Wisconsin’s first African-American mayor

By Joel Waldinger | January 5, 2023


In politics she paved a path, a very lonely path. Frances Huntley-Cooper did something no other African-American in Wisconsin had ever done. “With my personality, I was just so surprised that I was in the political world. You know, one minute you have an opinion and the next minute you’re elected.” On the Fitchburg Common Council her personality won over politicians and voters. “People saw something in me, and they gave me a chance and they believed in me, and they supported me.”

Then came the job of running for Fitchburg Mayor which made Frances more than a bit uneasy, “I’m a straight shooter. So, a lot of people sometimes don’t want to hear what I have to say and not everyone rolls that way.” On election night the impossible became possible. In 1991, Frances became the first elected African-American mayor in the entire state. Then, Frances waited and waited some more. For more than 30-years she waited for another African-American to join her club. “Really saddens me because that was in 1991. That hurts. I am surprised to be perfectly honest when I think about it.” Then it happened. In April 2022 Cavalier Johnson was elected Milwaukee’s first and Wisconsin’s second Black mayor. A historic election for a second time.

Frances still serves the community on the Madison College Board, and with the NAACP. She also volunteers on the Wisconsin Executive Residence Foundation overseeing the upkeep of the governor’s mansion. Frances has built a legacy here in Wisconsin. “I hope people will say, boy, that little lady came from nowhere. Grew up in North Carolina and came to Wisconsin. People believed in me. They gave me a chance and I tried to work hard and not embarrass myself more or less than anyone else. I wanted to be a positive role model. I wanted to leave the doors open.”

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger

Joel Waldinger is a reporter for the “Wisconsin Life” project and considers a sunset over the “big island” on Manson Lake to be a perfect ending to a day of fishing and fun in the Northwoods. 

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