Only a fraction of what is known about African American settlers in the Midwest, and the vibrant and cohesive communities they formed, has been preserved in traditional sources. Much is contained in the hearts and minds of their descendants. Seeing a pressing need to preserve these experiences, lifelong Madison, Wis., resident Muriel Simms collected the stories of twenty-five African Americans from Madison whose families arrived, survived, and thrived here in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
While some struggled to find work, housing and acceptance, they describe a supportive and enterprising community that formed churches, businesses, and social clubs -- and frequently came together in the face of adversity and conflict. A brief history of Madison's African American settlement sets the stage for the oral histories.
Muriel Simms is a lifelong Madison resident and longtime educator in the Madison Metropolitan School District. She received her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2002 and serves as an adjunct faculty member in the Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at Edgewood College.