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“This is quite an honor. It’s going to be special.” Official dedication of Frances Huntley-Cooper City of Fitchburg Common Council Chambers set for March 8


Frances Huntley-Cooper made history when she became the mayor of Fitchburg in 1991 becoming the first African-American mayor elected to office in the state of Wisconsin. Last year, the City of Fitchburg Common Council announced it was naming its chambers after Huntley-Cooper, and on Wednesday, March 8, at 5 p.m., there will be the official dedication of the Frances Huntley-Cooper City of Fitchburg Common Council Chambers.

“This is very heartwarming for me. This is something that is very special and means so much,” Huntley-Cooper tells Madison365. Prior to being elected mayor in 1991, Huntley-Cooper also served as Fitchburg District 1 alder and president of the Fitchburg Common Council. “I spent a lot of time in the City Council Chambers… that’s where I was most of the time, actually.”

Huntley-Cooper credits Michael Johnson, president & CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, for getting the ball rolling on the renaming with an open letter to Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson and a social media campaign back in 2021.

“This was the idea that Michael Johnson had and he decided that we needed to recognize Frances,” Huntley-Cooper remembers. “He didn’t really let me know about that at all. He put it out on Facebook and I’m not really that into Facebook and social media.”

Huntley-Cooper would soon find out about the campaign and Johnson’s original push, which was to actually have Fitchburg City Hall named after Huntley-Cooper. After some discussion, Fitchburg alders determined that they were not comfortable with the idea of naming buildings such as city hall or police and fire stations at all. However, the City of Fitchburg Common Council voted to rename the chambers for Frances Huntley-Cooper during a March 8, 2022, Common Council meeting.

“There was no official ceremony for it and it’s been about a year since this happened and folks in the community were saying, “Frances, where is the celebration? When is the party?’” Huntley-Cooper says.

“I’ve been involved in things for more than 50 years and for me to have people come out and speak on my behalf to have this honor, it just really touched me because you don’t know when you do things in life, how people perceive you,” she continues. “I think with all the outpouring of love and support and testimony, etc. I was like, ‘Wow, it really touches me that my work and my time was not in vain.'”

On top of being the first Black mayor in Wisconsin, Huntley-Cooper was elected as a Barack Obama delegate to the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado and she attended his inauguration as the United States’ 44th President in Washington, D.C. in January of 2009. Additionally, Huntley-Cooper was elected to be a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina from September 3–6, 2012.

Appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle, Huntley-Cooper was also an administrator in the Worker’s Compensation Division of the State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development prior to retiring in 2011. She’s been active in the Madison community as the chair of the
Madison College Board, through the Kappa Psi Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and in the Dane County NAACP. She has a long career in and passion for social justice, and for inspiring and supporting achievement for African-American high school students.

Frances Huntley-Cooper

“I didn’t do all of that work for 50 years to get recognized and to get awards, you know, I just do me,” Huntley-Cooper says. “But this [renaming of the Fitchburg Common Council Chambers] is very special to me.”

Upon receiving the news about the renaming of The City of Fitchburg Common Council Chambers, Huntley-Cooper did a deep dive looking for old photos and videos of herself at the time she was making history. She says she wishes she found more from those days more than 30 years ago that were pre-Internet, pre-YouTube and pre-cell phone pictures.

“I’m learning now that I needed to have been logging my history as I was making it, but you don’t think about that at the time,” Huntley-Cooper smiles. “There was pushback when I ran and I remember people saying that you’ll be the first [African American] in the state’s history and I did not pump that up like you would see the young folks pumping it up today. A lot of people today will make it clear that they would be the first ones and that they were making history. I didn’t want that at the time.”

The City of Fitchburg and Dane County were much less diverse back in the day. There were very few leaders of color in Madison or Dane County, for that matter.

“I was just hoping that people would vote for me because they believe that I was going to support issues that impact them and their families and would make the community better,” Huntley-Cooper says. “So I needed people to tell my story … not just that if you vote for her she could be the first Black mayor in state history. So at the time, I downplayed it but it’s not that I wasn’t proud of it. I was very proud of it. But I needed to get votes and I needed to get to people who did not look like me.”

Huntley-Cooper now looks back fondly on that time when she was making history in Fitchburg and has numerous stories from the era … so will the many speakers that are planned to honor her at the March 8 official dedication of the Frances Huntley-Cooper City of Fitchburg Common Council Chambers at 5520 Lacy Rd. in Fitchburg.

As for what else is planned – cake? Hors d’oeuvres? Music? Huntley-Cooper is not quite sure yet about the itinerary.

“The people who are planning this are trying to keep me out of it,” Huntley-Cooper laughs. “But I do hear some things. I do know that Gov. Evers is going to come. So that’s really exciting.”

A press release on Wednesday from TEMPO of Madison Foundation, who is helping to organize the event along with Michael Johnson and the City of Fitchburg, noted that former Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and Madison College President Jack Daniels will also speak at the event. During the dedication, the City of Fitchburg will unveil a plaque honoring Huntley-Cooper.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of people. It really means a lot to me that they will all be there. This is quite an honor. It’s going to be special … so I”m going to enjoy every minute of it.”