by Jonathan Gramling
Last Monday, May 7, the University of Wisconsin was kicking off Bucky on Parade with 65 sculptures of Bucky — from the
same mold, but all with individualized decorations — being unveiled throughout the Madison area. One was unveiled in
South Madison at the corner of Hughes Place and S. Park Street. It is called “All Hands on Bucky” and students from the
Milwaukee Sign Language School had provided the handprints for the statue and were present for the unveiling.
As the statue was unveiled, a Brother started shouting out of the sunroof of his car that was parked nearby. He was angry
and kept shouting as he drove away with his head sticking out of the sunroof as he adroitly drove away. In essence, the
man asked why there was a statue of Bucky Badger on S. Park Street — this Bucky has a predominantly white face — but
there was no statue of a Black man. He kept repeating it as he was parked there and as he drove away.
It was ironic — and perhaps symbolic — that his plea fell on deaf ears for most of those present were from the Milwaukee
Sign Language School. But I and a staffer from UW-Madison heard him.
And he had a valid point.
Ever since the late 1950s, some 60 years or more, the heart of South Madison along the Park Street corridor has been the
physical and emotional home of Madison’s African American community. But outside of the people walking in the Villager
Mall or perusing other establishments on S. Park Street or people sitting in their yards on Fisher Street, one would not
know from the signage, the architecture or even the art that South Madison was home to the African American — and
more recently Latino and Hmong communities — community.
to be serviced — has remained vacant. The lot is on the corner of Badger Road and S. Park Street. It is cater-cornered from the site of the future Madison College
South campus. And S. Park Street is one of the major gateways to the city of Madison with thousands of cars passing on it going to the University of Wisconsin and
the Isthmus area every day. It is a street the people going to UW-Madison football and basketball games travel on.
And so I was wondering, why not transform that little lot into Equality Park, a statement of our community’s ideals, a place to express our unity across the racial and
cultural divides that can fracture a community, a statement on the values we hold dear.
To the back of Equality Park could stand a concave mural that would depict the African American, Latino, Asian American, American Indian and Euro-American
people who have called South Madison home. And along the bottom of the mural could be benches or seats in that same concave form as the mural. The benches
would continue around in a circle in the park, representative of the circle that unites all of us. And in the center of that circles of benches would be a round, raised
flower or shrub bed. And the walls of the flower of shrub bed would be inscribed with values that we hold dear like equality, inclusion and so forth.
And in the middle of that flower or shrub bed would be a statue of Rev. James C. Wright, who is, in essence, the father of Madison’s equality institutions. And it
would fulfill the plea of the Brother who shouted from his car last Monday.
I don’t know if this is practical or not. But it sure would be a nice way to express the values that make Madison Madison and in a place where the whole world
could see and not on a side street somewhere.
If this is something that intrigues you, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps it is a good idea and nothing more. Or maybe there is
more to it than just a fantasy. I do want to thank the Brother for his food for thought.
We’ll see if it goes anywhere at all.
I did a posting about this on Facebook soon after the incident and asked people what they thought and
who should be memorialized in a statue or a mural. One name — but hardly the only —that came up
was Reverend James C. Wright, the driving force behind Madison’s 1950s-1960s civil rights
movement and the first executive director of Madison’s Equal Opportunity Commission, which is now
part of Madison’s Department of Civil Rights.
I want the Brother to know that I did hear him and then one night around 2 a.m., I woke up with an idea
swimming around my head, one that made for a restless sleep until duty called me some five hours
I raised my kids in South Madison, first on Beld Street and then later on Ridgewood Way. And I lived in
South Madison purposely because it was the most diverse area in the city. And through the years, I
have witnessed the flux and flow of the community. And it is more diverse than ever.
For the longest time, the lot where Bernie Weddig’s service station stood — I used to take my car there