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Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Black History Month

Insights from faculty at Indiana University Bloomington

EDITORS: February is Black History Month. Indiana University is home to many faculty members and academic units specializing in African American life and culture. Below is a sample of story ideas. You are encouraged to contact these faculty members directly, but please contact us if you need further assistance.

Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court launched American public schools into the desegregation era. But now many of these districts are terminating their school desegregation decrees. "In addition to the termination of existing school desegregation decrees, in one of the most dramatic reversals of constitutional doctrine in recent memory, a number of lower federal courts have actually invalidated voluntary school desegregation plans when these plans are not needed in order to remedy the unconstitutional operation of a dual school system," said Kevin D. Brown, IU professor of law. "In other words, some lower federal courts have struck down the kind of voluntary school desegregation plans that had been encouraged for so many years." The result of these legal developments is that racial and ethnic segregation of black and Latino students has been increasing in American public schools for the past 15 years. "American society has reached the end of the era of school desegregation," Brown added. The waning of desegregation can be seen in the embrace of alternative efforts to reform education. One of the major reform movements in public education is the effort to increase both public and private school choice, including charter schools and school vouchers. "For the past 30 years, one of the principal objections to the increase in school choice has been the potential for resegregation. But with the waning of school desegregation, school choice is now being embraced by many advocates of educational reform who before would have rejected choice," said Brown, who can be reached at 812-855-6145 or

It has been almost 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and some public schools remain segregated or are becoming more resegregated. Even though many public schools are becoming resegregated, the U.S. Supreme Court has retreated from this area of law. According to Suzanne Eckes, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies in the School of Education at IU Bloomington, during the 1990s there were three Supreme Court decisions that made it easier for school districts to lift their desegregation decrees. Typically, a school district could get permission to lift their desegregation decree if the district had achieved unitary status. Generally, a school district is declared unitary when it is desegregated. Before the 1990s, there was a much higher standard for school districts to meet when trying to prove that their districts were unitary. According to Eckes, "the three Supreme Court decisions permitted a lower standard for lifting such decrees." In the 1990s, the Supreme Court decided that in order to lift a decree, a school district must demonstrate that it is unitary or that it has eliminated the vestiges of discrimination. In doing so, the court did not explain how to define vestiges. "As a result, the Supreme Court has granted broad latitude to district courts in declaring that still-segregated school districts are unitary," Eckes continued. "What is problematic is that once a decree is lifted, the district may do whatever it wants as long as it does not blatantly increase segregation. The Supreme Court needs to give further guidance on how unitary status is achieved or what is meant by vestiges of discrimination. If this does not occur, school districts still operating under desegregation decrees may be declared unitary when the vestiges of discrimination have not been eliminated." Eckes can be reached at 812-856-8376 or at

If the United States elects a black president in the foreseeable future, he or she will likely be a Republican, according to Lawrence Hanks, professor of political science and former dean of African American Affairs at IU Bloomington. "The Democratic Party is not ready for a black presidential nominee and certainly not ready for a black woman nominee," Hanks said in reference to the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is considered a long shot in this year's race for the Democratic nomination, and Carol Moseley-Braun, former U.S. senator and ambassador to New Zealand, who had been a candidate. "Ironically, though, the Republicans could pull it off," Hanks added, "as long as their nominee is conservative on the issues and can appeal to the average white voter, someone like (National Security Adviser) Condoleezza Rice or (Secretary of State) Colin Powell." He said that most African Americans understand the current political system and its limitations on a minority candidate. Because they are "very realistic" about the system, African Americans are more likely to support a candidate like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean or retired Gen. Wesley Clark this year, rather than Sharpton or Moseley-Braun, Hanks said. "We're at a point in this country where African Americans have made progress at the symbolic level but not at the substantive level. At best, we've positioned ourselves at the bargaining table," he said. Hanks can be reached at 812-855-9752 or

The negotiation of race and power between a white teacher and his African American students is accomplished through a dialogue of embodied metaphors and physical gestures, according to results of a year-long ethnographic study. The study found that students in an all-black fifth grade classroom in Houston dealt with their white male teacher's disciplinary actions by strutting, jutting their shoulders, rolling their eyes, walking out of the classroom and other meaningful gestures which express agency and self-determination, according to Barbara Korth, visiting assistant professor of curriculum and instruction and of counseling and educational psychology. "Issues of inequality in race and power were worked out through physical rather than verbal dialogue," Korth said. For example, if the teacher told a student to sit down, the student would walk out of the room, return a few minutes later and sit down as told. According to Korth, students were in effect saying, "You don't have control over my body. I do." Students also would imitate the teacher's white characteristics when he was out of the room, highlighting the centrality of race in their interactions with him. The negotiation of race and power through gestures rather than through talk often resulted in misinterpretation and the furthering of racial barriers. "The students and teacher never spoke with one another about race or their use of race-signified embodied metaphors," she added. "Therefore, students were left to their own devices in how they interpreted the teacher's messages, and vice versa." For more information on the study, contact Korth at 812-856-8142 or

The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia by Claude Clegg, professor of history at IU Bloomington, will be published in April by the University of North Carolina Press. The book is a study of the 19th century migration of thousands of African Americans, both free-born and liberated, to the West African colony -- and later independent nation -- of Liberia. The idea of sending black Americans to Africa as a remedy for both slavery and the whole race question attracted the attention of Quakers, antislavery activists, slaveholders and several presidents, including Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. This exodus of black Americans to Liberia reconfigured the abolitionist movement, even allowing for some public discourse over the possibility of a Southern antislavery movement linked to black removal to Africa. Above all, the Liberian colonization movement illustrated the extent to which various groups were prepared to go to avert a national crisis over the most contentious issue facing the republic, slavery. The idea of migrating to Africa encouraged a diasporic consciousness among black Americans, embroidered with romantic imaginings of a pristine ancestral homeland and a transcendent kinship among people of African descent. Ultimately, however, in the process of forging the world's second black-ruled republic, the emigrants constructed a settler society marred by many of the same exclusionary, oppressive characteristics common to modern colonial regimes. For more information, contact Clegg at 812-855-3929 or

African American voters have traditionally identified with the Democratic Party, but recent history shows their vote shouldn't be taken for granted, according to Lawrence Hanks, professor of political science and former dean of African American Affairs at IU Bloomington. Hanks said that in 1956, black Northerners, tired of the Democratic Party catering to the South on the issue of civil rights, reduced their support for the party ticket and aided Dwight Eisenhower's quest for the White House. Their defections took two major forms -- some of the electorate voted for the Republican ticket, and others simply stayed home. In the end, Eisenhower won the November election and the Democratic Party began scrambling to re-establish ties with a bloc of voters they had taken for granted. As Democrats and Republicans proceeded to court the black vote between 1956 and 1960, the groundwork was laid for historic civil rights legislation, including the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1960, as well as the election of John Kennedy in 1960. "It's a clear example of what happens when you defect. The worst thing you can do as a voter is to be predictable. When you're predictable, no one has to do anything to entice you to stay," said Hanks, who can be reached at 812-855-9752 or

To promote problem-based historical inquiry in high school social studies classes, a Web site is being created that will enable teachers to share curriculum and activities on a broader range of social justice and historical issues. Located at, the Persistent Issues in History Network enables teachers to develop their own units. The project, which is a partnership between Tom Brush, IUB associate professor in Instructional Systems Technology, and Auburn University's John Saye, will provide students an opportunity to grapple with social issues and look for new strategies to promote a more just society. "Problem-based historical inquiry will help prepare students to be more effective citizens by not just knowing the past, but being able to make competent, knowledgeable decisions as an adult," Brush said. Through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and support from IU, Auburn University and the School of Education's Center for Research on Learning and Technology, Brush and Saye have been working with 20 teachers across the United States to formulate a set of curriculum and activities for the site. Teachers identified the civil rights movement as a subject which would provide them an opportunity to promote and implement certain strategies in social justice. It was also a subject for which teachers said they severely lacked materials. "Because we tend to minimize the overall historical perspective anyway, PIHN will provide teachers an opportunity to expand the curriculum to allow students to struggle with all aspects of the civil rights movement," Brush said. The site currently contains a civil rights database with 1,500 primary and secondary sources. It will soon branch out with more materials on the Spanish conquest, post-Civil War reconstruction and world history. For more information, contact Brush at 812-856-8458 or

The IU School of Education will host its second annual African American Read-In on Feb. 2 in the Grand Hall of the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center at IU Bloomington. The effort is in conjunction with the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English's 15th National African American Read-In Chain. More than 1 million students are expected to participate nationwide. Education faculty and students and local high school students will read selected African American authors' poems and passages. "Last year's African American Read-In was a positive event that brought students, teachers, parents, and the university and Bloomington communities together," said organizer Stephanie Carter, assistant professor of language education. Carter previously organized African American Read-Ins as a high school teacher in Athens, Ga., and at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Carter can be reached at 812-856-8265 or Ghangis D. Carter, director of recruitment and retention in the IU School of Education, also is available to discuss the effort and can be reached at 812-856-8002 or For national information on the African American Read-In, visit

Willis Barnstone is a Jew, but early in his life he shared many parallel experiences with African Americans, as he relates in his upcoming book, We Jews and Blacks: Memoir with Poems (Indiana University Press, June 2004). Barnstone, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and of Spanish and Portuguese at IU Bloomington, in his third memoir speaks of his black step-grandmother, the turbulent and exhilarating integration of his Quaker boarding school, his first publication -- a letter to The Nation protesting the racial and religious exclusionary practices of Bowdoin fraternities -- and of being a soldier with blacks in the segregated South. He also has a dialogue with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa and three of Komunyakaa's Jewish Bible poems. Barnstone has published more than 50 books of poetry, literary criticism and translation and received many honors over the years, including two Fulbright fellowships, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, a Guggenheim fellowship and Pulitzer Prize nominations. His latest book is The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (Random House, 2003), a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in January. He can be reached at 812-855-9780 or

The big band has become almost a moribund concept, making it more important to preserve the legacy of jazz greats, according to David Baker, Distinguished Professor of Music at IU Bloomington and artistic and musical director of the renowned Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. The orchestra, which was founded in 1990 to recognize the importance of jazz in American culture, re-creates big band jazz as its composers and arrangers intended it to be played, stripping away intervening changes and alterations. It has also uncovered new music that has added to the jazz tradition. "We've lost so many of the major giants of that era," Baker said. "This is one way to keep their legacy alive and to play some of the most exciting contemporary music." Under Baker's leadership, the SJMO, which the New Yorker called "the best jazz repertory band in the country," regularly performs the music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie and many other jazz masters. It has rediscovered old classics, premiered new discoveries and, recently, begun premiering new works. Baker said that audiences who come to listen to the orchestra often get the rare opportunity to hear music composed by the jazz masters that may never have been recorded or performed on stage. For instance, Duke Ellington left an enormous legacy of recordings, which are now preserved at the Smithsonian Institution. Baker's 18-member band has introduced audiences to some of the Duke's lesser-known work in concerts nationwide. "A lot of the music we play has never been heard live," he said. Baker is chairman of the Jazz Studies Department in the IU School of Music and one of the nation's leading jazz composers and educators. He can be reached at 812-855-8546 or

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 IU 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 Jason Housley is project coordinator and can be reached at 812-855-9960 or

A "Soul Survivor" tells his story. Jerry Butler, an award-winning performer, producer and composer, is one of the architects of American rhythm and blues. In his book, Only the Strong Survive: Memoirs of a Soul Survivor (Indiana University Press, paperback 2004), Butler with journalist Earl Smith recalls his early career on the racially segregated "chitlin circuit," the early days of the Civil Rights movement, and his relationships with other legendary performers such as Dinah Washington and Dionne Warwick. Now in his fifth term as a Cook County Commissioner in Chicago, the man also known professionally as "the Iceman" has produced a memoir to match a career spanning 40 years, 50 albums, hit songs such as "Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Only the Strong Survive" and three Grammy nominations. Butler was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. For interviews with Butler and additional details about the book, contact Marilyn Breiter at IU Press at 812-855-5429 or

IU Bloomington is home to the Black Film Center/Archive, a repository of films and related materials by and about African Americans. Included are films which have substantial participation by African Americans as writers, actors, producers, directors and musicians, and those which depict some aspect of the black experience. Directed by Audrey T. McCluskey, associate professor of African American and African Diaspora studies, the center recently showcased its film poster collection in an exhibit at the IU Art Museum, and it publishes an academic journal, Black Camera: A Micro Journal of Black Film Studies. The Black Film Center is a facility where scholars, students and researchers can view African American films. It also brings artists-in-residence to the campus, such as actor, screenwriter and director Melvin Van Peebles. McCluskey can be reached at 812-855-2082 or

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 Russell C. Vertner directs similar programs at the Kelley School's Indianapolis campus and can be reached at 317-274-3492 or