More Wokeness in Wisconsin

September 25, 2021 • 12:30 pm

You think you know performative wokeness? Get a load of this story.

A month ago I described (based on a column of John McWhorter) a remarkable act of performative wokeness at the University of Wisconsin at Madison: the removal of a 42-ton glacial boulder from a prominent position on campus because one time, in 1925, the local newspaper gave it a racist name, “n—-rhead.” It was called that only once, but this ancient transgression was sufficient to anger up the Wisconsin students and administration sufficiently that they hired a big truck to haul the landmark away.  The removal, of course, accomplished nothing to alleviate racism.

Nor does the latest shenanigan at U. Wisconsin (UW), this time involving Fredric March (1897-1975), a very famous American actor of the 1930s and 1940s. He won two Best Actor Oscars, for  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and one of my favorite films, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and two Best Actor Tony Awards.  An active anti-racist, and alum of the University of Wisconsin, March’s fame prompted the University to name a theater arts center at UW-Oskhosh in his name (see photo below).

Then they found the TRANSGRESSION, described in the story below from the Racine Journal Times (and at greater length here at NAACP stands for The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the most distinguished organizations in America battling racism.

The story: In 2017 the University Chancellor commissioned a report on the activities of the Ku Klux Klan on campus, and found that there was an “interfraternity society” with that name, though it had no connection to the real Klan. Nor did the KKK fraternity have any connection to white racism or terrorism. (More information below.)

As the brightlights link above reports, the UW-Madison fraternity was an import from the University of Illinois. The name might have been stupid, but there was nothing Klan-like about the honorary fraternity:

Illinois’s honorary Ku Klux Klan (labeled for shorthand in this article as HKKK to distinguish it from the actual Second Klan/Invisible Empire, labeled IE) visited Madison in mid-1919 and jump-started the first year of a UW chapter for the 1919-1920 academic session; every known constitution, charter, or document connected to the HKKK at either campus calls only for each individual fraternity to elect its most outstanding junior to the HKKK and for the interfraternity organization to be influential in campus affairs and social life – there is not a single word or idea related to the IE or that group’s bigotries; not only is there no evidence of an entry requirement based on one’s racial views, HKKK members had no agency in even becoming members – your academic/extracurricular performance alone conferred membership as a surprise honor to the inductee; no ties between the HKKK and the IE have ever been found; the HKKK carried that name at the UW for just three or four years; official HKKK photos those years in UW publications are devoid of anyone in blackface and of any IE symbols, sentiments, clothing, or paraphernalia – showing, instead, members in suits and neckties, formal wear, casual attire, and team uniforms or sporting cartoonish top hats and pushing baby carriages for an initiation ritual.

Sadly, March was in the honorary group for one of those three years. After he left UW, he embarked on a lifelong legacy of antiracism and defending the civil rights of African-Americans. From brightlights:

By Easter Day 1939, Fredric March (born Racine, Wisconsin, 1897) had already won his first Oscar and was a dozen years into a 48-year marriage to a woman who in the 1920s was already recognized as one of the most politically progressive actresses in the American theater – Florence Eldridge. Three years earlier, March himself – with fellow activists Dorothy Parker, Oscar Hammerstein, Fritz Lang, and a few others – had been one of the principal founders of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. But heading into this particular Easter Sunday, the Marches were showing in the biggest way yet just how much they put principles above any risk to their box office, a recurring bit of behavior they surpassed many times over in the decades to come.

In that spring of ’39, when heavenly-gifted opera singer Marian Anderson, an African American, was barred by the racist policies of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) from performing in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall, Charles Hamilton Houston – the NAACP’s first legal counsel and Thurgood Marshall’s most influential mentor – initiated with other African American leaders a broad-based letter-writing campaign condemning the DAR for its actions, and Fredric March, a well-known compatriot on civil rights issues, was one of the first letter-writers they enlisted. And when these same leaders in blindingly short order organized a now beyond-historic Marian Anderson Easter concert at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, the Marches’ names appeared on the event’s official printed program as two of the sponsors, and the husband-and-wife team made sure to take the day off from The American Way – a hit Broadway play denouncing Nazi ideology and anti-Semitism in which they were co-starring – to fly from New York to Washington in time to let Anderson’s glorious voice wash over them.

The second link describes much more anti-racism of March, including raising money for Dr. King’s activities, chastising JFK for moving too slowly on civil rights, and so on. He was closely associated with the NAACP.

A life of anti-racism and liberalism. Shouldn’t that count more than belonging to a fraternity bearing the KKK name but having nothing at all to do with the real KKK or its philosophy?

You know the answer: NO.  In 2018, a student-run council of the University voted 8-2 to remove March’s name from the Fredric March Play Circle: the auditorium named in his honor. By that time March was dead, so he didn’t live to see himself dishonored.

In fact, the honor should remain, for his life was surely a net plus for both antiracism and artistry, and the name of the theater is not celebrating any racism, much less the stupidly-named fraternity. And now, as the headline above notes, the NAACP, along with many people, both black and white, have asked UW to reconsider restoring March’s name. From the newspaper:

Three years after a UW-Madison group stripped the name of a prominent alumnus from a theater in the Wisconsin Union over a past association with a student group that shared a name with the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP and others are calling for a course correction.

The national headquarters for the civil rights organization, along with two dozen scholars, actors and activists, sent a letter last week urging for the return of award-winning actor Fredric March’s name to a “place of honor” on campus.

The letter-signers say the legacy of March, a Racine native, has been marred because of the name removal, which they described as “guided solely by social-media rumor and grievously fact-free, mistaken conclusions.”

. . .Some examples in March’s history that the NAACP letter cites as indicative of his values: When he supported the singer Marian Anderson, who was banned from performing at Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall in 1939 because she was Black; when he participated in a secret strategy session with Martin Luther King Jr.; when he delivered a keynote address on the 10th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling; and how he spent the bulk of his career seeking roles in “socially conscious” films.

“We remain confused as to why, on both Wisconsin campuses, the avalanche of readily accessible primary- and secondary-source materials detailing Mr. March’s loud, concerted and enduring lifetime commitment to fighting racism and anti-Semitism was never pursued, discovered, consulted, heard or made public — and why neither UW-Madison nor UW-Oshkosh has moved to correct this clear and unconscionable rejection of conspicuously demonstrable historic truth and academic rigor,” the NAACP letter signers wrote.

Just under half of the letter-signers are people of color, including Clarence B. Jones, an adviser and speechwriter for King; Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr.; and Bernard LaFayette Jr., a Freedom Rider and co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Indeed. There is absolutely no evidence of March’s racism apart from the name of the honorary fraternity, and he spent his life fighting for social justice.  So will the University reconsider? After all, they have a new request from the NAACP!

Nope. In fact, Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote an “explanatory” letter in the New York Times about the removal of the rock and the de-naming of March’s auditorium.  It’s not convincing; the Woke never back down.

From Chancellor Blank re Fredric March (my emphasis):

In 2018, the university removed the name of Fredric March, the actor and an alumnus, from a student performance space at the request of students, and after months of discussion about the subject among our student leaders. It did so after the terrible events of Charlottesville and historical research showing incontrovertibly that March was a member of a campus group called the Ku Klux Klan, though the group was not affiliated in any way with the national Knights of the K.K.K.

While it is good that March went on to become a fighter for civil rights and equality, the fact remains that while a student here he aligned himself with a student group that echoed the K.K.K. name.

There are some things in our country’s history that are so toxic that you can never erase the stain, let alone merit a named space in our student union. Membership in a group with a name like that of the K.K.K. is one of them.

In other words, March is PERMANENTLY TOXIC. Note it’s not the Ku Klux Klan theater, but the Fredric March Play Circle.

Tell me, then, what does the removal of March’s name from the auditorium accomplish to reduce racism and bigotry?

Oh, and about that rock whose name was mentioned only once in 1925, the good Chancellor wrote:

A rock that was associated with a vile racial slur in the 1920s was also removed from our main campus, at the request of the Wisconsin Black Student Union and other groups. We came to this conclusion after more than a year of consultation and discussion, sparked by the death of George Floyd.

The death of George Floyd, a reprehensible murder, has still not been connected to police racism, but never mind that. When the NAACP asks for “reparations” for March, and Chancellor Blank, a white woman, says she knows better than the NAACP which “toxic stains of racism” can never be removed, we know we’ve gone down the rabbit hole. And so the madness goes on. Just once I’d like to see the Woke say, “Oops, we made a mistake! We’ll restore the name.” But they admit of no mistakes, even in a case as ridiculous as this one.

h/t: Greg

54 thoughts on “More Wokeness in Wisconsin

  1. ‘…admit mistake …’

    Actually, they prefer to have the thinness and arbitrariness of their lunatic persecution exposed. Thus, all unWoke are signaled to shut up, hide, and cower, since Woke has supreme power to construct truth and assassination of character/career, on the slightest scintilla of claims, erroneous interpretations, and pure imagination.

    1. The Woke, as left authoritarian thought, inevitably descends into identitarian madness and ever-escalating purity tests.

      That Frederick March can be monstered over something so trivial is not a fault, it’s a feature. Does a peacock apologise for it’s tail?

      1. Hmmm, “…ever-escalating purity tests”, and as Jerry said in the post, “…the Woke never back down.” Remind you of anyone? The woke and the Trumplicans, eerily similar turds in the American punchbowl.

    1. Well, fraternities are designated by three Greek letters and this could be a parody of that, but look at the investigation. If the name alone is what was adopted, but there was no racism evinced, you have to tell me what “non-innocuous” means.

    2. The suggestion is that the “real” KKK was not nationally known at that time and, therefore, it is likely that the student group that March belonged to had no knowledge of it. Of course, ignorance of the “law” is not an acceptable defense. 😉

      1. But if they had no knowledge of the “real” KKK, how did they come to the name? The idea that they arrived at the name independently and that the commonality was just a coincidence sounds rather far fetched.

        1. Wikipedia says:

          “The name was probably formed by combining the Greek kyklos (κύκλος, which means circle) with clan. The word had previously been used for other fraternal organizations in the South such as Kuklos Adelphon.”

          Undoubtedly the Greek connection and the alliteration sounded cool.

              1. No, all I’m suggesting that that it is far-fetched to suggest that, in adopting the name, they had “no knowledge” of the previous KKK.

              2. And all I’m suggesting is that, if they knew the name, it is hard to believe they would want to use it with its racist connotations since that wasn’t what their group was about. This is the case regardless of how acceptable racism was at the time. Even if the other KKK was not perceived as racist, why would they want to use its name without trying to establish some connection between their new group and the real KKK?

    3. The KKK is certainly regarded by most people as racist and unacceptable *today*. But 100 years ago? It might easily have been seen mostly as a fraternal organisation but with an unremarkable attitude to race.

      It’s the trap laid by authoritarian leftists to judge activities 100 years ago (four generations ago) by today’s standards.

  2. Performative nonsense, as our host notes. “Tell me, then, what does the removal of March’s name from the auditorium accomplish to reduce racism and bigotry?” Absolutely nothing, say it again, as Edwin Starr put it.

    “Just once I’d like to see the Woke say, “Oops, we made a mistake! We’ll restore the name.” But they admit of no mistakes, even in a case as ridiculous as this one.” Sadly, PCC(E) is probably correct about that, too.

  3. About the boulder…it’s actually even more pathetic. Reading the original newspaper use of the offensive term in question, it’s clear that it was not a reference to that particular rock, but a general term in common use at the time. That is, the boulder itself was never called ‘N-head Rock’, rather it was referred to as ‘a n-head’, just another so-called glacial erratic.

  4. It seems that March unknowingly dedicated his entire life to eventually becoming a test case against the Woke. We can’t ask for a more perfect demonstration of the stupidity that is Wokeness.

  5. The mark of racism, and even the rumor of racism, is like homeopathic medicine. No matter the number of serial dilutions thru good works and an exemplary life, the toxic power of racism remains.

  6. Progressive, virtuous people would be well-advised to avoid any possibility of falling into the trap that ensnared poor Frederic March—and that is the letter K itself. If one uses that letter, then a mere stutter or similar speech impediment generates the dreadful, forbidden triplication of the letter. To be on the safe side, we advise cancellation of the letter K altogether.

    The response of the U. Wisc. president, like that of the corresponding bureaucrats at Oberlin and Smith College, illustrate a powerful, rarely recognized determinant in cultural/political life: refusal to admit a mistake. In “The Accused”, his profound exploration of the great purge in the USSR, Alexander Weissberg suggests that the purge was undertaken initially to avoid any public admission of error in the campaign to collectivize agriculture. For decades, refusal to recognize mistakes (in regard to the USSR and the Alger Hiss case, for example) was the animating principle of The Nation magazine. In fact, I believe that this principle is the main reason why the old Left’s apologetics on behalf of the Bolsheviks continued for two to four decades beyond any rational expiration date. We can therefore expect woke absurdities to continue, and to be stoutly defended, until about the middle of this century.

            1. One summer while I was in college I worked in a machine shop. The shop foreman — a transplanted Southern fella — recruited me to play on the company softball team. Before the ballgames, when he’d announce the batting line-up, he used to call me “Ku Klux” — as in, “You’re battin’ clean-up, Ku Klux; hit one outta the park for us, son.”

              I just laughed it off, but I recall my dad coming to watch a couple games and his being none too pleased about it. 🙂

              1. Thanks for the story, Ken. That is hilarious! At least your dad didn’t make a stink about it and embarrass you. It probably helped that you were in college and not a youngster. 🙂

              2. If your alma mater ever makes the mistake of naming something after you, Ken, watch out! With a past history like the one you’ve just revealed, you will be toast.

      1. I agree! And I also wondered why it’s silent in words like knife and knave? No wonder English is such a difficult language to learn reading/writing.

  7. “We came to this conclusion after more than a year of consultation and discussion”

    It took them more than a year to debate whether to remove a rock? I’ve heard of First World Problems but this is beyond ridiculous.

  8. He [March] won two Best Actor Oscars, for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and one of my favorite films, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

    Along with The Best Years of Our Lives, March also starred in some other films liberals tend to hold dear to heart, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Seven Days in May, in which he played the US president against whom the Pentagon’s joint chiefs of staff, led by its chairman (played by Burt Lancaster), attempted to pull a coup (an inverse scenario of sorts from that described in Bob Woodward’s new tome, Peril, in which chairman of the joint chiefs Gen. Mark Milley endeavored to establish safeguards to stave off then-president Donald Trump’s attempted coup).

    But the role I always associate March with most closely is that of “Mathew Brady,” the stand-in for William Jennings Bryan (opposite Spencer Tracy’s Clarence Darrow-like “Henry Drummond”) in Stanley Kramer’s adaptation of the Scopes monkey trial roman à clef Inherit the Wind.

    1. Well worth watching (and leave the remake to die a lonely death).
      The court scenes actually are very true to the actual court transcripts – amazing stuff.
      (Personal note: Remake of Inherit the Wind – useless, adds nothing.
      Remake of 12 Angry Men – a crime against humanity. Tinkering with the near perfect. (I think Jack Lemon (whom I love as an actor) was in both remakes…go figure…)

  9. I once saw an initiation paddle labeled “KKK” at an antique show; the dealer said that it was not from the Klan, but a fraternity called Kappa Kappa Kappa. I later heard that Kappa Kappa Kappa WAS a college branch of the Klan, so I don’t know.

    In the 1920s, the Klan was a big deal, and not just in the South. The “Our Gang” comedy series had an episode (“Lodge Night”) in which the kids (including the Black ones) start a club called the Cluck Cluck Klams. Before creating Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney produced a series of movies called the “Alice” comedies which combined live-action kids with animation. In one film (“Alice and the Dog Catcher”) the kids (again, including a Black one) start a club called the Klix Klax Klub, wearing paper bags as hoods. Both movies are on Youtube.

    The fact that these movies joke about the Klan suggests that many people in the 20s did not take the organization seriously. The college group taking that name may have been more of a joke than anything else, the way some Satanists don’t really believe in, let alone worship, the devil, but pretend to in order to get a rise out of people. When I was in High School, we would doodle swastikas on our notebooks, not because we admired the Nazis (many of our fathers were WWII vets) but just for the hell of it. We’d never get away with that today.

  10. There is a perfectly respectably charitable sorority–nothing to do with college Greek-letter clubs–called Tri Kappa, limited to the state of Indiana. It is a social club that raises money for worthy non-political causes. I can’t imagine why the founders thought it was a good idea to name their club KKK back in 1901. Maybe at the time the Klan was in one of its dormant phases and under the radar.

  11. “A life of anti-racism and liberalism. Shouldn’t that count more than belonging to a fraternity bearing the KKK name but having nothing at all to do with the real KKK or its philosophy?”

    No. March was guilty of white saviorism, something worse than plain vanilla racism. At least the open racists are honest about it- those whose works seem aimed at truly helping the marginalized are not only racist but hypocrites. /s

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The abolition of both education and actual human greatness going on right before our eyes.

  12. Woke beliefs live in the same part of the brain as other sacred beliefs. They can’t be questioned or criticized because the belief holders are so emotionally invested in their righteousness. Like other religious beliefs. And so it goes.

  13. Coel writes: “Not really, in those days being racist was pretty much normal. It wouldn’t have been a red flag then.”

    Not really, Coel: In “those days” being “racist” was a badge of brutishness. There were *plenty* of white supporters of the NAACP and of the ACLU–who do yo think defended the Scottsboro boys? How did F. Scott Fitzgerald make clear that Tom Buchanan was a brute and an idiot? He made him a racist. Kind of a cheap shot, but certainly Fitzgerald did it because he knew his many, many readers would find Buchanan’s racist views repugnant. And if “racism was pretty much normal,” in “those days,” who flocked to March’s politically progressive movies? To adhere to the idea that “in those days” everyone was a benighted racist is to indulge in what the great Marxist historian E.P. Thompson called “the condescension of posterity.”

    1. I had always believed the myth that President Woodrow had praised the 1915 film glorifying the KKK, Birth of a Nation. In fact that was a trick pulled by Griffith’s publicist. Wilson issued a statement rejecting any praise of the film and saying he found it odious. The film triggered race riots on its release and was widely condemned even though it was a box office success.

      In the USA racism was indeed seen as a badge of brutishness, at least in some parts.

  14. Wait, since the HKKK was a campus organisation at UW then why doesn’t that make UW permanently toxic if it makes someone who was briefly nominated to it s permanently toxic?

    Why is Rebecca Blank Chancellor of an organisation she regards as permanently toxic? Has anyone asked her when she intends to resign?

  15. We don’t that campus fraternity got its name, perhaps ironically.

    But even if it had been a misjudgement for him to accept, it is preposterous to say this makes him toxic.

    Does the UW keep out any Democrat politicians or staff with Democrat leanings? After all the Democrats once had strong ideological affiliations to the real KKK organisations.

    1. I’m reminded of the Star Trek episode where the probe which mistakenly destroyed imperfect things etwas convinced that it was imperfect and hence destroyed itself. As someone above commented, by the same rules UW itself is toxic and must be closed forever.

  16. We are nowhere approaching social justice. Falsely tarring the dead is nothing. You need to falsely tar the living, if you can destroy the living embodiment of antiracist, say a Kendi or a DiAngelo-type figure for racism, or even better, extract a confession Lev Kamenov-style from the living, then you have social justice.

    In the first stage, people are purged for not endorsing the catechism, but you don’t really have power until you can purge people who DO endorse the catechism, especially if you can persuade them to confess for the good of the movement. The catechism is not the end, it is simply a tool to justify the purge, no one really cares about the catechism, they are interested in the social power unleashed by the purge. This is why, of course, the catechism changes from week to week, but ultimately, you need to publicly break an unquestionably loyal minion to drive the point home. At the end, you simply want to capture the person on the street in the terror, that they can be eaten by a mob if they step out of line or fall out of favor no matter what they say or do. The false confession is to the catechism what the show trial is to the trial. The terror is as yet, incomplete. People cannot be permitted to have individual opinions, they need to be able to profess to believe one thing one week, and the opposite the next, taking their cues from the masters, only then can racism be defeated, the same way Communist regimes having abolished all forms of private property were always plagued by bourgeois saboteurs and class enemies.

    The other use of the catechism is to make people endorse lies that they don’t believe, this breaks people and makes them lose any sense of personal integrity. If you can rinse and repeat, any connection to the bourgeois notion of conscience will be completely severed, irrevocably. Keep them scared, keep them broken, and teach them that the system is completely arbitrary. Such people are useful tools, and will obey without question, in the difficult task of “making the omelette”.

    1. Some useful talking points:

      1.) Anti-racism is just the consistent insistence on true color blindness.

      2.) The consistent insistence on true color blindness is white supremacy.

      3.) Race is a social construct.

      4.) White people who pass socially as POC are white supremacist racist appropriators who must be driven from the movement.

      Be ready to asset 1 through 4 with a straight face, at the same time, and be assured that asserting any of the above lays the basis for you to be purged if you fall out of favor.

      1. The term “colour blind” is ableist. Your use of the phrase is pretty tone deaf.

        I wish I could say I invented that, but unfortunately, it was used on Twitter by a social justice warrior who later suffered from what I believe is called “being ratio’d”

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