I have been thinking a lot about a beloved Wisconsin. Imagining when African Americans first came to this state; free people as translators, explorers, traders and later when they came escaping slavery, how they must have loved their new home. Wisconsin offered free schooling, land for purchase, and neighbors that included a huge immigrant population searching for a better life too. I knew Mrs. Mildred Greene, whose family settled in Wisconsin in the late 1800’s and she shared how happy she was growing up in Wisconsin, working the land with family.
There were Native American nations already living here. The name Wisconsin means "grassy place" in the Chippewa language. We must never forget that it was their home first and it is shameful that their Wisconsin homeland was unfairly taken and their people moved to reservations. In present day Wisconsin, there are Spanish speaking people living in every county. We have this nuanced backdrop of history, that includes us all and follows us into present day. Yet, the stories of African American people in Wisconsin, as well as Native and Spanish speaking folks, have not been fully revealed.
As a poet, I have discovered and researched some of this rich history of African American contributions to Wisconsin, as well as the numerous intersections between African American, Native and European Americans. In exploring the beloved Wisconsin, I’d like the contributions to literature acknowledged as well. I have asked two writers, Sherry Lucille, and Catrina Sparkman, to join me in public presentations about how their writing connects to three African American literary giants who also lived and worked in Madison, Wisconsin; Jean Toomer, Lorraine Hansberry and Sarah Webster Fabio. In 2017, we intend to present little known facts about the lives and writings of these three literary greats in poetry, plays and fiction and how we are a part of their legacy in Wisconsin literature. Watch for Black Voices in Wisconsin: Past and Present.