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Urban League of Greater Madison mourns the passing of its first executive director, Nelson Irvine Cummings, Jr.

Nelson Irvine Cummings, Jr., (Photo: Urban League of Greater Madison)

Nelson Irvine Cummings, Jr., who was the first executive director of the Madison Urban League (now Urban League of Greater Madison), passed away on Oct, 15 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison after a brief hospitalization. Cummings was 89.

Cummings served as executive director from 1968-1970. In 1968, the Madison Urban League became an official affiliate of the National Urban League – one of the oldest and most distinguished civil rights organizations in the United States, and the movement for justice and education was born in Madison with Cummings at the helm.

“I will miss Nelson, but today, myself and others stand on the strong legacy that he established, and we will be ever grateful for the contributions that he made in this community,” Dr. Ruben Anthony said in a statement. “The Urban League of Greater Madison and our board of directors offer our sincere condolences to the Cummings family.”

Cummings was born on August 18, 1934 in Springfield, Illinois to Nelson Mark and Mary Jeanette Cummings, according to his obituary, and he earned an A.B. Degree from Texas College, a master’s degree from St. Francis College, and completed one year of law school at Marquette University before he enlisted in the United States Air Force.

After receiving an honorable discharge, he served as the leader of a community action program in South Bend, Indiana before becoming the first executive director of the Madison Urban League in 1968. He then served as a guidance counselor for the Madison Public Schools system and later after working for the Wisconsin Education Association at Beloit Memorial High School, where he served until his retirement in 2006. He served on the boards of several not-for-profits, including the Catholic Charities and the Four Lakes Council of the Boy Scouts, and was a member of the Madison Redevelopment Authority.

Cumnings was preceded in death by his wife, Marlene Cummings, the former Wisconsin Secretary of Regulations and Licensing. He is survived by his four sons (Stephen, Jeffrey, Timothy and Patrick), sisters (Theresa Faith and Elaine), daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and his dear friend, Karen Godar. 

The funeral mass for Nelson Cummings, Jr., will be held at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Madison on Thursday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m. The burial ceremony will take place at Camp Butler National Ceremony in Springfield at 9 a.m., followed by a repast at St. Paul AME Church. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that you consider a donation to the Nelson and Marlene Cummings Endowed Scholarship at Michigan State University. You may contribute by clicking here.