Jim Godsil: Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names”

October 1, 2015
Noon gathering outside of Riverwest Co-op and Café. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Noon gathering at Riverwest Co-op and Café. Photo © by Lee Matz.

With the assistance of wonderful weather, over 400 nurturing relatives and friends arriving during the course of the day, Milwaukee’s Jim Godsil celebrated his 70th birthday on August 22. Affirming his uniquely inclusive style, the festivities began with a relaxing bus tour and concluded with Godsil’s festive Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.”

James Godsil at his 70th year birthday party. Photo © by Lee Matz.

James Godsil at his 70th year birthday party. Photo © by Lee Matz.

The date chosen honors the following important organizations in Godsil’s life: the 40th year of Community Roofing and Restoration – the main event sponsor, the 10th anniversary of the Milwaukee Renaissance Wiki Magazine, the 5th anniversary of the Sweetwater Foundation and the one-year anniversary of Heart Haus, the tour’s final destination.

Intermingling from “hither and yonder,” guests appeared representing diverse family members, community advocates, gender diversities, artistic professions, religious persuasions, political interests, age and education ranges and class designations.

“All I wanted to do was expand the value of my 70th birthday to include jump-starting a rainbow artist and adventurer boundary-crossing drum-bus party experiment,” Godsil said. “I hoped to introduce European Americans to the wonderful neighborhoods, galleries and studios of African American artists on the North side and introduce African Americans to a south side European American neighborhood. I hoped to mix up all of God’s children with good food, good drink, good music and a street party celebration and it worked!”

Purple Cow Bus at Riverwest Coop. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Purple Cow Bus at Riverwest Coop. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Starting at noon, Godsil greeted his first round of bus riders as they gathered at Riverwest Coop and Café to board the 71-seat capacity Purple Cow Organics Bus donated for this event by Sandy Syburg. Traveling from all parts of the country, Godsil welcomed the attendance of his children Rachel, Megan, Joseph, and Bridie, as well as grandchildren Kate, Rebecca, Monilola, and Darragh, sons-in-law Jim Freeman and Ok Jeyifous, sisters JoAnn and Jean, and brother-in-law Joe Werth.

Jahme Tony Finlayson's musical acumen shared. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Tony Finlayson shared rhythms on the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Bused to the Northside – Part 2

On the bus, Jahmés Tony Finlayson’s adept drumming established a comfortable ambiance. Marquette University’s Bob Pavlik, Riverwest backstreet Mayor Vince Bushnell and Seton Hall Law Professor Rachel Godsil joined 40 Riverwest activists.

The tour’s initial stop was Mother Clara Atwater’s and Toussaint Harris’ Gingerbread Land, which included several brightly colored houses and Atwater’s Love Tabernacle church. There another ten people boarded the bus..

Gathering in Mother Clara's Gingerbread Land. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Gathering in Mother Clara’s Gingerbread Land. Photo © by Lee Matz.

The “rainbow” busload proceeded further into Milwaukee’s north side central city to explore additional treasures. The next stop was the Terry McCormick Contemporary Fine and Folk Art Gallery, located in Evelyn Patricia Terry’s two-story home.

Fondé Bridges passing out his Healthy Words sayings as the gallery visitors exit the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz..

Fondé Bridges passing out his Healthy Words sayings as the gallery visitors exit the bus. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Godsil said, “We feasted upon Fondé Bridges’ healing “Healthy Words” performance as Terry’s gallery greeter. The tour party went inside the gallery filled with room after room of beauty and listened to Evelyn’s great stories, which she continued after she boarded the bus to join the tour.”

Two young visitors to terry's gallery. Photo © by Lee Matz..

Two young visitors to terry’s gallery. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Passing by Dep’s Hall of Fade and proceeding west to Lisbon Avenue, the bus unloaded its passengers to view Muneer Bahauddeen’s Ogbe Meji Studio exhibiting his finely crafted ceramic art. Some viewers momentarily slipped into the Amaranth Café across the street to buy a quick treat. Bahauddeen spoke outside to visitors about his vision to create an Amaranth Urban Sanctuary. Everyone participated in Finlayson’s Drum Bus Circle and sang Godsil’s birthday song before boarding the bus with new riders.

Muneer Bahauddeen's ceramic studio. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Muneer Bahauddeen’s captivating ceramic studio. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Bused to the Southside Finale – Part 3

Introducing Milwaukee’s Southside, the tour bus entered the site of the Old Main Soldiers Home Reef National Historic Landmark. Cleo Pruitt, who met us there, gave a moving tribute to forgotten soldiers of color as founder of the Rebirth of Freedom Project. She explained her vision of a future monument to them. Godsil observed, “The site astonished people with the terrible beauty of that sacred place.” Ms. Pruitt later joined the street party.

Cleo Pruitt explaining her Rebirth of Freedom Project. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Cleo Pruitt explaining her Rebirth of Freedom Project. Photo © by Lee Matz.

As the finale, Ben Kohler’s Heart Haus team impressively hosted the Southside Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” “Foolosopher” Sky Schultz, in white cloth, silently greeted enlightened bus riders – arriving an hour late without complaints

Foolosopher Sky Schultz welcomed the riders as they joined the street party. Godsil's Rainbow Street Party of

Foolosopher Sky Schultz welcomed the riders.  Photo © by Lee Matz.

Poet Christina Zadowski reads poetry. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Poet Christina Zawadiwsky reads poetry. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Joining the party already in progress, the travelers settled in to participate in the merriment. They listened to award-winning Christina Zawadiwsky read poetry within the shadow of a specially constructed street stage. Howard Lewis, Holly Haebig, Dena Aronson and Jay Anderson provided music.

Muneer Bahauddeen on the right offering hands on art lessons. Photo © by Lee .

Muneer Bahauddeen on the right offering hands on art lessons. Photo © by Lee Matz .

Internationally collected artist, Della Wells and her great grandson, Momari Dejohnett, visited  the designated inter-generational play area and Bahauddeen’s Peace Post Clay Table.

Tim Green record scratching. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Tim Green record scratching. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Occupying a corner of the Heart Haus porch, Tim Green skillfully scratched records and played a range of music, welcoming revelers as they gathered “food and drink” from the house. Tables covered with Cheryl Sitzler’s African patterned tablecloths transformed the space.

Scrumptious rainbow entrees came from The Riverwest Coop Café, Juan’s Mom’s Tamale, Curt’s Chicken, Timbuktu and Martha’s Mighty Fine Foods. Janine Arseneau placed her six freshly baked fruit pies on a table in the street.

Janine Arseneau's delicious fruit pies. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Janine Arseneau’s delicious fruit pies. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Brad Pruitt, an awarded documentary filmmaker, directed filming of this historical event.

Brad Pruitt speaking during bus tour. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Brad Pruitt speaking during bus tour. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Enjoying every moment, along with his guests, Godsil noted, “A European American retired doctor told me it was the most significant trip he had ever taken. An African American elder said it was a life-changing experience to see 20 and 30 African Americans celebrating with scores of European Americans in a south side residential neighborhood.”

Godsil's Rainbow Street Party of !00 Names. Photo © by Lee Matz.

Godsil’s Rainbow Street Party of “100 Names.” Photo © by Lee Matz.

Revelers delighted in the impact of Godsil’s mindfulness as a community and world force. Many openly expressed appreciation for Godsil’s refreshing wisdom, activism, buoyant nature, enthusiasm, supportive language and visionary joyfulness. He plans many more celebrations until his 100th birthday!

Evelyn Patricia Terry's Photo © by Lee Matz.

Evelyn Patricia Terry Photo © by Lee Matz.

Evelyn Patricia Terry wrote this blog. Jim Godsil’s interest in associating with creatives of like minds from many facets of the community particularly impressed her. Volunteer editors and proofreaders are welcome and needed as artists continue to strive to increase our state’s art profile. Reach her at the email address terryevelyn@hotmail.com with any corrections. Plus, because hacking into websites happened, Terry is reconstructing her website.


Leslie Smith III: I want People to Just Get It

May 25, 2014

I missed the introduction to the “rapid fire” lecture of UW-Madison professor and painter Leslie Smith III. Smith, in full force, as I entered the dark auditorium, showed little inclination to slow down. Immediately captivated, my senses prompted me to pay very close attention and strive to comprehend every word. I searched for a pen and paper to assist in increasing my chances of taking it all in and to also ” get it.” His choice of words fell on my ears as magic even as I missed chunks of phrases and bits and pieces here and there.

I instantly traveled back in time to my days as a UW-Milwaukee art aesthetics and philosophy student in the classes of Professor Haig Khatchadourian and much later as a student in the classes of Judith Russi Kirshner, then my professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a contributor to Art Forum. Khatchadourian’s and Kirshner’s command of aesthetics and delivery excited and gained my rapt attention. Smith’s command of aesthetics and delivery intertwined with his artmaking, inspired that same awe.

Smith provided glimpses into his educational background, museum exhibitions and assorted processes influencing the thought-provoking abstractions. He shared narrative observations and interpretations of sometimes quirky private dramas and interpersonal relationships. His real life references definitely distinguished themselves in the abstract paintings. Without these associations, the actual connections to pieces like “Piss Chair,” “Hungry Boy” and “You First”  remain with Smith. The uniquely personal references provide insights when the viewer needs them and when the artist desires, in some way, to provide them. Smith’s increasingly asymmetrically shaped canvas paintings, gestural brushstrokes and bold colors stand solidly alone as strong aesthetic images. My notes, following the artwork titles, reveal what I heard as Smith’s aesthetic concepts and welcomed as his references.

"Piss Chair" 96 x 108 inches, Oil on Canvas 2008

“Piss Chair” 96 x 108 inches, Oil on Canvas 2008

“Piss Chair”
In the white lawn chair we ate watermelon and barbeque/Legs and high heel shoes/Psychological aspects/Objects that function with little reference
Emotional Gravitas borrows language/language/isolates it from the language of object/You have to work with what you know. Work has to be more about me/How you tell the truth.

"Hungry Boy" 40 x 40 inches, Oil on Canvas 2011

“Hungry Boy” 40 x 40 inches, Oil on Canvas 2011

“Hungry Boy”

Hungry for work, Hungry for time, Hungry for a studio Infatuated with the romance/synthetic life of NY/Find objects that I can re-contextualize -find what I wanted/ I was asked, “Have you thought about Philip Guston?” It helps to organize the canvas/I thought about separating the making of a character from the act of creating the painting/I start out not knowing what they are all about/I’m interested in investigation/all the conditions of a painting/Dealing with the role of color, dealing with narrative/I thought about separating the making of a character/from the act of creating the painting/I start out not knowing what they are all about/I’m interested in investigation all the conditions of a painting/Dealing with the role of color/Dealing with narrative.

"Window" 24 x 24 inches, Oil and spray paint on Canvas 2010

“Window” 24 x 24 inches, Oil and spray paint on Canvas 2010

“Window”

What came out of it is collapsing the space/Factor into a larger context/27” x 27” paintings/Infatuated with inanimate objects about the physicality of painting/How to not make it figurative/Make it volumetric/I realize that I just made a window/It reflects light with its metallic under-painting/I enter into an architectural space/Artist – Fra Angelico/He could negotiate space/Investigating Fra Angelico led to windows/Changing ways of studying subtle narratives and suggestion/“How Long has this been going on?/The Morning After”/Red hue is necessary for trying to solve the problem/Hard to quantify the saturation of color/Set within dream space/elements may float or exist in a semi-real space/I am interested in specificity and a certain reality/I want to create a sense of familiarity/I dream too much.

"You First" 26 x 26 Oil on Linen 2012

“You First” 26 x 26 inches, Oil on Linen 2012

“You First”

Do you know “Coming to America?”/Jerry Curls, Jheri Curls, Uncle’s/You first integrate multiple characters/Jerry curl juice/sweat.

"Self" 26 x 26 Oil on Linen 2011

“Self” 26 x 26 inches, Oil on Linen 2011

“Self”

Annual self-portrait/Gestural characters clouds or a mop/Working around the peripheral/Strike a theme until I exhaust it/“Viennese Waltz”/Relationships with closest friends are closer or more like family than your real family/Dancing with the stars.

"Sticks Stone or Drones" 72 x 96inches Oil on Canvas 2012

“Sticks Stone or Drones” 72 x 96 inches, Oil on Canvas 2012

 “Stick, Stones, and Drones”

It was great, I liked it/But it did not satisfy what else I’m missing/A post-modernist painter/Everything is apologetic/Everything is working together/I wanted to give my painting the same kind of complexity/“Philip Guston at work in his studio”/he did not want to understand what he was painting/I think about the contextualizing/I do want to understand it and demystify things/Canvas/frame/Potent reason to allow the painting shape/once a square/Then disfigure/dis-invigorate it to a hump form/What the contradiction was/Contradicting realities.

"Night Baptism" 42 x 42 inches Oil on Shaped Canvas 2013

“Night Baptism” 42 x 42 inches Oil on Shaped Canvas 2013

“Night Baptism”

I flew to … the east coast to be re-baptized, it happened at night with about/6-7 little bitty people, then I flew back/“Drift Studio” carpentry/ Were all forces and working mechanisms/Equal and opposing-canceling each other out/Cyclical unsolvable realities/ Societal and cultural/Drawings are subsidiaries to the/Building off the idea of/Locked on and found if you lose it.

 

"Best Kept Secret" 48 x 48 inches Oil on Shaped Canvas 2013

“Best Kept Secret,” 48 x 48 inches Oil on Shaped Canvas 2013

 “Best Kept Secret”

 Under a vail/Broken fractured/Night                 twitch shows up/Things that show up/The  politics of dealing with human  dispositions/All the others become more  complicated/I deal more or less/These  objects/I want to take a more direct  approach/Moved back into just letting things  go. I order two or three shapes at a time because I don’t know what to do with them/A juxtaposing element of form not fitting that way/I just fuss with them until they kind of meld together/Post-minimalism neo-geo/My personal experience, an absence of self/The work becomes lost in the conversation/Big elephant in the room/packed with a certain amount of familiarity.

Untitled work on paper, 26 x 40 inches Oil on Chromcoat paper, 2014

Untitled work on paper, 26 x 40 inches, Oil on Chromcoat paper, 2014

“Untitled”

Oil on Chromcoat paper/I can’t contextualize it/Something about these gestural painting/ Night Orchestra/Not figured out what that means/I just think it’s cool/Just needed something black to offset the newness/Want to make a painting that lifted those shapes up/The African American Abstract exhibition in Texas/The curator did such a good job of making me see the relationship my paintings had to abstraction in a multi generational context/I don’t believe mine are truly real abstractions/They are personified gestural subtle narrations of painting speaking to one another/I am working on more Chromecoat paper/their likeness helps fortify the shapes/I want people to just get it/A bad idea/My wife has told me no one can read my mind/unrealistic/my titles connect.

by Evelyn Patricia Terry

Terry received one of the Milwaukee Arts Board’s 2014 Artists of the Year Awards (along with Barbara Leigh), please contact Terry for juror, lecture, curator, commission, or workshop requests at terryevelyn@hotmail.com or visit the web page evelynpatriciaterry.com/news for more information.


 

 

 


Art and biology

October 21, 2011

Lynda Barry's 'Babble, Babble, Babble' comes out in November.

The Wisconsin Book Festival continues through October 23, so I wanted to share a couple of personal festival highlights with our blog readers. Whether you’re from upstate or down the block, you can enjoy these writers with me, thanks to the wonders of streaming audio and video.

First off, Wisconsin-based writer and cartoonist Lynda Barry. Part book festival, part radio show, her appearance Friday morning filled the house at Overture Center for the Arts, where WPR‘s Veronica Reuckert was broadcasting the event. Topics included coping with the ‘vampire of doubt’ that sometimes plagues writers; the importance of teacher instinct in an era of test fixation; and Barry’s soon-to-be released book, Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything. She also spoke to our creative impulses–how dance, poetry and music have a biological function for humans. They’re part of our wiring, she says.

From the presentation:

When I ask people, ‘Do we need the arts to survive?’ People say, ‘No, to survive all you need is air, some water, and you need, like, food.’

And then I’ll say, ‘Well, you personally, do you need music?’

[Addressing the crowd, many of whom are high school students:] You guys sitting in the audience right now, do you need music?

Absolutely! … When you play your song in the morning it makes you able to get to the bus stop.

If you listen to the entire segment at the Veronica Reuckert Show archives, you’ll be treated to what I’m betting is Barry’s WPR singing debut, a sweetly imperfect rendition of “Oh” by Ciara.

And, speaking of biology, poet Erin Ruzicka Trondson will join two other Midwest authors for a Saturday evening mix of fiction and poetry readings called ‘Voices of Motherhood.’ Nesting, her small book of poems published earlier this year, gets at the knot of maternal experience–entangled as it can be in bliss and tenderness, isolation and vulnerability all at once.

Here she is at a reading last spring:


Two full days of book festival remain. Check out the online guide to map out your itinerary.

Also through Oct. 23  in the Eau Claire area, the Chippewa Valley Book Festival has authors, activities and writing contests on tap.

–Tammy Kempfert


Visualization, Synchronicity and Planning

November 15, 2010

By Evelyn Patricia Terry

After discovering I wanted to be an artist, I planned to plan my life, but I couldn’t create a plan past getting an education, which seemed much more controllable. After that, life seemed “up for grabs.” Though I’ve since learned to rely on visualization and synchronicity to move forward (more about that later), I first entertained the idea of college teaching—both to earn money and because “professor” sounded important.

Magic is Dreaming Tall Dreams, Evelyn Patricia Terry.

Magic is Dreaming Tall Dreams, Mixed media monoprint, 22” x 30” (at Cuvée Lounge). Evelyn Patricia Terry. All rights reserved.

But I really desired to be like the much-celebrated Picasso, who represented passion, commitment, personal vision and prosperity. There was no mention of African-American artists or women in my classes, so Picasso was it in 1968. Art history was like American history–very little mention of non-white races. I excitedly believed I was going to be the first African-American artist.

After earning one degree, I was informed by some nebulous network that to acquire a job teaching at a college or university, an MFA was a must. I went to Chicago after also being told that universities and colleges did not hire people who graduated from the same institution. Inbreeding of ideas was an issue. I wanted to live in Wisconsin, even though the winters were harsh and heating bills were high, so earning a degree from outside might help.

Evolving from the Silence, Evelyn Patricia Terry.

Evolving from the Silence, Pastel, 30” x 44” (at Cuvée Lounge). Evelyn Patricia Terry. All rights reserved.

I married, had two children, and then divorced while the children were young. There are only 24 hours in a day, so I had to release something: art needed eight hours; my children needed at least eight, more on the weekends; and I had to sleep. Producing art was too personally rewarding for me to let go, because of the appearance of “hard times.” Instead, I chose to let my goal of “professor” go, even though I did earn the MFA after divorcing.

An introduction to a church study group for “New Thought” enabled me to embrace being a full-time artist without fear. “New Thought” introduced me to visualization and the philosophy of synchronicity. One of the first things I learned was “do not get a job to acquire health insurance: working to get health insurance is planning to get sick.” I was shocked. Instead I was instructed to look within for my income source and for healing. Have the faith of a mustard seed and choose for “love of” something, rather than “fear of” something. Knowing I could muster up that tiny bit of faith, I committed to being an artist and a mother. I never wanted to feel that my two young children were in the way of producing art or that art was in the way of their total nurturing. I integrated them into the creative process. When they were about 6 and 7, I hired them to assist me. I remember asking about a pastel that I was working on, “Is this finished?” One of them said, “If you have to ask, you know it’s not finished.”

Meditation and positive visualization played a major role in keeping my mind focused on healing. Before 1990, I suffered from bouts of excruciating back pain (sciatica) for about 12 years, along with tooth decay, bronchitis, sinusitis and unsightly painful skin conditions like eczema and acne. After reading many books about the power of consuming juiced raw green vegetables, vitamins, minerals and exercising, I accomplished healing. I secured a great dentist who is also an artist. Presently my health is better than it has ever been.

Pandora's Box: Thirteen God Workers Come Forth

Pandora's Box: Thirteen God Workers Come Forth, Pastel, 22” x 30” (at Rosenblatt Gallery). Evelyn Patricia Terry. All rights reserved.

Synchronicity, concentration on what I want for my life, and positive visualization play major roles, whenever I experience times of lean sales. Among other things, I affirm that art sales are incredible, that I enjoy leading workshops from kindergarten to seniors, and I embrace lecture tours. For six months, I am presently exhibiting abstract artwork from three bodies of work at Cuvée, a champagne and events space in the Third Ward above Artasia Gallery. In the same building, on the second floor at the Rosenblatt Gallery, I am also exhibiting two pieces from my Pandora’s Box series. It is interesting to note that one day after I visualized possibilities for my art to go beyond my studio space, the Cuvée opportunity occurred very synchronistically, through a chance encounter. Although synchronicity and visualization has gotten me this far, I often feel that planning could allow me to reach many other goals–but I don’t know.


Don’t miss Evelyn Patricia Terry’s artwork, on exhibition this month at the Rosenblatt Gallery (ph. 414-220-4292) and at Cuvée (ph. 414-225-9800). Both are located in the Isabella Ryder Building, 181 N. Broadway, Milwaukee. You can also view her work at www.evelynpatriciaterry.com.

 


Overheard

September 9, 2010

I’m sitting here in a waiting room and I overheard a conversation that anecdotally confirms something I’ve felt for a long time.

A couple sitting a few chairs down from me was talking about a woman they know who wanted to start a small business out of her home. It involved a device for braiding corn-rows into people’s hair and she wanted to do things right, so she went to the government to license and register her business.

Instead of being encouraged for her creative innovation and being granted her license to add value to her life and the flagging economy; she was told she could not register and legally run her business without a cosmetology degree.

This is a pervasive and damning problem. The systems that exist throughout our society stifle people’s willingness to take a risk with an idea, instead of encouraging it.

The American economy runs on the backs of small business owners and these are the creative and innovative people who need systems in place to encourage ideas and creativity to add value to their lives and the economy in turn.

Look at the founders of our country. Innovators, artists, writers, thinkers and tinkerers. They thrived, grew and exploded in an environment that valued these qualities and let them flourish.

I have felt for some time that as a whole society does not value what I have to offer, and when I say, “I”, I mean creatives, idea makers, artists and innovators. We say we do, as a society, but follow the money and you can see what we as a society truly value.

Spyros Heniadis


The Art of [not] Getting Things Done

April 5, 2010
Man, I fail spectacularly.


I keep trying, and trying and trying to come up with a way to keep myself organized and on track and getting the things done that I need to get done.


But I just suck at it.


I’ve been a bad blogger for Portal Wisconsin, I haven’t posted a thing since December. (I’m really sorry Tammy!)


I’ve also failed to follow through (up to this point at least) on the ideas I laid out here on the blog for my website and attempts to drum up some income from my artwork. (I do still plan to implement these ideas, it’s just going to take longer than anybody probably expected!)


I am good at a couple of things, I’m good at tweeting, I’m damn good at tweeting!


I’m also good at two projects that I set out for myself. The first is my daily self-portrait project, which I started November 16th, 2009 and have faithfully and dutifully and gleefully held to for 138 days and counting.


I started a daily drawing January 4th 2010, and have also faithfully and joyfullly held to for 77 days and counting.


One of the main reasons I’ve been so successful at the daily portraits and drawings, has been the support and encouragement of my friends and the community on twitter. That gives me the kernel of an idea of something that might help keep me more on track than I have been in the past.


It also lets me know that this cause, this idea of me accomplishing things predictably, consistently and effectively isn’t an (entirely) lost cause.


I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet. I keep trying, and I’m going to try yet again, starting today.


Here’s hoping I can craft a system that I can stick to!


(Here are the links if you are interested in either of my daily projects: Self Portraits, Daily Drawing)


Spyros Heniadis

Freedom Shrieker

January 14, 2010

William, Sarah and Ollie Greene, residents of one of the first Wisconsin rural African American communities, Pleasant Ridge.

African-Americans made up a tiny slice of the pre-Civil War population of Wisconsin.  Less than 1200 are recorded on the 1860 federal census, out of a total head count of 775,881.  It’s safe to assume that the actual number in residence was larger, since African-Americans—runaway slaves or documented free men and women–had plenty of reason not to consider any government agent a friend.

One man of color in Wisconsin who was not afraid to make his presence known was Byrd Parker.  He came to Oshkosh from North Carolina by way of Chicago where he had served as a minister in the “African” Methodist (segregated) Church. In 1855, with no pulpit open to him in his new home town, Parker and his wife Jane opened an “eating saloon.”

The newly-born Republican Party swept into state office on an anti-slavery platform in 1856. The  legislature placed a referendum on the ballot for November, 1857 asking if Wisconsin should recognize the right of  “Negro” men to vote. Parker attended a gathering in Racine held to celebrate the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies where black and white activists also met “to adopt some efficient means to canvass the State in favor of equal suffrage.”

One of the “means” they adopted was to dispatch Byrd Parker on a lecture tour. The young man left Jane and their one year old daughter May in Oshkosh and hit the road in frontier Wisconsin. It was not necessarily hostile territory,  just a place where a black face was a rare sight and a well-spoken black man an exotic apparition.

By all accounts, Parker met the challenge. In Milwaukee, he was reported as “little inferior” to the well-known abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass and described as “a strong advocate in the cause of his oppressed people.” In Berlin, the crowd filled the meeting hall and applauded his words. In Menasha, he was praised for exposing the  “barren…doctrine [that] the blacks have no rights which white men are bound to respect.”

Parker was good, and his cause just but the time was not yet right. He could not persuade a majority of the all-white, male electorate to vote in favor of suffrage for black men. The referendum campaign ended, but Parker did not stop. He continued to speak out against slavery and in favor of equal rights for African-Americans.  After hearing him speak early in 1858, editor and Democratic Party leader “Brick” Pomeroy christened Parker a “freedom shrieker.” It was not a compliment, especially from Pomeroy, who became one of Wisconsin’s most committed anti-war, pro-secession and therefore pro-slavery advocates.

Parker did not live to see the Civil War, its terrible carnage , or the new birth of freedom it brought to African-Americans. Early in 1860, he was on the road, at a podium in the village of Randolph, shrieking for freedom, when he collapsed, felled by a congenital lung condition. He survived a few days and saw his family before he died, leaving Jane a widow at age thirty with three children: May, five; Ida, three; Byrd, Jr., one year old.

In the century that followed other freedom shriekers came in Byrd Parker’s wake and other young mothers came to know Jane Parker’s pain.

We are sad for the pain they bore, fortunate they were not silent.

Photo: Wisconsin Historical Society.

–Michael Goc