Just over a week after a gathering of white supremacy groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, left three dead and led to the quick removal of Confederate memorials across the country, University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced Monday she has formed a committee to examine the history of student groups affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.
In the 1924 edition of the Badger yearbook, a student organization called the Ku Klux Klan’s roster included actor Fredric March (then Fred Bickel) and longtime Memorial Union director Porter Butts, who are memorialized today with the Fredric March Play Circle and Porter Butts Gallery at the Union. Other members of UW’s KKK included Thomas E. Brittingham Jr., who would become a financier and co-founder of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the patent and licensing organization of UW-Madison; and Philip Falk, later a long-time Madison schools superintendent.
Stories of the group’s existence in the early 1920s have cropped up from time to time in the intervening decades, stirring controversy over whether it was affiliated with the notorious white-sheeted Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan out of Georgia.
“In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, it is time to take a fresh look at our history to ensure that we fully understand and appropriately acknowledge the activities of members of the campus community during this time period,” Blank said a statement Monday. “To that end, I am asking an ad-hoc study group to research the history of these student organizations, including the extent to which they were affiliated with the national KKK movement, their actions and legacies. ”
The group will be co-chaired by history professor Stephen Kantrowitz, who has been involved in the Justified Anger Coalition’s African-American history courses, and Floyd Rose, president of 100 Black Men of Madison. In the statement, Blank said she will ask the group to advise “how best the campus can acknowledge and respond to this history” by Dec. 1.