Dr. Charles Taylor Retires from
Under the Radar
holdouts, but he is working on that too. Every year, he petitioned the President of the United States to make
Juneteenth a national holiday similar to Flag Day. People don’t have to take off from work, but they can still
acknowledge it. At this point, no president has gotten behind it. We thought that Barack would get behind it,
but I think he thought that it was too much of a political hot potato, so he let it slide. But there is still the hope
that all 50 states will. I told Ron not to get discouraged because there are 45 states that are celebrating it. If
no other state did it, he has created this national movement. And I’m just happy to be part of something like
Much of Taylor’s artistic work has centered around African American culture and history. In addition to his
book about Juneteenth — Taylor wrote an article for USA Today on the Top 10 American Juneteenth Day
Celebrations — Taylor wrote a widely-distributed illustrated book on Kwanzaa.
“BET used to use my Kwanzaa book every Kwanzaa season,” Taylor said. “When they went to the channel
break, they showed the book and then they would fade to black. Again, I sent them the book and said, ‘Feel
free to use the book. Just give me the credit.’ And they did that. That was just an ask. So, I’ve learned that if
you ask for things, sometimes it happens. What is the worst thing that can happen?”
For some of the things that Taylor has worked on, he had little formal education. But he saw the need and had
By Jonathan Gramling
For the past 40 years, Dr. Charles “Chuck” Taylor has rather quietly
worked on social justice issues in his personal and professional
lives. From producing a television show called ‘Your Neighbor: The
Minority Voice’ in Green Bay in 1978 to teaching as a professor in
Edgewood College’s graduate school, a position he recently retired
from, Taylor has sought to educate and uplift people about race and
poverty through the opportunities that came his way since growing
up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
On May 24, dozens of Edgewood College colleagues, education
leaders and friends and family turned out at the Urban League of
Greater Madison to celebrate Taylor’s academic, professional and
activist career. It was fitting that the event was held at the Urban
League, a building he pushed the Urban League to build.
“I remember standing up in front of the board to make the
presentation to ask them to consider the S. Park Street building,”
Taylor said recently. “We had a long conversation as a board. And
when the dust settled, they said, ‘We’ll agree Chuck, but you have
to spearhead it.’ I led the committee for two years. That was mainly
planning. We were fortunate to get planning funds and Mary Burke
gave us a grant when she was head of the WI Dept. of Commerce.
We were able to get some nice planning grants to continue that for
two years. And then finally, we were able to hire a CEO, Scott Gray.
Scott came and helped carry the ball. It took a collective effort. I
was proud to play a small part in that.”
It’s a career where Taylor’s impact has remained under the radar
as Taylor sought to push social justice issues and not be known for
what he had accomplished. For instance, few people know that
Taylor worked with Dr. Ron Meyer to create the national movement
to make Juneteenth Day a national holiday.
“Ron Meyers, who is behind the movement to make Juneteenth a
national holiday, sat down with me in Milwaukee at Perkins
Restaurant about 25 years ago to literally plot out the national plan
on how we could go about making Juneteenth a national holiday,”
Taylor said. “I certainly don’t want to take claim for any of that
because most of that is his hard work. But part of that plan was that
I would write the book and he would lead the movement. And so, I
wrote the book and I got a publisher on the East Coast. And for the
past decade, every time a state designates Juneteenth as a holiday
or observance, that book is given to the governor. We have five
the courage to step forward to fill the void that he saw.
“When you’re a trailblazer, you make the trail by walking,” Taylor said. “That’s what a friend of mine said. And that’s what I’ve done. I have
never, ever felt that I couldn’t do something. I felt that I could learn it as I did it. And so, I would apply the skills. No matter what it was that I
was seeking, I would either read about it or watch it or go to a seminar. I would learn it and I would do it. That’s what I try to tell my students.
The information is there. You just have to go out there and acquire it.”
Those skills and confidence came to good use for Taylor in the late 1970s when he was at UW-Oshkosh in the Fox Valley. There were relatively
few African Americans living there at that time and no local presence of African Americans on the airways.
“I knew nothing about TV,” Taylor confided. “I went to the station manager in Green Bay and said, ‘Look, there are no shows. Let me do a family-
oriented show so that people can learn about other cultures?’ And he did. The show was called ‘Your Neighbor: The Minority Voice.’ And I had a
female co-host who lived in Green Bay. We were inviting Dick Gregory to come to UW-Oshkosh to speak. I got an interview with him. And I
asked him a question. At the time, Jimmy Carter was president. President Carter was pushing his human rights policy. I asked Dick Gregory,
‘What do you think about President Jimmy Carter’s human rights policy as it pertains to other countries?’ And before I could even get it out, he
said, ‘Why are you talking about human rights? That’s nothing but a farce.’ If I was white, my face would have been completely red. He just lit
me up. And that was my introduction to TV. And then he felt sorry for me when he saw my face and then he participated a little bit better as the
interview preceded. But I had to learn real quickly. I learned and cut my teeth in Green Bay. I had that show for 1-2 years.”
Taylor went on to produce another trailblazing television show in Madison called Madison’s Minority Side.
“Like Green Bay, there was no show in Madison,” Taylor recalled. “I approached the station manager at NBC, Laurie Leonard and she allowed
me to do a show for two years. A lot of those shows are now posted on YouTube. I learned by doing. And from there, I pieced that documentary
together. And I’ve been doing it ever since.”
The epicenter of Wisconsin’s civil rights movement in the 1960s was Milwaukee with then Alder Vel Phillips and the NAACP pushing for open
housing. Taylor knew early on that people need to tell their own story. And so he went on to produce the one-hour documentary Decade of
“That was the first film to have ever aired on the Wisconsin Education Network, an ABC affiliate and an NBC affiliate all on the same day, at the
same time,” Taylor recalled. “The reason that it happened was I didn’t know any better. I just called up the producers and said, ‘I’ve got this
great documentary and Wisconsin Education Network has agreed to air it all over the state of Wisconsin. Would you air it on your station?’ And
they both said yes. This was like 30 years ago. But they did it. And I wrote a blog encouraging people to try things, saying ‘all you need to do is
ask to get something done.’ And I used the airing of Decade of Discontent as an example.”
Taylor has also written a play called ROARR, a play about the search for identity and community with the actors dressed as animals of the
forest and jungle. It was performed at the Overture Center in 2008.
“I’ll probably launch ROARR again in 2018 because I think that play still has a positive message,” Taylor said. “But with the work that I am
doing in Milwaukee, I think the play has more meaning at this particular point in time down there than it does here.”