|Carolyn Stanford Taylor is Wisconsin’s State Superintendent
Committed to Children
Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Wisconsin’s first African American
State Superintendent of Education has been focused on
academic education for all children for more than 40 years.
He said, ‘For shooting the breeze.’ Apparently that’s a law on the books from way back when. ‘Don’t talk across the street.’ That’s just harassment.”
Stanford Taylor started her collegiate career at Mississippi Valley State University — football fans know it as the alma mater of Jerry Rice — in Itta Bena. Her mother
wanted her to become an accountant.
“I had my mind on a degree in education,” Stanford Taylor said. “My mom had different ideas because we always ran a business. We called it a café in the South. I
would do her taxes. She said, ‘You should go to school and get an accounting degree,’ so that I could come back and help out with the business. But that wasn’t
where my heart was. Coming from a large family, you are working with kids all the time. Basically I was teaching school before I taught school.”
Through her time at Mississippi Valley State, Stanford Taylor came up in a segregated school system, for the most part. While it had its drawbacks, it also had its
“Initially in school, I started out in what we called the ‘Black School,’” Stanford Taylor said. “My K-4 education was in those schools. And that was with educators
who looked like me. That was my foundation. And I think had I not had that, I might have been broken at some point, especially after we integrated schools because
there were kids who were broken. Their spirits were broken and they dropped out. At Mississippi Valley State, I didn’t have to deal with race while getting my
It was her brother who was earning a degree in engineering at UW-Madison who lured her to study at UW in the winter of 1975. In addition to the frigid weather, there
were a lot of other things that took Stanford Taylor time to adjust to.
“I attended a big university that was perhaps 30,000 students at the time,” Stanford Taylor recalled. “I had TAs. I had no clue to who they were. And I had to try to
establish a relationship where people actually noticed me. I didn’t feel noticed in a crowd of 400 kids in a lecture hall. And there weren’t a lot of people who looked
like me. I can recall walking down the street and you would see a person of color. And you’re screaming across the street, ‘Hello!’ It was like being in the
Stanford Taylor came when Madison’s African American community was still relatively small and South Madison was its heart.
“I found my first community of people at Mt. Zion Baptist Church and through the Student Gospel Choir at the university,” Stanford Taylor said. “At that time, there
weren’t a lot of products that we might use as African Americans in the stores here. We were making trips to Milwaukee and other places. You couldn’t find the
foods that you wanted to eat. You couldn’t find many hairdressers. I think at the time, we had one shop called Ebony Boutique. Even the color of nylons that you wear
was a problem. You couldn’t find them here. There was no real appreciation for other cultures at that time. Things have changed a lot in terms of buying food. There
are many hairdressers. We have many choices in religious affiliation. I can find my nylons now. And you can move beyond the south side of Madison and see people
who look like you. We see them now in our businesses, state agencies and our schools. It’s a huge difference. When I taught, I was the only African American in
most of the schools that I taught in or was the principal of. There has been a huge change.”
After Stanford Taylor graduated, she decided to stay in Madison because she felt her daughter would get a better education in Madison. The first job she took was at
“WPS was starting their training department,” Stanford Taylor recalled. “They had a training administrator and they wanted someone else with a degree in education.
I became their training analyst. It was just the two of us. There was a promise that they were going to expand and have other branches. There was going to be a
huge training arm. I worked there for a year. Basically I did medical terminology, telephone etiquette and, techniques for writing good letters. I also produced a
Stanford Taylor had a guardian angel in the Madison Public schools, Geri Bernard, the first African American teacher to spend her career in Madison schools.
Positions were opening up in the district and Bernard had Stanford Taylor in mind.
“Geraldine Bernard was my cooperating teacher for my senior year at the UW,” Stanford Taylor said. “She was looking out for me as she has always done. She is
still in my life. Geri called me and told me that there were openings and suggested that I apply, which I did. I had an opportunity to interview and was given a job at
Frank Allis Elementary School teaching fifth grade, which I absolutely loved.”
Stanford Taylor was on her way.
Next issue: MMSD Experiences
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
It’s been a long and incredible journey for Carolyn Stanford Taylor, from the Mississippi Delta to
becoming the Wisconsin State Superintendent of Education, the first African American to hold the
position. It is an honor well-deserved, earned by a lifetime of dedication to educating Madison’s
and then Wisconsin’s children.
Stanford Taylor got her first taste of Wisconsin as a child who spent part of her summers in rural
Wisconsin through Project Self-Help and Awareness. She was born and raised in Marks,
Mississippi, one of 14 children. Almost more than other parts of Mississippi, the Delta region
clung to the Old South and segregation.
“We still had to deal with basic segregation and being treated like you were subhuman,” Stanford
Taylor said. “It was all of those unwritten rules. One could even get stopped for talking across
the street. I spoke to my friend who was on the other side of the street. ‘Hi Lottie.’ She said, ‘Hi
Carolyn.’ All of a sudden, a police car pulled up. He said, ‘I could arrest you.’ I said, ‘For what?’