Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Spring 2015 (March 25, 2015)

Sympathy March Marks Significant Anniversary

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March 5, 2015

March to Madison press photo_BCMSP15_cropped.jpg
Photo from Beloit College Archives

In March of 1965, eight Beloit College students left campus to take part in the historic civil rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. Many of those who stayed behind showed their solidarity by organizing a demonstration of their own. 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. Burwell’s story can be found online at


  • March 26 2015 at 10:30 am
    Kathi Austin Mahle '67

    As one of the participants in the march to Madison, this story and the link story brought back a flood of memories, both of the march and of the aftermath in returning to Campus.  Truly an important part of my college/life experience.  We have come so far and have so far to go to reach full equality!


  • March 27 2015 at 11:01 pm
    Chomingwen D. Pond

    I did not get on the Selma-Montgomery March. I wanted to, having spent the summer of 1957 with my folks in Montgomery, attended Dexter Ave. Baptist Church, got acquainted with the Kings and one of their members who took me to civil rights meetings in the area, but I was Minister of Christian Education for a group of Milwaukee churches and was scheduled to drive Karen, a parishioner and prospective student, to Beloit  to check out the College. Since we had already postponed that once, we couldn't delay it again. 

    Instead I told the senior pastor I would substitute for him at the Lenten service if he wanted to go. "But," I said, "Jackson's mine!" I knew that the only march left that could top the ones that had already been held was one to Jackson, Mississippi. The next year, also with Karen, I did get in on the last day of the Meredith March Against Fear through Mississippi to Jackson.

    The senior pastor eventually decided to go to Montgomery with another staff member and then found that having marched in the South, he could not refuse to be active for civil rights in Milwaukee. That led to his working full time for a couple of years to improve the racial relationships between city and suburbs in Milwaukee.

    The Selma to Montgomery March changed lives in so many ways.

    Chomingwen D. Pond, '50

  • March 28 2015 at 3:59 pm
    David Allen '66

    With fifty years to distort: Boots, tennis shoes, blisters; self-selected marshals walking backward admonishing to stay off the highway and on the rutted shoulder; one-finger salutes from passing cars’ occupants; congregants forcing Evansville pastor to segregate sleeping areas--by sex; rumor that Miller Upton persuaded Governor Knowles (R) that we would show the world that Wisconsin was not Alabama, ensuring that he would meet us in peace at the Capitol; Lieutenant Governor Lucey (D) chiding Knowles for failure to support fair housing legislation; joining up with UW students, our signs saying (roughly) "marching in freedom for freedom” (photo), theirs saying something like “Johnson, send federal troops to Selma.” RT editor (Carolyn) Stewart exhausted from putting out special supplement (photo). Time marches on: fifty years later, Wisconsin governor turning state into Alabama.

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