Last modified: Thursday, January 30, 2003
Black History Month
Insights from faculty at Indiana University Bloomington
Before Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis and Jessie Owens, there was Charlie Wiggins, arguably the greatest auto racer of his era regardless of race. Known at that time as the Negro Speed King, Wiggins is the subject of a new Indiana University Press book, For Gold and Glory: Charlie Wiggins and the African-American Racing Car Circuit, and an upcoming PBS program of the same name. Author Todd Gould traces the little-known history of the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes, the highly celebrated auto racing event for African Americans in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Ku Klux Klan cast a shadow over the social and political landscape and sporting events were segregated. Held on the one-mile dirt oval at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes featured the nation's top African American drivers and mechanics and boasted one of the largest purses in all of auto racing. "The men of the Gold and Glory Sweepstakes won much more than trophies and prize money. They garnered respect and achieved an initial victory in the fight for civil rights," said Gould, an IU alumnus and winner of 10 Emmy Awards as a documentary filmmaker. David Baker, chair of the Jazz Studies Department at the IU School of Music, composed and performed the program's musical score. Gould can be reached at 317-490-7589 or email@example.com. For a copy of the book, contact Marilyn Breiter of IU Press at 812-855-5429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
African American religious institutions are in a precarious position today, according to Quinton Dixie, an assistant professor of religious studies at IUB who specializes in African American religious history. "They no longer are the single most important social organization in the black community, which reflects the political and economic growth of African Americans in general," Dixie said. "But as the gap between haves and have nots widens, churches have seen their burden as social service providers increase to the point where it exceeds their resources." Dixie, who teaches a course on religion and the civil rights movement, said faith-based initiatives "provide an excellent opportunity for black religious institutions to get access to much-needed capital, but they also buy silence. Historically, black religious leaders were free to speak their minds because their work was supported solely by those in the pews. It is not yet clear whether President Bush's plan to shift the social service load to private non-profits, such as churches, will compromise their integrity." Dixie can be reached at 812-855-8654 or email@example.com.
When is an incident considered a hate crime? A new book by Jeannine Bell, associate professor of law at Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, exposes the power that law enforcement personnel have to influence the social environment by determining when an incident will be charged as a hate crime. As part of her research for Policing Hatred: Law Enforcement, Civil Rights and Hate Crime (New York University Press), Bell was given unprecedented access to a police hate crime unit in a major metropolitan city. She went with officers on investigations and to court. She watched them interview victims and suspected perpetrators and had open access to police files. She even went through training sessions with officers. "One of the things I found is that they have a huge amount of power," Bell said. "Officers decide whether an incident will be considered a hate crime, and if officers decide that it is not a hate crime, then no one will ever see it that way -- not prosecutors, the judge or anyone else down the line in criminal justice." Bell can be reached at 812 856-5013 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For assistance in scheduling interviews, you may contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or email@example.com.
Detroit, Philadelphia, Memphis, New Orleans and Chicago are home to various forms of African American music, but what about Bloomington, Ind.? Established in 1991, the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University Bloomington is an important repository of materials covering various musical idioms and cultural expressions, including black radio, blues, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, hip-hop, religious, jazz and classical music, primarily from the post-World War II era. Among the important collections in the archives is the Phyl Garland Collection, which comprises over 900 photographs, brief biographies and publicity releases from record companies on artists and record labels. Another important holding is the Westwood One Collection, which comprises over 200 Special Edition radio programs chronicling the careers of a number of black performers through the use of narration, music and interviews. The programs feature well-known performers such as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, George Benson, The Commodores, Earth Wind and Fire, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Run DMC, Patti LaBelle, The Manhattans, The Pointer Sisters, The Spinners and Donna Summer. Other collections include recordings of more than 500 weekly radio news programs produced by Lee Bailey Productions (Radioscope and Hip Hop Countdown) and more than 800 radio programs of black popular music (live and pre-recorded) and interviews hosted by Johnny Otis. The purpose of the collection is to preserve and disseminate materials for research and study of African American culture. Portia K. Maultsby, IU professor of folklore and ethnomusicology and adjunct professor of music, African studies and American studies, directs the archives and can be reached at 812-855-2708 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stephanie Shonekan is assistant director and can be reached at 812-855-9960 or email@example.com.
African American history in Indiana and the Midwest is a major research focus for James Madison, the Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor of History at IU Bloomington. His recent book, A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America, concerns the lynching of two African Americans in Marion, Ind., in 1930. "In the book I refer to the conditions that caused the two deaths as the color line, and there is no question that considerable progress has been made since that time on this issue. However, the color line still exists in Indiana and the rest of this country. It doesn't divide as clearly, but it still exists," he said. Madison can be reached at 812-855-6241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
African American self-esteem is an area of study for Pamela Jackson, an associate professor of sociology at IUB. "There usually is no difference in self-esteem between African Americans and Caucasians, but when differences are found, African Americans usually have higher self-esteem than Caucasians, a finding that continues to perplex many social psychologists," said Jackson, whose research expertise encompasses race and ethnic relations. She also studies problems facing the African American middle class, such as the stress that comes from job discrimination. Jackson can be reached at 812-855-2540 or email@example.com.
Racial differentials in well-being are a current research project for Quincy Thomas Stewart, an assistant professor of sociology at IUB who specializes in demography. "We are investigating racial differentials in mortality rates across the 20th century," he explained, "because mortality rates are a good representation of social well-being." Stewart, whose previous research projects include racial differences in child poverty, also studies U.S. labor force growth and mathematical demography. Stewart can be reached at 812-856-0470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Race relations in criminal justice is a research interest of Dennis Rome, an associate professor of criminal justice at IU Bloomington. His work includes the stereotyping of African American males as criminals. "This stereotyping is not as blatant as it used to be, but the attitudes remain. The country is in denial and seems to be suffering from historical amnesia, with many people believing the civil rights gains were hundreds of years ago, and now we should move on to other things," he said. Rome can be reached at 812-855-8805 or email@example.com.
The politics of race is an ongoing research project involving Edward Carmines, the Rudy Professor and Warner Chapman Professor of Political Science at IUB. "I am interested in the rise of civil rights as a political issue since World War II," Carmines said. He focuses especially on public opinion toward such racial issues as affirmative action, integrated housing and welfare. "How the issue of race is dealt with in the political system is a major concern," he said. Carmines can be reached at 812-855-5065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IU's Kelley School means business in targeting minority students. The Kelley School of Business Junior Executive Institute is one of several programs that highlight IU's commitment to diversity and pre-collegiate minority aspirations. The program takes place the last week of June and targets African American, Latino and Native American high school juniors who show interest in business. Thirty students will be chosen and will attend workshops focusing on applying to college, making the transition from high school to college, financial aid, time management, note-taking and study skills, and success in studying business. According to William Lewis, director of diversity recruitment, retention and outreach in the Kelley School, at least one-sixth of participants from the summer 2002 program have applied to IU Bloomington and plan on majoring in business this fall. To qualify for the Junior Executive Program, students must be high school sophomores or juniors with a grade point average of 2.7 or higher (on a 4.0-point scale). Lewis also directs the school's Minorities in Business Program, which has been a part of the school's undergraduate program at IU Bloomington since 1989. Lewis can be reached at 812-855-4474 or email@example.com. Russell C. Vertner directs similar programs at the Kelley School's Indianapolis campus and can be reached at 317-274-3492 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old stereotypes are holding back African Americans in sports management and coaching, according to Gary Sailes, an associate professor of kinesiology at IUB who studies sport sociology. "Since Jackie Robinson integrated commercial sports, African American athletes have achieved staggering accomplishments in terms of participation," Sailes said. "However, when it comes to managing and coaching, particularly in college and professional sports, there remains a long way to go to even approach equity. I believe this goes back to the old stereotype of 'I trust your labor but not your cognitive skills' or even the good old boy syndrome," explained Sailes, who studies race issues as part of sport marketing management. Sailes can be reached at 812-855-0538 or email@example.com.
Disproportionate school suspensions of African American students may be caused more by inequality than by student misbehavior or socioeconomic status, according to Russell Skiba, an IUB School of Education faculty member. "A common explanation for these school suspensions is that it's because African Americans act out more or because they are from low-income backgrounds. In our study of 11,000 students, we found neither of these statements to be true," he said. Skiba is an associate professor in educational psychology and an expert on school discipline. He said the office referral rate for African American students, which is almost twice that for white students, is due to inequities still embedded in our educational system and not to characteristics of African American students. "These types of findings show that the civil rights struggle is not over yet, at least for students," he added. Skiba can be reached at 812-855-5549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite their continuing advancements in the arts and literature, many writers and artists of color still struggle to find outlets for their creative works. Last spring, for the first time in its 25-year history, the Indiana Review, a student-edited journal based in the IUB Creative Writing Program, devoted an entire issue to nearly 40 writers and artists of color. In doing so, the publication provided a much-needed voice to a talented group of artists with something to say, but few forums in which to say it. "We received hundreds and hundreds of submissions, in fact, from huge writers and beginning writers, who were clearly looking for an outlet for their work," said Indiana Review Editor David Daniels. "Doing this specialized issue actually revealed how strong and varied writing of color is." The special "Writers of Color" issue received an enthusiastic response from readers nationwide and landed several up-and-coming literary voices on the popular poetry Web sites Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. On March 6 at 7:30 p.m., two of the featured writers, Terrance Hayes and Crystal Wilkinson, will help celebrate the landmark issue by delivering readings at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center at IUB. Daniels can be reached at 812-855-3439 or email@example.com. More information on the Indiana Review is available at http://www.indiana.edu/~inreview/index.html.
Today, Dana Johnson feels like she won the lottery. But it wasn't long ago that the IUB creative writing professor didn't think she had a chance of finding success by doing what she loved most -- writing. The Los Angeles native silenced any doubts with her debut work, Break Any Woman Down, a collection of short stories exploring race, identity and alienation that was recently named one of six finalists for the first annual Hurston/Wright Legacy Award (Debut/First Fiction category). Sponsored by Borders Books and Music and the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards honor the best books by authors of African descent. "Everyone used to tell me, 'You can't do this (writing for a living). People don't really do this,'" Johnson said. "It's all still new to me." Johnson's book will be released in a trade paperback edition this summer. Johnson can be reached at 812-855-1855 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Creative Writing Program, visit http://www.indiana.edu/~mfawrite/.