A clash over how Wisconsin will honor the state’s Black history came to a head last month with lawmakers facing off on who should be celebrated — and who absolutely should not.
Republican Rep. Scott Allen ignited a debate after introducing a Black History Month resolution honoring 10 Wisconsinites, most of whom are white, who helped enslaved Blacks to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Other honorees, which included members of the Stockbridge-Munsee band of the Mohican Indians, were either Black or played a pivotal role in helping the enslaved escape to Canada, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The decision was drafted with zero input from the Legislature’s African-American members, drawing outrage among Democratic lawmakers who criticized Allen for commandeering an occasion meant to celebrate Black history.
“The one thing we do get to have control over — we can’t even have that,” said Black Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee, calling the resolution “pretty disrespectful.”
“The same way we would not expect to have insight and control over who’s being honored for Italian History Month or for German History Month, we would respect the German lawmakers in the Legislature, Italian lawmakers in the Legislature, and we would allow them to lead on that,” he added.
Others like Sen. Lena Taylor likened Allen, who’s white, to a slave owner.
“Thank you Massa Allen for pickin’ whose we should honuh suh,” Taylor, who’s running for mayor of Milwaukee, addressed the congressman in a December email. “We sho ain’t capable of thinkin’ fo ourselves, suh.”
Allen, who’s married to a Black woman, said he hoped to draft a resolution that his Republican colleagues would support. Last week, he sat down with Democratic Rep. Kalan Haywood to iron out details of the resolution ahead of an upcoming Assembly meeting on the matter.
According to the Journal Sentinel, Haywood (D-Milwaukee) was the only Black lawmaker who agreed to sit down with Allen and discuss next steps after last month’s blowup.
“I came here to figure out how to defuse this bomb before it goes off and we make national news in February,” he said.
A similar controversy beset the Legislature last year when Republicans shot down a resolution drafted by Black lawmakers that sought to honor notable African-Americans, including former NFL star Colin Kaepernick. The GOP refused to let resolution pass until Kaepernick’s name was removed.
Haywood and Allen both say they hope to avoid another “embarrassing” clash of the left and right.
“We’re trying to come together and have a meaningful dialogue and conversation,” Allen said adding, “whether it’s possible, time will tell.”
The Republican state representative said he plans to keep his original list of honorees but will draft a second resolution, this time with input from Wisconsin’s Black lawmakers.
“If we can’t come together on the Black History Month resolution how are we going to tackle the big issues?” he said.