March theatre name remains unchanged

Jack Tierney, Editor-in-chief

The first play of the semester was held at Fredric March Theatre, which retained the same name that was under student protest last semester for its connection to the Ku Klux Klan.

Fredric March, who was a Tony and Academy Award-winning best actor, was born in Racine, Wisconsin, and attended UW Madison. He was in an interfraternity society named the KKK in 1921.

An open discussion with faculty, students and staff was held spring 2019 on campus to discuss the name of the Fredric March Theatre and the connection his name had to the Klan.

The chancellor’s office has not said if the name will stay as Fredric March Theatre, or if the name will be changed. The first play of the semester, Nat Turner, was promoted as being performed at the Fredric March Theatre.

The appointed naming committee submitted their suggestion for the theater name late in the spring 2019 semester, Naming Committee member and theater director Jane Purse-Wiedenhoeft said.

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs John Koker said the Fredric March Theatre name is staying as of now. He said there was little student support at the open discussion, which suggested a lack of student interest.

Former UWO Assistant Chancellor for Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence Dr. Sylvia Cary-Butler was leading the naming committee but left the university in June to be the chief diversity officer at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Koker said this impacted the theatre name decision.

The chancellor at UWM commissioned an investigation into their university following the protest of the removed Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Charlottesville protest became infamous for alt-right nationalism after a protester was killed by a white nationalist.

UWM said the group March was in was not associated with the national Knights of the KKK.

March is one of two actors that have won two Tony and Academy Award-winning best actor awards. He was born Aug. 31, 1897, and died April 14, 1975, in Los Angeles, California. UWO named their theater after him in 1975.

When UWM finished their assessment of the university, it was discovered that their Fredric March Play Circle, held within Union Theater, had connections to the KKK. March was photographed in the 1921 Klan fraternity yearbook.

UWM said the Klan March was in appeared to recognize the resemblance the name had to the national society but did not mind the association it carried.

A different interfraternity organization at UWM in 1922 did associate themselves with the national Knights of the KKK, the Madison report said.

On Feb. 12 1959, March appeared before the 86th United States Congress, reading the Gettysburg Address as part of a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, among a lifetime of civil rights appearances and speaking for the NAACP.

When the news broke on the Madison campus, students responded by covering the names of those individuals who had a reported connection to the Klan. When the stories of Madison’s Play Circle made their way north, Oshkosh students noticed the same name on their theater.

An open discussion with faculty, students and staff was held March 4 in response, but two UWO students attended.

Purse-Wiedenhoeft said the naming committee submitted their recommendation in late spring 2019. The university has not announced a name for the theater, and the first play of the year was scheduled Oct. 3.

“There was a campus-wide process and there was very little campus-wide participation,” Koker said. “At this time there has been no decision.”