Vada Harris

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Vada Harris won the 1968 WSU-O Miss Best Dressed Coed award.


All Photos of Vada Harris courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Archives

Among all of the African American students attending WSU-O in the fall semester of 1968, few had personal histories as intriguing as Vada Harris’s.  A precocious child, she caught the attention of Father James Groppi when she attended St. Boniface’s parochial school in Milwaukee.  At the age of seventeen, she taught African American history at a Freedom School.  Closely associated with Groppi, she became an officer in the NAACP Youth Commandos and later helped lead marches in support of open housing.  Electing to attend Riverside instead of the all-black North Division High School, she emerged as a leader among students and almost single-handedly led a “textbook turn-in” protest against the exclusion of black history in the school’s curriculum.

In late 1967 Father Groppi urged her “go up [to Oshkosh],” as she later recalled, “and integrate the school system.”  Arriving on the campus of WSU-O in the spring 1968 semester, she studied art but devoted much of her time to other activities.  She joined the Young Democrats and became the first black Young Democrat in the state.  She participated in the Oshkosh Human Rights Council’s push for open housing.  And she pushed the boundaries of black female student achievement on campus by winning the Miss Best Dressed Coed Award.

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