Carson Gulley was more than the fudge pie maker at UW-Madison

Scott Seyforth has read over 100 interviews with Carson Gulley.

Not once did the mid-1900s cooking, radio and television pioneer mention how proud he was of his now-famous fudge pies, said Seyforth, assistant life manager. in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at University Housing.

“It’s one of the only things people know it for because for 40 years it’s the only way academic communications have presented it to the public – like in relation to fudge pie crust” , Seyforth recently said on WPR’s “The Larry Meiller Show.” .”

That’s not to say Gulley wasn’t proud of his pie or that the college and Madison community don’t love the dessert. But Seyforth said the iconic chef was most proud of his baked bean recipe.

Perhaps the most comprehensive written story published on the UW Housing website about Gulley’s life and the barriers he broke lives under a 2018 article for ingredients to make the fudge bottom pie.

But the legacy of what Gulley brought to UW-Madison — a legacy that lives on in the form of the dining hall it once served as Carson Gulley Commons — is not the full story of Gulley.

His entire life included rampant racist and discriminatory practices, from continually being passed over for supervisory roles despite his stellar performances to white neighbors circulating petitions trying to evict him and his wife.

“He kept fighting,” Seyforth said. “It’s the part of Gulley’s life that we tend not to tell Madison about — how he used his professional and public stature to challenge the persistent practices of racial segregation and exclusion during this time.”

The harsh realities of Gulley’s story are not absent from academic papers or videos about him.

The “About the recipe and its creator” section of the fudge pie shell page details Gulley’s upbringing in a sharecropping family in early 1900s Arkansas, his foray into the field of education and its pivot to a career as a chef.

Seyforth said Gulley had to learn her cooking skills on the job, as chef training schools were largely not open to blacks. So Gulley worked at a hotel in St. Louis before being hired to run a boarding school cafeteria, Seyforth said.

But this work only covered from September to May. He said Gulley then bounced around more during the summers to find where he could work, from Kansas to Florida to New York.

He also found work one summer in Wisconsin. He was at Essex Lodge in Tomahawk when a severe storm forced Don Halverson, director of college housing at UW-Madison, to stop driving north and stay overnight.

“Late at night Gulley made him dinner, and it was amazing,” Seyforth said. “Halverson decided to stay a day and a half longer, and he got to know Gulley and learned what he could do as a chef.”

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The two went fishing. They hung out at night, he said, until Halverson asked Gulley if he would come to work at the university.

The good fortune that intersected with his hard work did not mean that Gulley would be barrier-free, however.

“Early in his UW career, Gulley faced segregation and discrimination as severe as in the South,” the pie’s recipe page reads.

Seyforth said in 1926 that Gulley “just had trouble finding accommodation”. The small areas of Madison where blacks could find homes were not close to the university.

Gulley will find apartments, but it is then that he will run into petitions from neighbors.

After about 10 years, Seyforth said Halverson offered to “fix it the only way he could”, by building a basement apartment in Tripp Residence Hall in Gulley.

This is where Gulley lived for the next 20 years, Seyforth said. Later, Gulley tried to buy property and allegedly asked white people to meet with real estate agents on his behalf. But when he and his wife finally showed up to sign papers, the deals fell through because of racial segregation laws.

Ultimately, Gulley in 1954 purchased land in Crestwood Co-operative Housing and withstood a highly publicized vote, 64 to 30, to stay.

But for all that Gulley brought – his food, his teaching, and his TV and radio programs – that doesn’t mean he ended up with what he and others deserved.

“Which isn’t to say that (surviving the vote) was wonderful,” Seyforth said. “They had a burnt cross in their yard. They were constantly getting hate mail (and) phone calls.

“They persisted,” he continued. “It didn’t mean that other people of color had moved in. And it didn’t change the laws in Madison at that time. In fact, Gulley wouldn’t live to see the racial segregation laws change. in Madison.”

Virginia C. Taylor