NAACP’s letter demands UW restore Fredric March’s good name
Dear University of Wisconsin-Madison & University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Communities:
… Guided solely by social-media rumor and grievously fact-free, mistaken conclusions – the name of Wisconsin native and Golden Age acting icon Fredric March was stripped from both UW-Madison’s Fredric March Play Circle (in late 2018) and UW-Oshkosh’s Fredric March Theatre (in late 2020). These name removals took place when enough people chose to believe mere word of mouth that the two-time Oscar winner and two-time Tony winner was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (or its offshoot) and a white supremacist.
We know emphatically that not only was Fredric March not any of these — by a measure of 180 degrees — but that he was, to the contrary, for more than five decades one of 20th-century Hollywood’s earliest, greatest and most boisterous racial-justice activists.
Indeed, for 30-plus-years – through the end of his life – he was a close ally of the NAACP upon whom the organization knew it could rely. And so we remain confused as to why, on both Wisconsin campuses, the avalanche of readily accessible primary- and secondary-source materials detailing Mr. March’s loud, concerted and enduring lifetime commitment to fighting racism and anti-Semitism was never pursued, discovered, consulted, heard or made public – and why neither UW-Madison nor UW-Oshkosh has moved to correct this clear and unconscionable rejection of conspicuously demonstrable historic truth and academic rigor.
Our statements here have been supported on the public record by a number of nationally revered and respected progressive academics and historians – and by individuals who actually knew Mr. March – including Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch III (founding director of the John Lewis-birthed National Museum of African American History & Culture); civil rights author and professor Raymond Arsenault; performer/activist Harry Belafonte; actor/activist James Cromwell; and late UW-Madison professor Max Otto (Clarence Darrow/“Fighting Bob” La Follette intimate, NAACP compatriot and internationally acclaimed humanist philosopher).
When it comes to labeling Mr. March a civil rights hero, what other conclusion could one come to about a man who:
- As a young Wisconsin teen delivered the same anti-white-supremacy speech given by Massachusetts high school senior Paul Robeson a few years later?
- Risked his massive box office in 1939 Jim Crow America by coming on board as one of the very few Hollywood stars unafraid to act as a primary sponsor of Marian Anderson and her historic Lincoln Memorial concert?
- Met in Harry Belafonte’s New York apartment for a 1963 secret strategy session with Martin Luther King and others on the eve of Dr. King’s momentous journey to Birmingham?
- Co-signed a telegram to President Kennedy with James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Ossie Davis, Lena Horne, Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, A. Philip Randolph and others condemning the president for his failure to adequately protect “the rights of 20 million negro citizens”?
- Was asked by NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins in 1964 to deliver the keynote at the national 10th-anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education?
- Was one of the civil rights stalwarts selected in 1968 to host the grand, CBS-televised-coast-to-coast reopening of Ford’s Theatre in the nation’s capital along with racial-justice icons Harry Belafonte, actor Robert Ryan and choreographer Carmen De Lavallade?
- Spent the bulk of his career seeking out roles in one socially-conscious film after another?