On a chilly Tuesday morning in early March, students assembled on campus and started marching to Madison. The 50 miles between Beloit and Wisconsin’s capital was about equal to the distance between the two Alabama cities.
The 50th anniversary of the Beloit-to-Madison march has been rekindling memories on Facebook and elsewhere among Beloit alumni who participated.
“The new planners were on the march,” says Larry Ashman’68, referring to first-year marchers like himself, who were also in the first class to enroll under the noted Beloit Plan.
Estimates vary, but between 150 and 175 Beloit students are reported to have made the trek to the state capital over two days, staying overnight in a church in Evansville. One newspaper account reported that the line of students along Highway 213 (formerly Route 13) stretched four blocks.
Ashman recalls the chill and remembers eating baby food out of jars for sustenance.
Beloit’s marchers, who demonstrated peacefully like their counterparts in the South, were not met with violence like the marchers in Alabama, but their presence was not always welcomed.
Roger Dixon’68 remembers some drivers squeezing out the marchers along rural Wisconsin roads, while others spat at them, hurled invectives, and even pointed guns. “I learned a lot about myself and my friends on this march,” Dixon wrote on Facebook.
At the time, many faculty members cancelled classes and offered their support by supplying students with food, drinks, and blankets or by driving to Madison to meet the marchers when they arrived at their destination.
In 2011, College Archivist Fred Burwell’86 researched the sympathy march and wrote about it in a column called “Fridays with Fred,” which was published on Beloit’s internal news website. Since then, he has been able to acquire additional photos of Beloit’s march for the college collection.