March 31 press conference will discuss lack of local African-American employees
by A. David Dahmer
Dr. Richard Harris, a longtime leader in Madison’s African-American community, will be hosting a press conference on March 31, 10 a.m., at the Genesis Conference Center to go into detail explaining his multiple race discrimination complaints that have drawn some attention both locally and nationally.
Harris has received many questions about the status of his four current race discrimination complaints that he has made in Madison. At the press conference, he will explain each complaint and indicate what he plans to do in the future.
Harris, a former Madison Area Technical College administrator and author of “Growing Up Black in South Madison,” has recently filed a federal discrimination complaint against the Madison School District and now has initiated a race discrimination complaint against the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a federal civil rights agency in Washington D.C.
“The newest one that I have submitted to a federal agency about three weeks ago was against the University of Wisconsin-Madison asking for an investigation about racism at the UW as it relates to the non-hiring of blacks,” Harris tells The Madison Times.
“For example, less than 2 percent of the professors on campus are black,” he continues. “There's only a small percentage of blacks employed in the classified non-instructional area. Also, a large percentage of the various departments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are lily white. There are no African Americans.”
The few black professors on UW campus have expressed their concerns to Harris about this in many conversations. “It's something that I've seen for years, but after I wrote my book, faculty members on campus came to talk to me about it,” he says.
Harris is the author of the book “Growing Up Black in South Madison” that details the plight of African Americans in Madison in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond.
Harris has already stated that he wants the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate district procedures on hiring black teachers and staff, and discipline of black students. He filed his complaint after obtaining district data showing only 2.2 percent of teachers and 4.9 percent of staff are black, while 22 percent of students are black and 61 percent of students recommended for expulsion are black. The district also said 72 percent of teachers are white women.
“Black children make 30-35 percent of the MMSD. There's something wrong with that if only 2 percent of the teachers are black,” Harris says. “Approximately 80 percent of the black children going through school now will go through 12 years of education without ever being taught by a black teacher.”
The Office of Civil Rights referred Harris's complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in Milwaukee. “Any black person that I know who has been harassed, unjustly fired, or treated poorly by the MMSD are submitting complaints to the EEOC,” Harris says.
The Office of Civil Rights will continue their investigations of MMSD's discrimination against black children who have almost no black teachers, Harris says. “This puts them at a disadvantage academically therefore leading to the minority achievement gap and a higher percentage of blacks in remedial and special education and very few blacks in the gifted and talented program. We feel like black children are being shortchanged and discriminated against by this situation where there are so very few black teachers.”
Harris has previously requested that Madison Mayor Paul Soglin conduct an investigation into the possibility that blacks living in the Triangle area were cheated by the Madison Redevelopment Authority (MRA) of the City of Madison during the Triangle Urban Renewal Project in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Dr. Harris says that because of his book, he has received a strong reaction from the black community as to how blacks were treated during this urban renewal project.
“I've talked with a lot of black leaders — the older leaders who really have their ear to the community — and they are in agreement with me about these discrimination complaints,” Harris says. “I have talked to several people at the Madison public schools and I am really pleased what they are presently trying to do. I really think that our superintendent (Dr. Jennifer Cheatham) has really got a handle on this and I look forward to seeing positive improvements over the next three to four years.”
The local Madison television stations are also on Harris's radar. “I don't believe they are being fair in hiring people of color,” Harris says. “My complaint will specifically address the fact that there are very few blacks in front of or behind the [television] cameras and there are no black anchorpeople at any of the stations at any time.”
In mid to late April, Harris will be bringing forth a complaint against white-owned construction companies for not hiring blacks in highway construction projects in which there are federal funds involved. “There are federal mandates that these construction companies need to have a certain amount of minorities, and they aren't doing it,” Harris says.
With all of these complaints, has Dr. Harris lost any friends?
No,” Harris says. “I'm just trying to tell it like it is. The numbers are what they are and it's just not right. I recently spoke to a large crowd at the Rotary Club at one of their events at the Inn on the Park. They are a rather conservative group and they told me that they hate to admit it but you are telling the truth.
I feel bad about the University of Wisconsin. I have two degrees from UW — my bachelor's degree and my doctorate. It hurt me to submit a race discrimination complaint against my alma mater,” Harris adds. “But you have to do what's right. I just hope that people take the proper steps to employ people. That's all I want … just to see some plan [and] some concern. Until they do this, I'm going to keep at it.”
Dr. Richard Harris will be hosting a press conference on March 31, 10 a.m. at the Genesis Conference Center, 313 W. Beltline Hwy. to go into detail explaining his race discrimination complaints. The press conference will be held in Room 135.