February 28, 2007

Remembering Those Who Fought for Us

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

As we wrap up Black History Month, let us pause for a moment to remember the people who may not make it into a text book.  While we must always remember the accomplishments of Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and Jesse Owens, there are others who have led the fight for equal rights here in Wisconsin.

Take Ezekiel Gillespie for example. In the general election of November 1865 he tried to register to vote in Milwaukee on the grounds that black suffrage had been approved by the people in 1847.  Gillespie sued the elections board, and in the Supreme Court case of Gillespie vs. Palmer, in 1866, the lower courts were overruled, making Wisconsin one of the first states to grant black suffrage.

Or take Joshua Glover, a Missouri slave who bravely sought asylum in Racine in 1854.  His owner, learning his whereabouts, came to Wisconsin and, under the federal Fugitive Slave Law, had Glover arrested and placed in the Milwaukee County jail.  Abolitionists from all around southeastern Wisconsin surrounded the jail, broke down its doors, and got Glover safely to Canada. 

Lloyd Barbee was one of the most prominent figures in the Milwaukee civil rights movement during the 1960s.  In 1962, Barbee started his own law firm and became involved in the dispute over school segregation.  He presided over a number of civil rights organizations including the Madison NAACP and also served in the Wisconsin State Assembly where he introduced the State Fair Housing bill.  Barbee was a long time advocate of total school integration, leading the struggle to desegregate Milwaukee public schools.

Many of us had the privilege of knowing one of Milwaukee’s greatest women, Claretta Simpson.  Known to many as “Mother Freedom”, she marched with Dr. King and was a leader in the fight for equal rights in Milwaukee.  So too was Vel Phillips, who was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin Law School, and would later become the first African American to hold statewide office as Secretary of State.

It is important that we all take time to learn about these remarkable individuals, and the challenges they overcame. Only through understanding the struggles of those who came before us can we hope to continue the fight today.  February may mark the end of Black History Month, but as we know, Black History is every day!