Madison you will find a number of African American churches, businesses, organizations, events and publications including St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, S.S. Morris AME Community Church, Umoja Magazine, Madison Black Chamber of Commerce, Madison Network of Black Professionals, The Madison Times, 100 Black Men of Madison, Inc., the Urban League of Greater Madison and the African American Communication and Collaboration Council, among numerous others. More information about African Americans in Madison can be found through a Madison Public Library special collection.

Lots to See, Do and Enjoy

One of the great things about Madison, is that there are wealth of historic attractions, family activities, cultural and performing arts entities, outdoor recreation, gastronomic fare, and more to see, do and enjoy year round. We’ll delve much further into these in an upcoming feature, so stay tuned to learn much more about this jewel of the Midwest!

(To start at Part 1 click here)

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