Hundreds Gather for Peaceful March Through Middleton

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By: 
Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–Hundreds of people turned out for the United We Stand Against Racism March in Middleton on July 12. The event, which was in support of Black Lives Matter, kicked off at Middleton High School (MHS) with speakers addressing the crowd gathering on the south lawn. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Everett Mitchell spoke to the group before they made their way down Bristol Street, ending at Stone Horse Green downtown.

Mitchell told the collection of educators, students, city officials, police officers and Middleton residents, “We don’t need more white allies, we need white co-conspirators.” He asked that white people band together with people of color to shake up systems that are oppressive.

Mitchell paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying that he wants to see Black people, “judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.” 

He told the crowd, there is no room for racists in Middleton. “When they try to come to Middleton, you be like, ‘Oh, hell no, baby, not here. Not here. Not here.’” he declared as the crowd cheered. 

The march, assisted by police who blocked the streets, made its way east on University turning at Park Street. At the corner of Park and Elmwood Avenue, marchers stopped to take a knee and recognize a moment of silence for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The protesters turned onto Hubbard Avenue, yelling “Black Lives Matter,” “No justice, no peace,” and other chants as they worked their way to the next stop. Middleton City Hall.

At City Hall, Mayor Gurdip Brar came out to address the crowd. He said the voices of the people must be heard, and acknowledged that change makes people uneasy. “Change is hard, but change must come,” he said. “We must never give up.”

Two MHS teachers also addressed the crowd, imploring citizens to truly make Middleton a Good Neighbor City and encouraging them to listen to the experiences of Black people, and to listen to Black teens.

One of the teachers, Andy Hartman, told the marchers, “People of color can no longer be the bearers of our insecurity and failures,” and advocated for Black homeownership.

As the group made their way to the final stop at Stone Horse Green, a row of armed security guards lining the perimeter of Middleton Center came into view. Craft paper covered the windows, and owner Terrence Wall had “Private Property” posted along the buildings. 

Wall had previously contacted the city concerned about the march and “protecting his property,” and worried about the police department’s ability to address problems that could arise. These measures were taken in spite of the protest being advertised as a peaceful march.

MHS incoming senior Annie Warriner addressed the crowd that filtered into the green space. She pointed out micro aggressions she has dealt with and said she has heard, “Are you adopted?” and “Your house smells Mexican.”

Warriner added that at the high schools white students wear black face during senior week and frequently use the N-word, but there are no repercussions.

She pointed out income discrepancies between white people and people of color and told the group, “All lives do not matter until Black ones do, too.”

Teacher Chundou Her said that when he was hired by the district he was told students of color look up to him. “Instead of telling us we’re good role models, ask what resources we need.” 

He said that Middleton does a good job of creating exception, as in students who are exceptions to rules. “We cannot continue to carry on backs of these exceptional students,” he said and added, “Every single teacher a student comes across must want to teach.”

He also implored marchers to put money in the schools, and support the Middleton Education Foundation, which event organizers Deb Wood Brown and June Brown were raising money for at the march. They sold signs and posters for the event and also asked that donations be made with the memo “equity initiative.”

Percy Brown Jr. director of equity and student achievement for the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District, was the final speaker of the night, and took the microphone while fighting back tears. “When Annie came up here I got real choked up,” he told the group.

Brown motioned to the guards surrounding Middleton Center and said, “No offense to you. I know the developer thinks he needs to protect his property. My people were property for 246 years.” He said he was not trying to be disrespectful of the security guards but pointed out the this is what overseers on plantations looked like.

He went on to say of Wall, “He wants to dismiss my people’s blood, sweat and tears that allows him to live the way he does today.”

Brown told the crowd about how the Homestead Act had gobbled up many acres of land and said the Federal Housing Authority had drawn redline of Black neighborhoods, denying Black people federally backed loans that their white counterparts enjoy–a practice still in place today.

He pointed out that Black people returning from war could not access the GI Bill or buy homes available to white veterans.

He stated, “This nation has to pay what it owes Black people. I need you to go where America thrives, the almighty dollar. There’s gotta be a check attached to the problem.” He then asked that people donate to education.

Brown pointed out that the money was wasted on the security guards due to the peaceful crowd and said, “Send some of that money to the district to make sure education is equal.”

He ended by telling the group that over 70 percent of people think there is a discrimination problem in the country. “Let this be the start of a movement, both local  and national,” Brown concluded.

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