Union Holds Forum on Rooms with KKK Link

Fredric March Play Circle and Porter Butts Gallery (Will Kenneally/WSUM)


Author: Martin Rakacolli

The governing body of the Wisconsin Union held an open forum at the Memorial Union last Thursday to discuss the naming of a gallery and play circle in the Memorial Union after two UW-Madison alumni who were involved with student groups named after the Ku Klux Klan.

The Fredric March Play Circle and the Porter Butts Gallery are named after Fredric March, an Oscar-winning actor, and Porter Butts, the first director of the Union. March and Butts both belonged to a campus group called the Ku Klux Klan Honorary Junior Society during their time on campus in the 1920s. The campus group was distinct from the national KKK—though they shared the same name—but concerns were raised that the group was named after a violent white nationalist organization and some people are calling for the play circle and the gallery to be renamed.

From 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., speakers took turns taking to the podium to voice their opinions on the issue. People of diverse ages and races were represented and even Butts’ daughter spoke at one point.

Several students expressed frustration that the issue of renaming the rooms was still being debated. One of the speakers said “This is not about Porter. He lived his life, he had his successes, he had his failures, just like all of us. This is about students.” An elderly man who knew Butts said that, even though he held no personal animosity towards him, Butts’ association with a racist organization was a problem.

Other speakers defended Butts. Butts’ daughter maintained that her father was not racist and another man argued naming the gallery after Butts was about honoring the good things Butts did instead of the bad. “At the top of Bascom Hill there’s a statue of Abraham Lincoln,” one speaker said. “Does that statue honor the good and the bad?”

This forum was a follow-up to another forum last Thursday on the same issue. Information about these forums can be found on the union’s website: https://union.wisc.edu/about/union-council/openforum