This being just a month after we celebrated the 100th anniversary of The Capital Times, I couldn't help but muse what our founder, William T. Evjue, would have made of all Donald Trump's racist comments about black and brown immigrants and then asking why we don't get more people from places like Norway.
Norway, you should know, was the Evjue family's ancestral home, and no one was more proud of that than William T. himself.
His mother Mary and his father Nels immigrated from Norway as children in 1868 and 1869, respectively, just two of thousands of Norwegians who came to Wisconsin in the last half of the 19th century. Faced with severe crop shortages at home, the families sought opportunities to farm and work in the thriving lumber industry, which many had done in Norway.
Nels and Mary met as young adults, married, and along with their fellow immigrants from Norway — plus those from other Scandinavian countries and the huge influx of Germans who had settled in the Milwaukee area — were instrumental in building and nurturing Wisconsin all these years.
Mr. Evjue made sure his paper thoroughly covered the Norwegian communities in southern Wisconsin — Stoughton, De Forest, Mount Horeb, Viroqua, Westby and dozens of others — and, in return, the Norwegians who lived in them reciprocated by not only subscribing to the paper, but buying $1 shares in the paper during its early-day financial struggles. The list of families who helped the young paper was top heavy with Ericksons, Jacobsons, Johnsons, Martinsons, Petersons, Sticklestads, Sveums and Kjerstens. Many descendants of those families are still stockholders of The Capital Times Co. to this very day.
When it became possible to print color with a new press after World War II, Mr. Evjue ordered that a replica of the colorful Norwegian flag run prominently on the front page above the fold on Syttende Mai — May 17, Norwegian constitution day. It did so until the mid-'70s, several years after his death. I remember as a young reporter in the '60s, we'd be assigned to cover the lutefisk and lefse church dinners that took place in every Norwegian Lutheran congregation around the county — and still do.
In fact, his devotion to all things Norwegian earned Mr. Evjue Norway's Knight's Medal of St. Olav in 1959, a high honor in recognition of his outstanding service in recognizing the Norwegian people. More than 200 people, including the governor and Madison's mayor, attended a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Norwegian ambassador at the old Loraine Hotel just off the Square.
And in 1968, then King Olav V himself came to the city to convey his personal thanks and present the editor and publisher with another medal, this one on behalf of the Norwegian people. The king presided over a ceremony at the Wisconsin Center that was hosted by then Gov. Warren Knowles.
The Norwegians, like immigrants from many other countries, came to the U.S. to find a better life for their families during a time of widespread famine in their home country. Wisconsin was a popular destination in the U.S. because it had a thriving lumber industry at which Norwegians excelled. Mr. Evjue's father was one of them.
It's ironic that President Trump would pine for the days that white settlers like the Norwegians came to the U.S. For they brought with them an entirely different view of the world and their fellow human beings than Trump champions with his bigoted and insulting comments about immigrants.
The Norwegians and those Milwaukee-area Germans were key backers of Fighting Bob La Follette's progressive movement that helped the people take back their governments from the wealthy plutocrats whom Trump now represents.
As the late professor Harold Groves wrote in his foreward to Evjue's book, "A Fighting Editor," the Norwegian immigrants and their descendants contributed mightily to the state's development.
"Here were a people extraordinarily qualified with potential for building a progressive democracy: unusually interested in government; fearless of innovation; egalitarian in their preference; not unduly impatient with the delay, disorders and frustrations that attend the democratic process," he wrote.
In fact, these new, mostly white citizens supported the immigration of Irish, Italians and other Eastern Europeans who faced the same stereotypes that Trump and his enablers are today using to label people from black and brown countries around the world. Like the Norwegians of the late 1800s, they, too, seek a better life and want to contribute to America's progress.
With Trump doing his best to divide Americans and push policies that contribute to the biggest wealth gap in the world, where the rich are pampered and the poor demonized, it's no wonder that Norwegians aren't beating down the doors to get in.
Norway has become a country where everyone has health insurance, kids go to college tuition-free and a decent standard of living is enjoyed by all.
Mr. Evjue would be proud of that turnaround. And he'd note that Norway doesn't have a leader who's a bigot.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel. Zweifel is the co-author, along with John Nichols, of the new book "The Capital Times: A Proudly Radical Newspaper's Century Long Fight for Justice and Peace," published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. It's available on the Historical Society website, and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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