Capturing The Culture

Looking Backwards but Moving Forward

Montage of cutouts of Black UW-Madison students featured in the March 1973 issue of The Black Voice

The Black Voice (TBV) originated from one of the few demands out of the striker’s 13 that was actually enacted at UW-Madison. When the Afro-American and Race Relations Center opened in 1968, student strikers demanded that the center be placed in the control of Black students. In 1970, a 24-year-old doctoral student was tapped to be the full-time director of the center, despite pushback from more senior Black administrators. Therefore, you can’t tell the true story of TBV without mentioning Kwame Salter.

Salter had arrived at a recently fractured campus and after spending some time at the Afro-Am Center, he made it his mission to uplift Black culture at UW-Madison and foster a space where Black students could come together and develop academically and professionally. Together, he and the students decided that their community needed a space for their words to fill “a gap in the communication nexus of Black students,” as the very first line in the first issue states.

And so, TBV was born. Flip through the pages, now housed in UW Archives, and it’s clear to see the gap it filled for students who needed a place to belong. It was even more than that; it became a place to understand their role as racially and politically conscious Black people living in an increasingly integrated society that was reeling from the Vietnam War and the rise of youth radicalism.

The events that Salter organized for Black students were covered by students writing for TBV, which the Afro-Am Center housed. Salter hired Black journalism students on work-study plans, and he often wrote for the publication himself. Salter also helped Black students create Blackness, a weekly news radio program for WSUM.

Salter’s lecture and film series at the Afro-Am Center meant that many influential cultural and political figures in the Black community ended up in Madison, such as Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis and Nina Simone. And TBV was there to cover it all.

According to Salter, the Black community in Madison couldn’t be divided by “the town-gown split,” so outreach was something he emphasized. One snapshot of this is an article on Kwanzaa celebrations in the December 1971 edition, where TBV reporters Ron Williams and Ted Johnson covered a festival sponsored by the Afro-Am Center with the South Madison and Wil- Mar Neighborhood Centers.

There was also an intention to capture the radical political movement that was growing, as Black Panther Party membership swelled across the country. Each copy of TBV contained “weather forecasts” that were brief updates on news of Black college life, culture and politics.

Eventually, TBV grew to a circulation size of 2,000 and was sent to university libraries not only in Wisconsin but in Illinois, California and as far away as Trinidad and Tobago. It was even solicited in prisons, as shown by a supportive letter from a person incarcerated at Wisconsin State Prison published in the March 1972 edition.

Mourning the loss of Black life was also a fixture of TBV that we can especially recognize today. One story documented in TBV is the murder of David Scott in 1972. Scott was a Black sophomore who was shot and killed by David Norgard, the father of a white student whom Scott stopped to greet in the Saxony Apartments. In 2017, TBV alumna Alexandria Mack was contacted by the Scott family and followed up on the story that TBV originally reported.

Alexis Yancey is an alumna of UW-Madison who worked for the original TBV and Blackness. She now lives in Dallas and owns her own production company after a pioneering career as a network television news producer.

After meeting Black journalism students who were working on Blackness, Yancey says she decided to change her major from interior design to broadcast journalism and get involved.

Yancey was later able to use the clips she wrote as a student to apply to internships, which essentially launched her career, and for this, she recalls her experience as “invaluable.”

“The highlight of my academic career at UW-Madison was working on that [radio] show, writing for The Black Voice and being able to cover news,” Yancey says.

Like Yancey, TBV and the Afro-Am Center could’ve been the launchpad of more than a few Black students at UW-Madison.

TBV mastheads include names of students who became lawyers, professors, magazine publishers, executives and artists.

But after just 16 quarterly issues, it all came to a sudden end in 1973.

The Board of Regents closed the Afro-Am Center in an effort to consolidate resources into one larger Multicultural Center. They expected this would placate the agitations of women, Chicano/a and Native American students for similar spaces on campus. Because the Afro-Am Center created the space for the original TBV to exist, TBV shuttered alongside it.

Salter says he wasn’t consulted by university administrators before the final decision was made.

As a result of the ousting, students organized demonstrations in protest, to no avail.

Dr. Eddie Cole, author of the 2020 book “The Campus Color Line,” wrote that campus leaders at universities like UW-Madison stalled the reforms that students advocated for in the late 60s and early 70s.

They knew administrators often outlasted students at universities, and so the push for real change never gets passed on.

Salter asks, “what would’ve happened if we hadn’t been interrupted?”

But to say the Black community never had a publication until today’s version of TBV came along isn’t accurate either. Over ten years later, the Wisconsin Black Student Union began to publish The Voice of Ebony, which provided commentary and promoted events on campus.

There probably remains even more Black student life to be discovered in the vast archives that exist on this campus.

So, what can we take away from this in 2021, in the midst of a nationwide reckoning on racism that has shaped the experiences of so many Black students at UW-Madison today?

We keep the dialogue going. We continue to hold our leaders accountable. We create coalitions that extend beyond generations of students. We affirm our place and presence on this campus. We remember the past and learn from it.

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