Porter Butts Gallery at Wisconsin Union to be renamed after community feedback
The Porter Butts Gallery and the Fredric March Play Circle at the Wisconsin Union will be renamed after the Union asked for community feedback regarding a report that was released outlining the Ku Klux Klan’s connection to the campus.
Butts attended school here almost 100 years ago. He was a member of a campus social group called the Ku Klux Klan which has no apparent connection to the national racist group.
“It had the name KKK but it had no association or affiliation whatsoever with the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” said Sherill Randall, Butts’ daughter.
Despite the fact that it was not affiliated, some students expressed their concern with not feeling welcome or feeling uncomfortable around the gallery purely through the name and perceived historical ties.
“It was a difficult situation for us to try to show who he really was then,” Randall said.
The Union Council voted Monday night to rename the Porter Butts Gallery to the Main Gallery and acknowledge Porter Butts’ professional accomplishments through an interactive kiosk in another permanent location, according to a release.
“We just want to make sure the full story was told somewhere and the students agreed with that. The full story does need to be told somewhere. We can’t just erase history,” said Mark Guthier, director of the union at UW Madison.
The Union Council also voted to rename Fredric March Play Circle to the Play Circle, according to the release. Council members said the play circle is being renamed with the understanding that more research into March’s legacy is needed before a possible solution for recognition elsewhere in the Union can be decided.
“These actions are in response to concerns expressed by the campus community, including students, regarding Porter Butts’ and Fredric March’s names being on programming spaces,” officials said in the release. “These concerns are in light of their participation in an honorary interfraternity society called the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1920s while they were University of Wisconsin-Madison students. No information has been found that connects the organization to any ideology.”
In addition to community feedback, Union Council members reviewed information regarding the honorary society, officials said. They found no evidence that the organization was affiliated with the national Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
“However, Council voted to move forward with renaming in consideration of the impact on students and other community members of affiliation with any organization called the KKK on students and other community members,” officials said in the release.
The Wisconsin Union held forums in July to gather public opinion about the naming of the gallery and play circle, which were named after alumni associated with a fraternity called the Ku Klux Klan. The social organization elected its members from each of the university’s 18 fraternities, officials said.
Butts’ daughter, Sherill Butts-Randall, originally said she felt her father ws being misrepresented in the conversation about renaming the gallery.
Butts-Randall worked with the Union Council and supports the decision that was made.
“If my father were alive today, he’d be leading the diversity and inclusivity efforts on campus,” Butts-Randall said. “He devoted his career to making sure Memorial Union is a place where everyone feels welcome. It would break his heart to know that even one student feels uncomfortable there. It is in that spirit that we asked that his name be relocated and that his professional achievements be recognized in a different space.”
The names are expected to be changed before the start of the fall 2018 semester.