'Kaukauna & King' Tells The Story Of An Unlikely Wisconsin High School Exchange Program That Worked

Mar 13, 2019

From the Vietnam War to the battle for civil rights, things were changing in the United States in the 1960s. In the spirit of integration and inclusion, a Kaukauna high school social studies teacher wanted to put on the play In White America — it depicts the history of African-Americans from slavery to civil rights — to broaden his students' view. However, Kaukauna high school was 100 percent white, so an exchange between students from Rufus King High School in Milwaukee and Kaukauna High School in Kaukauna, Wis., took place in 1966. More than 50 years later, the story continues.

Joanne Williams, the host of Black Nouveau on Milwaukee PBS, graduated from Rufus King in 1967. She remembers the play and the student exchange, even though she didn’t participate in either. But the story of the play, the teachers, and the students was so compelling she decided to create a documentary about it called Kaukauna & King: 50 Years Later.

FINAL 720y KAUKAUNA & KING PROMO from Joanne Williams on Vimeo.

"One of the goals I have for this film is to show that ... an improvement in race relations can work, but it's most successful one on one," says Williams. On its base level Kaukauna & King will tell the story of the exchange and the play itself, but Williams also wants to make people think, "maybe there is some hope. I didn’t realize these things had happened and look how well these kids got along between these two high schools. Maybe it’s possible."

Williams joined Lake Effect's Bonnie North to give an update on her documentary's progress, and give the background of the story: