Summer/Fall 2019

Special Issue on African Americans in Northeast Wisconsin

A scene from UW – Oshkosh’s “Black Thursday,” November 21, 1968. Courtesy of  Oshkosh Northwestern .

A scene from UWOshkosh’s “Black Thursday,” November 21, 1968. Courtesy of Oshkosh Northwestern.


Black on the Wisconsin Frontier: An Interview with Christy Clark-Pujara
by David J. Voelker

African American Pioneers in Antebellum Wisconsin
by Anna-Lisa Cox

Byrd Parker: An African American Abolitionist in Oshkosh
by Victoria B. Tashjian

James Wildie Sanders and Antislavery in Fond du Lac County
by Paul E. Reckner

The People’s Brewing Company: African American Entrepreneurship in the Civil Rights Era
by John Harry

Racial Protest in Northeast Wisconsin: Remembering UW Oshkosh’s “Black Thursday” Fifty Years Later
by Stephen E. Kercher

UW–Oshkosh’s Black Thursday: A Photo Essay
by Joshua Ranger

Delay of Game: Experiences of African American Football Players in Titletown
by Lisa Kain

One Man’s Vision, My Responsibility: Brown County Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration
by Jolanda Sallmann, Tohoro (Francis) Akakpo, Gaurav Bansal, Mussie Teclezion, and Mai Lo Lee

Supplemental Content

Lillian Thomas Fox
from Byrd Parker: An African American Abolitionist in Oshkosh

Map of Underground Railroad Sites in East-Central Wisconsin
from James Wildie Sanders and Antislavery in Fond du Lac County

From the Editor

One of the unique features of Voyageur is that its authors come from the ranks of both history professionals (museum curators, archivists, and professors) and amateur historians. I use the word amateur not in the spirit of an expert/amateur hierarchy but rather with reference to the word’s French and Latin roots—meaning “to love.” Regardless of the author, our articles are peer reviewed by a combination of academic and amateur scholars on our editorial committee. The magazine's existence thus depends on the enthusiastic collaboration of professional and amateur historians, the latter of whom often carry a much deeper knowledge of local people, places, and events—and of local significance—than the academics, who are seldom trained in regional history. All of us are brought together by our common love of the history of northeast Wisconsin.

I am excited to share this special issue, focused on African American history in our region, to mark thirty-five years of Voyageur magazine. People of African descent first arrived in the region we now call Wisconsin in the first half of the eighteenth century as slaves of French colonists. As Christy Clark-Pujara discusses in her interview, notwithstanding the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which prohibited slavery, white Americans brought some enslaved people to this region during the territorial era. Moreover, as Anna-Lisa Cox has documented, a number of free African Americans (and even some Afro-Caribbeans) migrated to the state in the decades before the Civil War. As Erika Janik notes in A Short History of Wisconsin (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2010), the population of African Americans remained relatively small in the early twentieth century; fewer than 3,000 African Americans lived in Wisconsin in 1910, and that number had only grown to about 7,000 in 1930. The 1940s and 1950s, however, saw a six-fold increase. By 1960, the African American population of Wisconsin reached nearly 75,000.

For all of its accomplishments, Voyageur has mostly neglected African American history. The magazine’s name evokes the European colonization of North America, and the reality is that the overwhelming majority of the magazine’s authors, reflecting the demographics of the region, have been white. The magazine has usually focused on Euro-American perspectives on the region’s past. As the editorial board looks ahead, we are committed to providing a forum for voices and perspectives not previously heard here, creating a more comprehensive historical record of the region and its residents. African Americans in our region carry knowledge of much of this history—especially of the post-World War II period. This issue of the magazine, far from fully covering African American history in northeast Wisconsin, only scratches the surface, and we hope that it inspires additional research and writing on this important topic.

Every article herein was solicited for this issue, and I am grateful to each of the authors for responding to the call. Along the way, I also had helpful conversations with Peter Kellogg, Jaclyn Schultz, and Steve Taylor. Scott Cross at the Oshkosh Public Museum, Dan Moore at UW-Green Bay, and Alison Newman at the UW-Milwaukee Archives helped us obtain important photographs for the issue. Toni Damkoehler once again did excellent work as the art director for the issue, as did her wonderful group of design arts students. I’d like to recognize Kady Jordan and Megan Nighbor, who have helped design three issues, for their distinguished service to the magazine. The editorial interns helped tremendously with final editing, locating photographs, and writing captions. I also thank Interim Associate Editor Vince Lowery, who contributed in many ways; his attentive and thoughtful editing helped polish the issue.

Best wishes,

David J. Voelker

Editor-in-Chief, Voyageur

Associate Professor of Humanistic Studies and History

University of Wisconsin–Green Bay