Since it has come to light that Fredric March was a member of a group called the Ku Klux Klan Honorary Junior Society at UW Madison, the UW Oshkosh theater is in need of a new name. It’s disappointing that it has taken this long to be found out and that it may have been missed in the original vetting process before the naming.
According to University Archivist and Communications Librarian Joshua Ranger, Fredric March was a respected man in theater and therefore it isn’t likely that there was much of a search into his background.
While he may not have been a lifelong member, and many people do regrettable things in college, his connection to the KKK is still a dark mark on his record.
While there is no official evidence that this honorary society had any connection to the nation wide KKK, the fact that the members actively chose this name goes to show they likely had similar mindsets.
The only reason this came to light was that there was a task force created in order to help UW Madison deal with its past connections to the KKK, which was written about in The Daily Cardinal article “Task force missed December deadline to advise campus on past KKK affiliation” by Nina Bertelsen. Since they also have a theater named after Fredric March, his KKK affiliation was discovered.
“According to a 1924 Badger Yearbook, members of the organization titled the ‘Ku Klux Klan’ included actor Fredric March,” Bertelsen wrote.
If it was as simple as looking in a yearbook, then it shouldn’t have taken this long for someone to find this information.
Ranger mentioned that since the UW Oshkosh theatre department wasn’t around for a long time before the theatre was built and named, there weren’t any professors or theatre alumni that had either passed or could donate enough money for the building to be named after them.
Ranger said there was not very much criteria candidates had to match to have the theatre named after them; they were from Wisconsin and they had a connection to theatre.
At the time there were three other possible names that were being thought over, including Spencer Tracy, Alfred Lunt and his wife Lynn Fontaine. The irony is that UWO chose Fredric March because it was believed that UW Madison was going to use Lunt-Fontaine, yet both theatres ended up being named after March.
Perhaps the UWO theater can be changed to be named after Lunt and Fontaine because they were also well-respected actors from that same time and Lunt was from Wisconsin. Or maybe it would be better to simply not name it after a person, like Sage Hall.
Ranger said he thinks if more information comes out about March’s connection to the KKK, UWO should look into changing the name of the theater, but shouldn’t make any fast decisions based on the small amount of new information that has come out.
“I think if more stuff comes out [about Fredric March], yeah,” Ranger said. “I think that it’s very important for people to understand the differences between the UW Madison club called the Ku Klux Klan and the organization of the South, the terrorists, I think there is a difference. But if he was a lifelong anti-semite, racist and that came up in his professional life, I think that is something that we could look at and say, ‘Is this someone we want to continue to honor with this sort of besmirched record?’… I guess, I’m interested in finding out what they find. We definitely want to look at the full case before we act rashly.”
This new information about March shows that, not only does more research need to go into the people buildings have already been named after, but also needs to be more thorough in the future when naming buildings after anyone.