Giving Voice: Rachel Smith

Transcript for Giving Voice: Rachel Smith

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Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice, from Talking Hoosier History.

Beckley: On this Giving Voice, I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Rachel Smith, an assistant lecturer on Women and Gender Studies at Ball State University. She studies the intersection of Modern American Spiritualism and Feminism. If you haven’t listened to the latest full episode, “Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle,” you might want to do that now before listening to our conversation, as it will give you a good base of knowledge about the history of Spiritualism in Indiana.

And now, Giving Voice.

(Music)

Beckley: I’m here today with Rachel Smith and I’m going to go ahead and let you introduce yourself, Rachel.

Smith: My name is Rachel, and I am an assistant lecturer at Ball State University in the Women and Gender Studies program. Um, I’m also a non-tenured faculty for the history department and I’m also the office manager for Historic Camp Chesterfield in Chesterfield, Indiana.

Beckley: And of course, that’s why you’re here talking with us today.

Smith: It is, yes.

Beckley: Um, so our most recent episode, just to fill you in a little bit, is about spiritualism, and kind of the history of that and it includes a history of Camp Chesterfield – a very brief history of Camp Chesterfield. But we don’t go into the intersection – I mention it briefly – the intersection of Feminism and the Woman’s Rights Movement and spiritualism and I brought you in today because you are an expert on the subject. How did you get interested in the intersection of those two, on their own, very fascinating fields?

Smith: Well, by nature I’m a feminist. And so, that shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. But also the fact that I teach Women and Gender Studies and my master’s degree is in history with an emphasis on religious history. When I started working at Camp Chesterfield, I actually worked part time when I was in grad school I got hired because of my interest in religious history. And, as time has now went on and it’s nearly 15 years later and I’m still there – they haven’t been able to get rid of me – and I’ve learned so much by being there that it’s about – especially of the areas in which feminism really played a role, and the suffrage movement played a role, in Indiana and the women of Camp Chesterfield playing a role in that suffrage movement and then nationally, so, it – it just piqued my interest.

Beckley: That was one of the things, as I was reading through some of the early history, I kept coming across all these women that are involved in ways that they’re not involved in other religions, so that really caught my interest and that’s how I came across you, actually. So, um, I was wondering if you could talk about the early history of spiritualism and how women’s rights and suffrage and, really, other radical movements kind of played a role in the early history.

Smith: Well, spiritualism itself, I mean, the birth of spiritualism happened in the mid-1800s, so, one of the things that did come naturally from that, and especially a large group of Quaker and having a Quaker background, a lot of these people – Quakers also naturally had a background of feminism within themselves and equality and so that kind of transferred over into Modern American Spiritualism. And so when spiritualism developed – it came about, that came with it. That aspect of it came with it. And interestingly enough – one of the things that seems kind of amazing and something that somebody at Camp Chesterfield said – a male resident at Camp Chesterfield said that spiritualism is matriarchal and that Camp Chesterfield is matriarchal. And you find that historically, spiritualism has given women the opportunity to become ordained. They’ve given them the opportunity to be leaders. They’ve given them the opportunity to be teachers. You know, during a time when women were supposed to be in the private sphere, they weren’t supposed to be in the public sphere, and they certainly weren’t supposed to be preaching or moving people religiously by any means. And even all those times when there were splits in mainstream churches – you know one of the big splits to happen, especially like in and around the 1980s of where main line religions they – women were pretty much told that you need to submit to your husbands, you need to go back to your homes, you need to get off the pulpit. Spiritualism didn’t do that to women and so you kind of find that women did flock to spiritualism – not just for the communication with spirit aspect, but also for the aspect that they were treated and were on a level playing field with the men. And of course, you have very famous spiritualists like Victoria Woodhull who definitely rocked the boat and spiced it up a little bit – more so than what people would like. But I was also reading not too long ago – Susan B. Anthony would actually write into spiritualist newspaper and particularly to the Sunflower Newspaper at Lily Dale, New York. And so, even prominent, you know, Women’s Movement, people like Susan B. Anthony, Anna Shaw – Reverend Anna Shaw – you know, and they would be writing into these newspapers and getting women involved.

Beckley: That’s awesome. I actually – right before we came in here – I was reading the introduction of a book Radical Spirits and – it’s a great book – and she was talking about the book the History of the Women’s Suffrage Movement that is edited by Susan B Anthony and Cady B. Stanton, and in it, they say that spiritualism is the only religion that, from its beginning, has included women, and in fact, promoted women not only being in it but being at the forefront of it, which is, just such an amazing thing that I think often gets passed over in its quote unquote spooky beginnings and its ghostly tales and things like that so I’m glad we’re having this conversation to kind of bring that more towards the front.

Smith: Yea, a woman by the name of Amelia Colby-Luther actually, she was a nationally known suffragette, but she was also one of the founders of the charter for the Indiana Association for Spiritualists at Camp Chesterfield and at one time she was also Camp Chesterfield’s vice president of the association. And so, I mean, you have women like her who were known on a national scale for suffrage, but who religiously also participated in places like Camp Chesterfield and who help a leadership position. Not only just in the suffrage position but also then in their religious community as well. And so, you really don’t see that too often, even now.

Beckley: That’s extremely interesting cause then you look at somebody like May Wright Sewall, where she was nationally known for her suffrage and then at the very end of her life came out as a spiritualist for the last two decades, so, that’s such an interesting dichotomy of – you know – I think a lot of people think back to that and think that maybe May Wright Sewall’s reputation was overshadowed as a suffragist by her late revelations of spiritualism. But it went hand and hand so much back then that I think that being so far removed we often forget that now.

Smith: Well, and I also think too, especially for her case – for May Wright Sewall, I think for her case too, because of the profession that she was in – I mean, she was in education, right? – and even though spiritualism was very much at its peak and in its heyday and very much popular – it was still on the outside and it was still considered radical and so I think that there are people who argue, and I’d want to do a little more digging before I could definitively say, but I think she may have been a spiritualist for a lot longer than just the end of her life. I think that she just may have come out of the closet towards the end of her life because it was acceptable to do so.

Beckley: Well, she writes in her book that it was 25 years before, so I think she died in 1917, so – that would have been at the height, right? I mean, she says she was converted at Lilly Dale, which would make sense.

Smith: Well, in her book, she also talks about lily Dale. It is sad to me that, of course, Camp Chesterfield was literally right up the road, you know, and she didn’t make it up there. Or, at least, if she did she didn’t write about it. I’m still going through old hotel ledgers so, I’m looking to see if I could come across her name, which would be nice.

Beckley: That would be a good find.

Smith: That would be a good find, yes.

Beckley: Especially with the suffrage centennial upcoming.

Smith: That’s right. Yes.

Beckley: So, are you working on any specific projects in conjunction with the suffrage centennial?

Smith: We actually are. One of the things that we’re doing is at Camp Chesterfield is, we’re going to hold a suffrage and spiritualism conference. It will be a one day conference on August 22 and we’ll be sending out a call for papers soon. So, we would really like for people to come in and to really tour the grounds of Camp Chesterfield and, you know, it’s going to turn 134 years only this year, and it’s beautiful and it’s relaxing and it’s also a place with a very deep history and a very deep spiritualist and suffrage history for women and I think that often people get so wrapped up in the spookiness of spiritualism or the ghost aspect or the spirit aspect of spiritualism that they don’t pay attention that these people were real people and these people did real things. It wasn’t – their entire life was not just contacting, you know, they spirit world – they did, you know, tangible things that have benefited everyone.

Beckley: Absolutely. Um, I’m wondering how – ‘cause, you know, you said how, even at its peak and its heyday, it was still an outside movement, and I think suffrage is very much the same way, it was still a few “radical” women and men taking on the “norms” of society and I think that also, in the late 19th early 20th century, people often lumped them together and said: “here, look, this is what’s wrong with society. These radicals are coming in and trying to change the whole fabric of our life.” So, from our vantage point looking back, do you think that the tight association between spiritualism and suffrage, over all, hindered or helped suffrage: did it promote it, did it further the cause, or did it, maybe – was it a hindrance?

Smith: I think that’s a double edged sword. Because women like Victoria Woodhull, I mean, honestly, I don’t think she would have been able to do what she did had she not been so popular because of spiritualism and through her mediumship and then her connection to the Vanderbilt’s. And so, even though people looked down on her, and even the more proper spiritualists, you know, very much looked down on her for her behavior and for the things that she said or would write in her newsletter, I think, though, that she would never have been able to do what she did – I don’t think that she would have been the first woman to run for president, had she not had that background and I think that also at the same time, spiritualism and suffrage go hand in hand. I mean, you have a religious organization that views women as equals. And yet you had at the time, a national government who most certainly did not. And so, it’s a double edged sword – I think that in some ways it helps and some ways it hinders because of both being on the outskirts and both being considered radical ideas and notions. But I don’t think that it could be one or the other. It’s a mish mash of both.

Beckley: Right. For the listeners at home, can you just explain a little bit about Victoria Woodhull?

Smith: Victoria Woodhull, she was an interesting woman and if ever get the chance to read on her, she was amazing. But she was very loud, she was ver boisterous, she had several husbands, she was also a very huge advocate of free love, which also did not go over very well during the Victorian era. She had associations with the Vanderbilt’s and, actually, she was able to create a brokerage firm because of a loan that she had received from them. And so, she was a savvy business woman and she was a spiritualist and she was a medium and she was known for this and she actually became the first woman to run for president in the United States, which is in and of itself, I mean people always like to – and don’t get me wrong, it was great that Hillary was so close last time, but, she wasn’t the first, you know. And so, I think that people have a tendency to forget her because she was so much on the outside and she was so radical and so people really didn’t appreciate her candor as much as she gave it because, boy did she ever, yes.

Beckley: Yes, I know I’ve read a little on her, not as much as I’d like, but she’s definitely an interesting figure.

Smith: Yes. Yes. She was.

Beckley: So, is there anything ongoing – would you say that spiritualism now is still in the realm of feminism, is it still working for some of the same equal rights as it was, you know, in the 1800s and early 1900s?

Smith: I do believe so, yes, absolutely. I think that if you look back at the numbers and if you look at Camp Chesterfield, for example, has a seminary which is the Chesterfield Spiritualist College, these people will go through classes and training in order to develop mediumship and get certifications, but even become ordained spiritualist ministers. And if you look at the numbers, you will see that far more women are actually becoming ordained than males. And so that’s not to say that it’s for women and men need not apply, you know, but it is saying that it very much is a place where women can thrive. And in a world – especially in a religious world – that often times wants to push women to the sides and say that you don’t belong here.

Beckley: So you think that is a direct outcome of spiritualist’s history of being accepting of women, it’s just continuing.

Smith: It is. And I think that it pushes not just for women, but it pushed that whole equality thing, whether it’s for the LGBTQ community, the Trans community – it pushes diversity always. And they really are huge advocates and proponents of equality and making sure that people are treated equally. You know, because quite frankly when it comes to spiritualists and in the spiritualist mind, a spirit comes through when they come through and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter – sex and race and all of that stuff, it just happens.

Beckley: Yea – so, if people are interested in learning more about the history of spiritualism, your work, or about spiritualism in general, could you give them some places to go to learn more about that?

Smith: Yep, absolutely. Of course, naturally the first place you can go is CampChesterfield.net, the website for historic Camp Chesterfield in Chesterfield, Indiana. There is also Camp Chesterfield’s Facebook page as well as a twitter account, an Instagram account, were trying to – we’re the best kept secret of Indiana and so, we do have an online and a social media presence, but at the same time, the spiritualist community, they don’t recruit, and so people will find it when they need to find it or when they are ready to find it. But that’s definitely a good place to start – at Camp Chesterfield, there is a book store and of course, there’s book stores everywhere so if you just pick up any book on Modern American Spiritualism, it’s always a really great place to start, but if you’re really specifically wanting to know about Indiana History, spiritualism in Indiana, then a good trip up interstate 69 is going to be your best bet.

Beckley: Awesome, well, thank you so much for coming in today. This has been a wonderful conversation.

Smith: Yes, Thank you very much.

(Music)

Beckley: I want to thank Rachel once again for taking the time to come talk with us for this episode. If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America by Ann Braude. It’s a fascinating read and delves deep into some of the topics we covered today. We’ll be back next month with another episode of Talking Hoosier History. IN the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and twitter for daily doses of Indiana History tidbits. Subscribe, rate and review to Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Useful Links

Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle 

Camp Chesterfield Website

Camp Chesterfield Facebook Page

More about Victoria Woodhull

THH: Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Transcript of Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

Voice actor reading from newspaper: The town of Andrews [Indiana] . . . is much disturbed over the result of several spiritualistic séances, which have been held there by a medium named Johnson.

The first séance was held last Saturday night. At the meeting the terrible wreck at Keller’s station some years ago was called up. The five men killed in that wreck, including Trainmaster Wilcox, were talked to, and the noise made by the fated train, the puffing of the engine and the crash of the wreck were plainly reproduced. Those who were present in the room were terribly frightened, so realistic was the scene. A second séance was held at the residence of Robert Hart, with twenty people present. At this séance there were the customary exhibitions of tambourine playing, bell ringing, etc. While the bell was ringing someone requested that it be thrown, and it was hurled across the room with great violence, breaking a lamp chimney in its flight. After the séance was over the medium requested his audience never again to ask the spirits to throw anything, because that was one thing they always did when commanded.

Beckley: Scenes such as this, described in the July 11, 1893 issue of the Indianapolis News, were more common place in the Hoosier state than you might imagine at this time. By the late 19th century, American Spiritualism had swept the nation, including Indiana. And if you look past the spectacle described in that article – the tambourine playing, bell ringing, and flying furniture – you can glimpse the complexities surrounding Spiritualist beliefs. That story, like so many stories in Spiritualism, begins with tragedy. Five local men were killed in a dreadful accident, and here were their neighbors and friends still trying to find closure by calling them back from the dead. In this episode, we’ll explore a movement that meant different things to different people. For some, a night of entertainment. For others, a coping mechanism for unbearable grief.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Beckley: American Spiritualism, as opposed to spiritualism in the general sense of the word, was a religious movement based in the belief that not only do spirits exist, but they’re able and willing to communicate with the living through mediums. The root of the movement can be traced to the spring of 1848 when the Fox family began to hear knocking noises coming from the walls of their Hydesville, New York home. As the knockings continued, two of the Fox children, Margaret and Catherine, discovered that they could communicate with what they had come to believe was a spirit. Soon, the sisters took this new-found talent to nearby Rochester, New York, where they met prominent Quaker abolitionists Isaac and Amy Post.

In turn, the Posts introduced the young women and their ability to communicate with spirits to their prominent Quaker, Abolitionist, and Methodist friends. Through this network, Spiritualist beliefs were introduced into the highly mobile upper crust of East Coast society. This, alongside the accessible nature of the new movement which replaced the hierarchy and specialized facilities of other religions with a more informal structure, allowed Spiritualism to spread rapidly. Just months after the initial rappings were heard in Hydesville, there were thousands of so called “spirit circles” communicating with sprits in drawing rooms and kitchens up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Spirit circles, or séances, were a part of Spiritualism from the very beginning. Early séances conducted by the Fox sisters were described by historian David Chapman.

Voice actor reading from Chapman: Séances would begin with a prayer, while the party sat around a wooden table in a darkened room. If a spirit made its presence felt, participants could ask it yes-or-no questions, or the spirit might ‘call for the alphabet’ by knocking five times in rapid succession. If this happened someone would recite the alphabet until a knock was heard on a particular letter. This would be repeated until words and sentences were spelled out. The spirits had to be treated with great respect, or else they might refuse to participate.

Beckley: Soon, public demonstrations where hundreds of people gathered to witness the Fox sisters communicating with the spirits were organized.

[Eerie music]

Beckley: This is yet another factor in the rapid dissemination of American Spiritualism – each and every person who attended a séance or public demonstration was able to go back to their home town and hold a similar circle in their own home, with their own friends, who could in turn repeat the pattern, spreading the movement even further.

In this way, Spiritualism quickly reached the Midwest. By the mid-1850s, less than a decade after the Fox Sisters first made contact with the spirits in upstate New York, Spiritualism was fairly widespread in Indiana. It’s hard to estimate the number of practitioners since there was no formal system of reporting, but one historian claims that by the 1860s, 90% of Angola, Indiana residents were practicing Spiritualists. Of course, that’s an extreme case and the rest of the state was by no means majority-Spiritualist, but it shows how deeply the new religion had permeated Hoosier society. To get an idea of what at least some Indiana spirit circles were like, let’s look at Charles Cathcart, a judge and ex-congressman turned spiritualist.

[Music box music]

Beckley: Originally a skeptic, Cathcart attended his first spirit circle at the home of Mr. Poston of La Porte County, Indiana, with the goal of exposing the fraud he was sure was taking place there. The séances held at this particular circle were much different from those held by the Fox sisters which I described earlier – you see this a lot in Spiritualism since there was no official church structure and practitioners were able to just kind of make things up as they went along. The Poston circle, styled after circles held in Ohio, was a lively affair, similar to that described in the newspaper article at the top of the show.

[Dramatic music]

Beckley: Cathcart arrived to the séance armed with a homemade device that, when deployed, would light up the room in a flash. The lights were put out and the show started with a spirit referred to as “old king” taking up a bass drum. Cathcart deployed his flash device and described what he saw next in the Spiritual Telegraph, a New York-based spiritualist newspaper.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: What a picture for an artist! . . . [I] witnessed the stick beating the drum as if handled from above, and no mortal nearer than about eight feet of it! After striking a few blows by itself, in the light, the stick rose yet higher and leisurely, a curve in the air, gingerly fell on the shoulder of Miss Poston.

Beckley: With this shocking turn of events, Cathcart was a convert. He started his own spirit circle, also in LaPorte County, which was attended by many of his affluent acquaintances. Unsurprisingly, given the theatrical nature of his first encounter with Spiritualism, Cathcart’s own circles were quite showy with flying furniture, disembodied voices, and a veritable ensemble of spirits playing everything from a triangle to the guitar.  Obviously, this strain of Spiritualism is much closer to entertainment than to the expression of grief it was for many others. This included May Wright Sewall, who is better known as Indiana’s preeminent suffragist.

In 1895, Sewall’s husband and work partner, Theodore Lovett Sewall died. In the wake of his death, she wrote:

Voice actor reading from Sewall: Unlike many bereaved, I did not seek to forget my sorrow or him whose removal had caused it; on the contrary, I strove to keep the memory of him always present in my own mind.

Beckley: This reluctance to “move on” or forget is prevalent in many who eventually find themselves face to face with a medium, attempting to contact the dead. So it was with Sewall. In August 1897, after delivering a suffrage speech at Lily Dale, one of the largest Spiritualist camps in the country, a series of misfortunes stranded her in the camp for several days. During that time, she met with a medium, a meeting which she describes in her book Neither Dead Nor Sleeping.

Voice actor reading from Sewall: In that sitting, quite contrary to my own expectations, and equally so to any conscious desire, I received letters written upon slates which I had carefully selected from a high pile of apparently quite new and empty ones, had carefully sponged off, tied together with my own handkerchief, and held in my own hands, no other hand touching them. These letters, when read later in my room. . . were found to contain perfectly coherent, intelligent and characteristic replies to questions which I had written upon bits of paper that had not passed out of my hands.

Beckley: From that first experience, Sewall began visiting mediums on a regular basis and kept in regular communication with her deceased husband for the remaining two decades of her life. This was a something she did not share publicly. Neither Dead Nor Sleeping wasn’t published until July, 1920, twenty-three years after she first made contact with her deceased husband. In it, she revealed her Spiritualist beliefs and experiences and laid out her reasons for that belief.

The book was fairly well received, being heralded as an exceptionally logical exploration of the practice of Spiritualism, if a surprising subject for a woman of Sewall’s esteemed reputation to write on. But just two months after its release, with the revelation of Sewall’s convictions still fresh in the minds of Americans, Sewall died in Indianapolis. Her death following so close on the heels of Neither Dead Nor Sleeping resulted in the majority of her obituaries giving an inordinate amount of weight to that part of her life, leaving some of her very impressive accomplishments in the shadows.

Of course, Sewall wasn’t the only prominent Hoosier Spiritualist. Long before Neither Dead Nor Sleeping revealed May Wright Sewall as a convert, Dr. John and Mary Westerfield of Anderson, Indiana, were introduced to the movement. This introduction would eventually lead to the establishment of what would become one of the nation’s most prominent Spiritualist centers.

In 1855, John’s and Mary’s only son, John Jr. died at the age of fourteen. The couple, who organized lectures on various topics of a scientific and pseudo-scientific nature, were already familiar with the idea of Spiritualism. So, perhaps it was natural that they turned to the comfort offered by mediums in their grief. Over the next months, many of those who had attended their lecture series also converted to Spiritualism and this small group began to advocate for a state-wide organization of Spiritualists.

[Music]

Beckley: Alongside this effort to organize, the Westerfields also began searching for a location for a Spiritualist camp, where believers could congregate and commune.

[Music]

Beckley: From these efforts, the Indiana Association of Spiritualists was founded in the late 1880s, and in 1890, thirty acres of land was purchased in Chesterfield, Indiana where their Spiritualist camp – Camp Chesterfield – was established.

If you’re imagining a small, backwoods operation, you’re mistaken. When the camp opened, there was a dining hall, lodging house, two séance rooms, a few small cottages, and a tent auditorium structure that seated 500 people. By 1895, an office building, Bazaar building, stables, a grocery store, an ice cream parlor, and a wooden auditorium building had been added to the site, showing a phenomenal amount of growth.

This was far from the last growth spurt that the camp experienced. Under the leadership of Mable Riffle, the camp reached its zenith in the 1920s. Two fully furnished hotels were constructed, as well as a chapel, several more cottages, and a decorative outdoor area. By 1927, the six week season at Champ Chesterfield was drawing an average of 20,000 people. Some of these visitors came seeking the thrill of communing with the spirits and others looking to reach deceased loved ones during a time a grief, illustrated by the increase in attendance in the wake of both World War I and World War II.

Throughout its history, Camp Chesterfield hosted mediums with a wide variety of different Spiritualistic abilities. These included materializing mediumship, a phenomena where a medium summons the physical form of a spirit, and spirit photography, in which the forms of dead loved ones can be seen in the presence of their living family members. And also slate writing, or writing done without the aid of human hands – usually on a slate using chalk.

Yet, not everyone who experienced these supposedly otherworldly happenings were convinced by their experiences at the camp.

[Music]

Beckley: In 1925, at the height of its popularity, reporter Virginia Swain attended the camp and participated in several séances, which seem to have quite missed the mark on all accounts. The first of a long series of articles written about her time there starts.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: I have met a brother whom I had never heard of before. Nevertheless he died in my arms six months ago – he told me so himself!

Beckley: She goes on to detail a long list of almost laughably bad readings she received at the camp, but even more damaging than the bad press – she reported the perceived fraud to the police and on the very same day her first article ran, news of a mass arrest of 14 mediums was reported. The charges were dropped just weeks later, but the exposé and the arrests left a wake of soured public sentiment in its wake.

In 1960, scandal arose once again when Tom O’Neill, editor of the popular Spiritualist magazine the Psychic Observer and researcher Dr. Andriga Puharrich uncovered fraud while trying to capture the first motion pictures of the materialization of a spirit. With the full knowledge and permission of the mediums conducting the séance, the two men took an infrared camera into the séance room. Looking through the lens of the camera, they saw that what in the dark had looked to be wispy figures emerging from nowhere were actually workers of the camp entering the séance room from a hidden door.

When these findings, and the images captured during the séance, were published in the Psychic Observer under the headline “Fraud Uncovered at Chesterfield Spiritualism Camp,” something rather surprising happened. It was O’Neill, rather than the camp, that came under fire, with droves of advertisers dropping their support for the magazine, eventually leading to its demise. I suppose that’s a clear demonstration of just how deeply adherents to Spiritualism hold their beliefs.

Perhaps the worst blow to the camp came in 1976, when medium Lamar Keene wrote his exposé The Psychic Mafia, in which he laid bare allegations of widespread fraud throughout the camp. According to his claims, there were rooms full of tens of thousands of notecards with information on every person who had ever had a reading at the camp. He told stories of stealing, pickpocketing, and more, all in the name of a good spiritualist reading.

But, of course, even this exposé didn’t spell the end for Champ Chesterfield, which is now considered to be the longest continually active Spiritualist camp in the nation. The camp, like Spiritualism itself, has persisted through scandal, bad press, and more. Today, the camp is a mixture of American Spiritualism, with several resident mediums available for readings, New Age Spiritualism, with meditation retreats and Tai Chi classes, and a training center for up and coming Spiritualist leaders.

Even outside of historical camps like Chesterfield, of which there are a handful left scattered across the country, we still hear the echoes of Spiritualism in modern America. Take, for instance, mediums such as TLC’s “Long Island Medium,” Theresa Caputo, or if you’re a 90s kid like me, Sylvia Brown. Like the Fox sisters in the mid-1800s, these women mix entertainment with amateur grief counseling, helping people through difficult times by giving them the chance to communicate with lost loved ones. Or, if one wants to be cynical about it, using people’s grief for financial gain and personal fame.

But that’s what makes Spiritualism such a wonderfully complex topic. It can be a coping mechanism. It can be entertainment. It has film-flam men and sincere practitioners. Some people feel genuinely helped, and others feel helplessly duped. And we didn’t even get to this, but it was led, in large, by women and had close ties with both the abolition and women’s suffrage movements. But many of its practitioners, like May Wright Sewall, were tarnished by their association with it. Spiritualism is often used as an entry point into ghost stories and ghastly tales, something to be trotted out for Halloween and then put back into the closet with the paper skeletons on November 1, but that paints a much more one dimensional picture of it than in reality. Join us in two weeks when we dig further into this topic with Ball State University professor Rachel Smith, who studies the intersection of Spiritualism and feminism.

[THH theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thank you to Justin Clark and Dr. Michella Marino of IHB for lending their voices to today’s episode. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for Listening.

Show Notes for Spiritualism: Beyond the Spectacle

Braude, Ann, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

Britten, Emma Hardinge, Modern American Spiritualism, New York: MDCCCLXX,

Chapin, David, “Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity, Amhurst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004.

Keene, M. Lamar, The Psychic Mafia, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1997.

Sewall, May Wright, Neither Dead Nor Sleeping, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1920.

Newspapers

                “Events in Hoosierdom,” Indianapolis News, July 11, 1893, 6.

“Mediums Under Bond After Raid,” Muncie Evening Press, August 24, 1925, 1.

Websites

                “Camp Chesterfield: A Spiritual Center of Light,” campchesterfield.net.

 

Giving Voice: Jeremy Turner

Transcript for Giving Voice: Jeremy Turner

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this Giving Voice, from Talking Hoosier History.

In this installment of Giving Voice, I talk to Jeremy Turner, Director of the HIV/STD Viral Hepatitis Division of the Indiana State Department of Health. I first saw Mr. Turner speak at the dedication ceremony for the Ryan White state historical marker earlier this year, and his passion for HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention were apparent. So, when we were thinking about who would be able to give a more modern perspective on the topic, I knew Jeremy would be a great resource for us.

If you haven’t listened to the latest full episode – “Overcoming Stigma: Ryan White’s AIDs Education Advocacy,” I would encourage you to do so before listening to this interview, as it gives the historical context needed to better understand a lot of what Mr. Turner talks about here.

And now: Giving Voice.

[Talking Hoosier History Theme Music]

Turner: You know, it’s amazing to be here today, particularly during this time during the epidemic. I started working in HIV services fifteen years ago down in Evansville in Southern Indiana and it’s just great to be here at the State Department of Health during a time when we’re looking at ending the HIV epidemic.

Beckley: Absolutely. And that’s something that I definitely want to talk about ‘cause you had spoken at the Ryan White marker dedication and you had mentioned that and that really, kind of drew my attention. I was wondering if you could talk about, like, some of the concrete steps that we’re taking here in Indiana or across the nation that is going to meet that goal.

Turner: You know, Ryan White being from Indiana provided us a unique opportunity to have the spotlight shone on how HIV effects people here in the Midwest. And we’ve come a long ways since the early days of the epidemic. Our HIV system of treatment in Indiana was built by a network of community action groups, what we call “CAGS” now, many of whom are still in existence but grew up to be those HIV service agencies, those non-profit organizations, placed in regions across the state, who are providing care for folks living with HIV. Now, we know that keeping people engaged in care is one of the most important parts of ending the HIV epidemic. We’re so fortunate to be in a state where our state health commissioner, Dr. Chris Bucks, has embraced the ideology of “u equals u.” Undetectable equals untransmittable. And so we know when we provide good access to care and we can keep people living with HIV engaged in care, that that limits the viruses ability to transmit to other people. And we also know that we have this amazing prevention tool, this biomedical intervention called PrEP. It’s one pill a day and it is as effective at preventing HIV transition as the use of traditional prophylactics like condoms. And so with combining “undetectable equals untransmittable” with easy access to biomedical interventions, we see a path where we can end HIV. And so we have done our best here to work with our local organizations, our local health departments, our non-profit agencies to make sure that we are addressing not only the medical needs of our clients, but those social determinants of health that have prevented people in the past from being able to stay engaged in care. That’s keeping people housed. Keeping people fed. Getting access to mental health and substance use treatment facilities. All of those things combined are going to be what it takes to end the epidemic.

Beckley: I was – I was wondering how innovations like PrEP and other treatments have affected AIDS education – you know Ryan White was a big advocate of AIDS education – and I wonder if that’s changed the conversation around AIDS. You know, it’s not the death sentence it once was, so I was wondering how that has changed education.

Turner: Well, you know when we talk about education, we really have to take a very broad look at what that means. Because Prep being new and being something not everyone is familiar with, we have education not only to do with young folks and people who are at risk, but also our medical service providers about how to prescribe PrEP, about what the risks might be. So, we’re engaged in a variety of different levels, making sure that we’re not only touching the communities that we hope are going to initiate PrEP, but also working with our partners at the Midwest AIDS Training and Education Center who do a lot of provider education to get out there and—and instill a confidence in our family practice physicians and particularly providers in rural settings who may not have infectious disease specialty or may not be as familiar with providing infectious disease care, and getting them up to speed.

We have another great project called the HIV echo project and it is a format that allows providers – doctors, nurse practitioners – without an infectious disease specialty to essentially case conference with some of our leading providers in the state about how to provide care to those folks who are struggling with accessing those services in urban areas because they might live in remote rural parts of the state. And so, you know, it’s a really – ending the epidemic is not one component, but all of the components put together. And I really do think we’ve seen early progress. We’ve expanded a lot of Ryan White funded activities in Indiana and if we keep up the trajectory, I do believe that we will make it across the finish line by our goal date.

Beckley: And that’s 3030, correct?

Turner: Uh…

Beckley: Or, 2030.

Turner: 2030.

Beckley: I’m way in the future, I guess.

Turner: By 3030, I hope that we’ve ended all the epidemics.

Beckley: Well, we can make that the next goal, I suppose.

Turner: Right?

Beckley: So, in the episode, in the full episode of Talking Hoosier History, we talked about how Ryan White and Hamilton Heights used education specifically to combat the stigma surrounding an AIDS diagnosis. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the continuing stigma that is still around a diagnosis and how we might take steps towards combating that stigma.

Turner: Well, you know, one of the things that we can – almost goes without saying now – is that people with HIV can live long, happy, health lives. People who stay retained in care and who can maintain viral suppression, are going to have a normal life expectancy.

Beckley: Can you explain what viral suppression is?

Turner: Yea, uh – we know that if we can keep people’s viral loads to below what they call an undetectable level, doesn’t mean that the virus is completely gone from the body, but just means that the tests that we use, the sensitivity of it, there are fewer copies of HIV than can be detected. And we know that unfortunately once somebody has HIV that they will always have the virus for the rest of their lives, but we also know that the treatments that we have now, we can essentially keep HIV suppressed within the body to a level where people who get HIV can get diagnosed early will never progress to AIDS and that they will experience a normal life expectancy.

Beckley: And do you think that that is lessening the stigma surround being diagnosed?

Turner: I think that that does help. However, stigma doesn’t turn on a dime and so you know, we’re dealing with the concept of now getting out and saying “undetectable equals untransmittable.” The CDC has embraced this, and so you know, we want to make sure that we don’t let the fear of HIV keep people from getting tested. So, stigma looks a lot of different ways. And one of the things – one of our biggest barriers in ending the epidemic is making sure that everybody who has HIV knows their status. And we know that the majority – 90% of new transmission occurs among the 10-13% of people, that region in there, who don’t know their status. And so, one of the things that can be a barrier to being tested is the fear of discovering your status. And I know that that can sound kind of wonky but at the same time, people are afraid sometimes to go in and find out if they have HIV so it’s easier to do what I call the ostrich method of sticking your head in the ground, rather than confronting, and then addressing the issue.

But I do think that knowing that treatment is so much easier now, that there are resources out there to help people afford the care that they need, and that maintaining suppression means that you don’t have to worry about passing on HIV to someone else. I do think that all of those things are great. But, you know, we also have to deal with the stigma of being on a medication to prevent HIV. There is a lot of conversation in the community – particularly when Prep was first introduced, about, you know  – what are the implications of someone taking a pill every day in order to prevent a potential HIV infection? And so there was a lot of – and there continues to be, a lot of vibrant dialogue around what that means for us, but what I know and from my perspective, is that we want to keep people healthy. And if we can stop the spread of HIV, and if we can detect everyone who has HIV, and we can get them enrolled in the services that they need, that we can end it within this generation. But stigma has been a huge barrier and will continue to be. We are doing our best to come up with messaging and to provide education that will help eliminate that.

Beckley: It sounds like the education is shifting from teaching people what HIV is to teaching people about the treatments available and the preventatives available. It’s shifted in my lifetime from, well, everybody now is aware of the epidemic and has lived through part of it, or has at least, you know, the tail end here, hopefully. And now we’re all shifting to looking forward to how to end it. And that’s extremely hopeful and I can’t imagine that, you know, people who were living through the peak of it in the 80s and 90s would even imagine that we would be so close today.

Turner: Absolutely, but you know, one of the things that I have long been concerned about is that I don’t – we are remiss if we don’t acknowledge that HIV is still the same virus that has impacted so many people. More people in our country have died as a result of their HIV infection than all the soldiers who have fought in all the wars we’ve been engaged in and fallen in battle. And so when you think about it in that regard, over just a much shorter period in time, this is still the same virus. And we are only able to, you know, address it because of all the advancement we’ve made, but people who are late diagnosed can still experience some of those same health outcomes that we saw in the earlier days of the epidemic. So that’s why it’s important – if you’ve not been tested for HIV, that you utilize one of many services that are available across the state to find out your status. And if you continue to engage in risk behaviors, it’s important to get tested every six months so that you can stay on top of that and if an issue does arise and if you do come back positive for HIV, then you are referred quickly into care so that we can start that, the therapy process and make sure that we get people to viral suppression as quickly as possible.

Beckley: Great. Jeremy, could you tell our listeners where they can learn more about the HIV epidemic, and the steps we’re taking to end it and where they can go and get tested if they are needing to be tested?

Turner: Absolutely. Our state department of health website is a great resource for people. We also have a great network of service organizations around the state that we can, from ISDH here, help direct people to get them enrolled in care.

Beckley: Great, thank you. And thank you again for being on the show. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.

Turner: I appreciate it. Thank you all.

[Music]

Once again, a big thanks to Jeremy Turner for sitting down to talk with us – he’s an incredibly busy man so I felt especially privileged to have the opportunity to take a bit of time to chat.

We’ll be back next month with another episode of Talking Hoosier History. In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana History tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

 

Overcoming Stigma: Ryan White’s AIDS Education Advocacy

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Transcript for Overcoming Stigma: Ryan White’s AIDS Education Advocacy

Recording of Ryan White: It was my decision to live a normal life, go to school, be with friends, and enjoy day to day activities. It was not going to be easy. I became known as the AIDS boy.

Beckley: Thirteen year old Ryan White was diagnosed with acquired immune deficiency syndrome in December, 1984. While the presence of the new disease had been detected over 2 years earlier, it was still a terrifying enigma. Especially in the mid-west, where less than ½ of 1 percent of all national AIDS diagnoses had been made. AIDS seemed like a distant nightmare – something that happened to other people in other places. The little understood, highly deadly disease was surrounded by fear, misunderstanding, and misinformation. Stigma and discrimination almost invariably accompanied an AIDS diagnosis. On this episode, we recount the story of Indiana teenager Ryan White and Hamilton Heights High School’s campaign to use education to combat this stigma.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

AIDS is the late stage of infection of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. HIV attacks the cells within a body that help fight infection, making the infected person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. While the HIV virus existed in humans as early as the 1920s, it wasn’t until 1981 that the medical community began noticing a rise in rare infections and suspecting a new immune deficiency disease to be the cause. By that time, up to 300,000 people on 5 continents had already been infected.

News audio: Federal health officials consider it an epidemic, yet you never hear anything about it…national Center for Disease Control in Atlanta today release the results of . . . disease, which most affects homosexual men . . . 1/3 have died and none have been cured the best guess is that some infectious agent is causing it.

Beckley: When we think about the early years of the AIDS crisis, we often think of the catastrophic effects the disease had on the gay community of the United States, and for good reason. By 1995, a full 10% of all adult men who identified as gay in America had died from the disease, a literal decimation. Of the 125 original members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir, all but 7 died within the first decade of the epidemic. Before the term acquired immune deficiency syndrome was coined in 1982, it was referred to as “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency,” by health officials or “Gay Cancer” by the media. Much of the stigma surrounding the disease came from its link with the gay community and homophobic attitudes of the government, the media, and even medical professionals during the epidemic. There was another, smaller group which was also deeply and irreversibly affected by the AIDS epidemic, though: people with hemophilia.

Hemophilia is a rare disorder in which your blood lacks something called a clotting factor, meaning that it will not clot normally on its own. This leads to uncontrollable bleeding from cuts or excessive bruising form everyday activities. Up until the late 1960s, hemophiliacs had short life expectancies due to a lack of treatments for their condition. In 1965, Dr. Judith Graham Pool of Stanford University discovered a way of isolating the clotting factor in human blood, known as Factor VIII. This innovation allowed people with hemophilia to live relatively normal lives compared to their historical counterparts.

That changed dramatically in 1982 when the first cases of AIDS in the hemophiliac community were diagnosed.

News audio: At first it seemed to only strike one segment of the population. Now, Berry Peterson tells us, this is no longer the case.

Beckley: As a blood based product, Factor VIII was susceptible to contamination by blood borne illnesses, including HIV and AIDS. As first hundreds and then thousands of Americans were infected with AIDS, the risk of receiving contaminated treatments rose dramatically. Factor VIII, which just 20 years before had been the saving grace of those living with hemophilia, was now killing those same people.

This put people living with hemophilia and their loved ones in an unimaginably difficult position. Either continue using Factor VIII and risk infection or stop using it and risk bleeding to death. Ryan White, who was diagnosed with hemophilia soon after his December 1971 birth, was one of the many Americans faced with this decision. In his autobiography, Ryan White: My Own Story, Ryan describes this time in his life.

Voice actor portraying Ryan White:  “Aids was kind of lurking around in the background for all families of hemophiliacs, but back then nobody I knew except Grandpa seemed to take it very seriously. Grandpa and I had read everything we could find about it. We heard about older hemophiliacs who had gotten AIDS from the Factor that they needed as much as I did. That upset Grandpa. He started telling Mom not to give me Factor anymore.

Beckley: Ryan’s Grandfathers misgivings, in the end, were realized. Just before Christmas 1984, Ryan was hospitalized for pneumonia and after having a lung biopsy taken, was diagnosed with pneumocystis pneumonia. This, in turn, led to the realization of his and his family’s worst nightmares – an AIDS diagnosis. But from the start, Ryan decided on a unique approach to the illness.

Audio of Ryan White: I – from the very beginning, I said I was gonna fight this disease and I was gonna win.

Beckley: He wrote about his mother, Jeanne, telling him the news.

Audio of Jeanne White: From the very first, you know, he asked me, “Am I gonna die?” and this was when he was very first diagnosed, he said “Am I gonna die?” And I thought, “Gosh, how am I gonna answer this? And I said, “We’re all gonna die someday, we just don’t know when.”

Audio of Ryan: My mother told me we’re all gonna die someday so, just to step up to it.

Ryan White Voice Actor: I thought a minute. So what was the big deal about AIDS? I was a hemophiliac, so I already had my limits. But I’d been having an okay time, anyway. I certainly wasn’t about to die yet. Why not just get back to being a normal kid? “Tell you what, Mom,” I said. “Let’s just pretend I don’t have AIDS.”

Beckley: Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be possible. He couldn’t have known it, but he would soon be known around the world as the “poster boy for AIDS.” Making his diagnosis even more tragic, if that’s even possible, is the timing of it. Throughout 1984, scientists at the Center for Disease Control were developing a method of treating Factor VIII to kill any HIV virus lurking within. In October, two months before Ryan’s diagnosis, the method was endorsed and recommended by the CDC. The hemophilia community quickly implemented the method but, unfortunately, it was too late for Ryan – within just weeks of his diagnosis, all Factor VIII in the United States was being treated and hemophiliacs who had avoided infection thus far were spared.

For several months after his diagnosis, Ryan was too ill to return to school, but in the spring of 1985 he began voicing his desire to return to his normal life by resuming classes at Western Middle School. When his mother met with school officials to talk about this possibility, she encountered with resistance. Concerns about the health of other students, and that of Ryan himself, whose immune system had been ravaged by his illness, gave officials pause.  In one of the earliest news articles about the issue, Western School Superintendent J.O. Smith asked:

Voice actor: You tell me. What would you do? I don’t know. We’ve asked the State Board of Health, we’re expecting something from them. But nobody has anything to go by. Everybody wanted to know what they’re doing in other places. But we don’t have any precedent for this.

 

Beckley: He was right – there wasn’t much precedent for the situation they were facing. While a few schools had faced similar situations, the issues surrounding a child living with AIDS attending school – namely, the risk this posed to the other students – were far from settled. At this time, new and conflicting information came out at a dizzying pace.

News audio: . . . an epidemic of a rare form of cancer . . . a mysterious newly discovered disease . . . new deadly sexually transmitted disease . . .

Beckley: When the AIDS crisis first started, there were three risk groups identified: the gay population, intravenous drug users, and, strangely, Haitians. That based on misunderstood data indicating a higher rate of infections among Hattian Americans. Then, infants born to those with AIDS were added to the risk factor list. Next came those with Hemophilia and people who had received blood transfusions. Women with bisexual male partners were identified as a risk group in 1983. Then, women who had been artificially inseminated were being diagnosed.

Basically, the average person watching the evening news didn’t know who would be named next.

News audio: A weird, mutant virus, deadlier than the plague, suddenly appears on earth. People start dying, first by the score, then by the hundreds. Doctors are baffled. All the resources of medical science can’t help them find the cause, let alone the cure for the epidemic.

Beckley: There was fear in the air.

In 1985, when Western School Corporation was weighing its options, studies suggested that the AIDS virus may have been found in the tears and saliva of patients, which could have indicated that the virus was even more infectious than previously believed. Media reports on the studies muddied the waters further. For example, two newspaper headlines, both reporting on the same study and both published within 1 day of each other, read:

Voice actor:  “AIDS probably can’t be transmitted by saliva.”

Beckley: and

Voice actor: “AIDS virus found in saliva raises new questions.”

Beckley: With so much information—and misinformation—in the news cycle, the desire to hear from health authorities on the topic was understandable.

In July, three months after Ryan was told he could not attend school until the Indiana State Board of Health weighed in, a document titled “Guidelines for Children with AIDS Attending School” was released by the Board. Guideline number 1 read:

Voice actor: “AIDS children should be allowed to attend school as long as they behave acceptably . . . and have no uncoverable sores or skin eruptions. Routine and standard procedures should be used to clean up after a child has an accident or injury at school.”

Beckley: Despite this recommendation, Western School Corporation officials continued to deny Ryan admittance to class. Instead, they set up a remote learning system. From the confines of his bedroom, Ryan dialed into his classes via telephone and listened to his teachers lecture. He missed out on visual aids, class participation, and sometimes the lectures themselves, as the line was often garbled or disconnected.

Audio of Ryan White: I don’t want anybody else to get it. And I can see where they’re worried, but I mean, if my doctor says it’s okay to go back, I don’t see no reason why I can’t.

Beckley: A November ruling, this time by the Department of Education, confirmed the Board of Health’s assertion that Ryan should be admitted to class.

A series of rulings, appeals, and other legal filings followed, ultimately ending when the Indiana Court of Appeals declined to hear further arguments and Ryan finally got what he and his family had fought so hard for—he was allowed to return to classes on April 10, 1986. This victory was tarnished by ongoing discrimination from his classmates and other community members.

News audio: I don’t think he should be here. If people with chicken pox and measles can’t come, why should he? There’s been a lot of rumors that when he gets mad he spits on people.

Beckley: Addressing the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1988, Ryan recalled some of the more poignant moments from his time in Kokomo:

Ryan white audio: They call you queer and stuff like that. Then you get people who throw away your dishes. I mean, I wouldn’t want to eat off of someone else’s dish either. I mean, it’s been washed so that’s all there is to it.

Ryan White Voice Actor: “I was labeled a troublemaker, my mom an unfit mother, and I was not welcome anywhere. People would get up and leave so they would not have to sit anywhere near me. Even at church, people would not shake my hand.”

Ryan White audio: They don’t know what else to do, so they’re cruel.

Beckley: Because of these experiences and his desire to escape oppressive media coverage, Ryan asked his mother if they could move out of Howard County. When the family decided to settle in Cicero, a small town about 30 miles to the south east, they couldn’t have known how drastically different their lives were about to become.

Tony Cook, the Hamilton Heights High School principal in the 1980s and now a State Representative, heard through informal channels that Ryan’s family was moving into his school district in April of 1987. The degree of media coverage surrounding Ryan’s battle to attend classes meant that Cook was well aware that his community’s reaction would be heavily scrutinized. In order to prepare his students, teachers, and neighbors for Ryan’s arrival, Cook and his staff set out on an AIDS educational crusade the likes of which had not been seen before.

With the backing of his superintendent and school board, Cook quickly made the decision that Ryan would be admitted to the school. This was really no surprise since Ryan’s cases had already set the legal precedent for children living with AIDS having the right to attend school.  What was more revolutionary was the decision that there would be no restrictions placed on what Ryan was able to do in school. During his time attending classes while in class in Western Middle School, he was not able to attend gym, used a separate restroom and water fountain, and ate off of disposable trays using plastic utensils. Cook’s decision to forgo such extreme measures signaled to the rest of the community – and to Ryan – that Ryan wasn’t some accident waiting to happen. Once that decision was made, it was time for Cook to take action.

After gathering AIDS-related materials from the Indiana State Board of Health, the Center for Disease Control, major newspapers, and scientific journals, Cook turned what was supposed to be his summer break into a months-long educational campaign.

Throughout the months that followed, Cook, armed with scientific sources, combated misinformation in his community. He spoke about AIDS at Kiwanis groups, Rotary Clubs, churches, and, really, any group that asked. He sat in living rooms and at kitchen tables throughout the community, personally addressing concerns of fellow citizens.

The school developed a collection of AIDS education materials that could be checked out. Cook contacted members of the student government, asking them to act as ambassadors, advocating on Ryan’s behalf with their fellow students and the media. School staff went through additional training to prepare them for the possibility of a blood or other biohazard spill. By the time the school year came around, Cicero, Arcadia, and the surrounding area had some of the best informed populations when it came to AIDS.

[Classroom sounds, bell ringing]

Beckley: The first few days of the 1987-1988 school year at Hamilton Heights High School were peppered with convocations in which Cook addressed each grade level to assuage any remaining concerns over sharing classrooms and hallways with Ryan. Students were encouraged to ask questions and support was provided for any feeling uncomfortable with the situation. In short, education was used to address stigma.

On Ryan’s first day of class, which was about a week after school started, the campaign seemed to have been relatively successful – all went smoothly, especially compared to the mass walk-outs and protests that had occurred when other children with AIDS began attending a new school.

Media presence, however, was a problem for the Hamilton Heights staff. Heights was an open campus, meaning students traveled between different buildings throughout the day. This would have made having members of the media on campus both distracting and potentially dangerous. But restricting access all together also wasn’t possible, as Ryan was a nationally-known figure by this time. The compromise was to have weekly press conferences during which Ryan, student ambassadors, and faculty could answer questions and update the press about the goings-on at the school.

On that first day, though, there was no formal press conference. Rather, as Ryan left the building the press surrounded him, asking how things had gone. He smiled and said:

News audio: Where you nervous at all this morning? “Oh, yea, I was terribly nervous.” What do you feel like now? I feel really good about this school. I like it a lot.

Ryan attributed his positive experiences at Hamilton Heights directly to the education campaign:

Ryan White Audio: When I went home that night, I just, I couldn’t believe they were so . . . I said, “Mom, they were really nice.” And it was all just so amazing.

Later, when speaking in front of the presidential commission on the HIV epidemic, he said:

Ryan White voice actor: I’m just one of the kids, and all because the students at Hamilton Heights High School listened to the facts, educated their parents and themselves, and believed in me . . . Hamilton Heights is proof that AIDS education in schools works.

Beckley: I had the opportunity to interview Representative Cook about his experiences during this time. During our interview, Cook spoke to the power of education to overcome even the most intense fear,

Cook:  “Yes, there were some folks that were uneasy and nervous, but we did see education overcome. And we saw a community that allowed us to do certain things, and again, they understood that we had delved into it a lot, and we had gathered stuff for them, and they trusted us to do it and carry it through.”

Beckley: That trust, built up over months of hard work, enabled the community to do what others could not – welcome Ryan and his family with open arms.

The first time Tony Cook met Ryan, Cook asked why Ryan wanted so badly to attend school. During our interview with Representative Cook, he recalled that the fifteen-year-old Ryan, who by that time had been in the middle of a media storm for nearly two years, replied

Ryan White Voice Actor: “’I just want to be a normal kid . . . I may die. So, for me, it’s important that I try to experience the high school experience as well as I can.”

Beckley: At Hamilton Heights High School, Ryan was able to do just that. He went to football games and high school dances. He had friends and a girlfriend. He was able to get his drivers license and a job working at a skate shop. In short, he was able to experience many of the same things other teenagers experienced, although his life was far from normal.

Ryan’s AIDS education advocacy had started before his move to Cicero, and it continued throughout the remainder of his life. He traveled the nation speaking in schools, on television, and before the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic. Cook also traveled, speaking to fellow educators about his experiences preparing Hamilton Heights for Ryan’s arrival. As more schools faced similar situations, Hamilton Heights High School was used as a model on which they could base their programs.

Tragically, five years after this initial diagnosis, Ryan died on April 15, 1990 after being admitted to Riley Hospital for Children with a respiratory tract infection.

News audio: Funeral services for Ryan will be held on Wednesday . . . the last five years, he lived with AIDS. He got it . . . Indiana Governor Evan Bayh has ordered the flags throughout the state to be flown at half staff . . . Ryan White attracted nation-wide attention and sympathy . . .

Beckley: Celebrities such as Sir Elton John and Michael Jackson attended his funeral, such was his impact on the nation.

Elton John audio: This one’s for Ryan.

Beckley: His legacy of AIDS advocacy lives on in the Ryan White CARE Act, which was passed just months after his death and continues to provide funding for HIV and AIDS community-based care and treatment services.

This year,  2019 the Indiana Historical Bureau dedicated a state historical marker to Ryan White’s AIDS education advocacy and to Hamilton Heights’ role in the story. Over seven hundred people attended the ceremony – the largest we’ve ever had. In that way, Ryan’s legacy is cemented in our history – people remember the courageous, well-spoken young man who faced the stigma of AIDS with equanimity.

Ryan White audio: Yea, I think a lot more people are not afraid of AIDS now, and they’re not afraid of someone who has it. And I think they’re more willing to accept people who have AIDS.

We can still learn much from his story. Between 2010 and 2015, Scott County, Indiana experienced the state’s worst HIV outbreak to date. 215 people – nearly all intravenous drug users – were diagnosed.  Despite being in Ryan White’s home state, the students at the local high school knew little about the illness. When diagnosis rates began to rise, rumors very similar to those seen in the 1980s began to swirl, rumors that you can catch AIDS from water fountains, toilet seats, and from second hand contact. This came, in part, from a lack of AIDS education. The AIDS information standard from the Indiana Department of Education reads:

Voice Actor:  “The state board shall provide information stressing the moral aspects of abstinence from sexual activity in any literature that it distributes to students and young adults concerning available methods for the prevention of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The literature must state that the best way to avoid AIDS is for young people to refrain from sexual activity until they are ready as adults to establish, in the context of marriage, a mutually faithful monogamous relationship.”

Beckley: Some schools, of course, have robust AIDS education curriculum. But it is possible, with the current standards in place, to only teach that abstinence is the best way to avoid contracting AIDS. Setting aside the controversy from the issues surrounding abstinence first sex-ed, this method is inadequate in that it ignores the various other methods of transmission, and by framing AIDS as a purely sexually transmitted disease, and linking it with morality, we further stigmatize those living with AIDS.

As the Scott County HIV/AIDS outbreak was coming to light, students at Austin High School took AIDS Education into their own hands, much as Ryan had done 25 years before. They came together and wrote a special edition of the school newspaper – the Eagle – dispelling myths about the disease. They brought health officials in to talk with students about the realities of living with HIV. They even set up a group called “Stand Up,” which focused on AIDS education. These teenagers saw a problem and they addressed it, even though it wasn’t necessarily their job to do so, much like it wasn’t necessarily Ryan White’s job to educate the nation on the same issues in the 1980s.

Over 700,000 Americans have died from AIDS related illnesses since 1981. Treatments such as highly active antiretroviral therapy and Combivir, along with the preventative medication PrEP have resulted in an 85% drop in death rates since 1995, which is considered the peak of the epidemic in the U.S. This is the story in America – each nation has its own story and is in its own stage of dealing with the HIV crisis. Today, approximately 36.9 million people are living with HIV or AIDS globally, but new breakthroughs are promising and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS has announced a targeted strategy to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

Ryan White audio: You know, it’s given me a more positive attitude, of course. And, just to feel like you’re not fighting it alone – that you have other people fighting it with you.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. If you would like to see my sources for this episode, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thank you to Justin Clark for voicing several parts on this episode. And a very special thanks to Ollie Banker, who gave voice to Ryan White throughout the episode. Check back in two weeks for an interview with Jeremy Turner, director of the HIV, STD, Viral Hepitius division of the Indiana State Department of Health, who will talk about the steps the state and the nation are taking to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Find us on Facbook and Twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau, and remember to subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

Ryan White Show Notes

Books

Cunningham, Ann Marie and Ryan White, Ryan White: My Own Story, California: Berkley Publishing, 1992.

Resnik, Susan, Blood Sage, California: University of California Press, 1999.

 

Newspapers

“AIDS virus found in saliva raises new questions,” San Francisco Examiner, October 10, 1984.

“AIDS probably can’t be transmitted by saliva,” York Daily Record, October 11, 1984.

Articles

                Evatt, B.L., The Tragic History of AIDS in the Hemophilia Population, 1982-1984, Occasional Papers, December 2007, Number 6, Accessed: https://www1.wfh.org/publication/files/pdf-1269.pdf

Chorba, TL, RC Holman, MJ Clarke, BL Evatt, Effects of HIV Infection on Age and Cause of Death for Persons with Hemophilia A in the United States, American Journal of Hematol, April 2001, accessed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11279632

Websites

“A Brief History of Hemophilia Treatment,” Hemophilia News Today: https://hemophilianewstoday.com/2017/05/15/brief-history-hemophilia-treatment/

“Hemophilia,” Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hemophilia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373327

“History of Bleeding Disorders,” National Hemophilia Foundation: https://www.hemophilia.org/Bleeding-Disorders/History-of-Bleeding-Disorders

“History of HIV and AIDS Overview,” Avert: https://www.avert.org/professionals/history-hiv-aids/overview

“A Brief Timeline of AIDS,” http://www.factlv.org/timeline.htm

“A Timeline of HIV and AIDS,” HIV.gov: https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/history/hiv-and-aids-timeline

From Redlining to Better Homes: The Better Homes of South Bend Housing Cooperative

Jump to Show Notes

Hear an interview with Mike Jackson, who live in the neighborhood built by Better Homes here. 

Transcript for From Redlining to Better Homes

[Birds Chirping, Neighborhood Sounds]

Beckley: Dr. Bernard Vagner and his wife Audrey moved to South Bend, Indiana in January, 1949. The young couple had decided to lease some rooms in a house while familiarizing themselves with their new city. But by that summer, it was time to start looking for a place of their own. After being shown several properties that left much to be desired, they decided that perhaps building their own home would be a better option. And they were in luck – there were two lots available on the corner of Campeau Street in a nice neighborhood. According to the Vagner’s attorney, the landowner was very anxious to sell. And she must have been for when the couple arrived to look at the land, she showed up with the deeds in-hand, apparently ready to make a deal that very day.

That is, until she saw the couple. As soon as she laid eyes on the pair, she started making excuses – “the neighbors might not like it.” “My husband wouldn’t approve.” And so on. What she hadn’t realized until that moment was that the Vagner’s were African American. And in the US in 1949, that meant that many neighborhoods were closed to them, whether they had the money to buy a home there or not.

The Vagner’s weren’t able to purchase a home that year. In fact, it took them until June of 1955 to find a house – that’s nearly 6 years of searching…just to find someone willing to sell them property. At this same time, similar experiences drove 22 families also in South Bend, to come together to confront this racist exclusion and build a community for themselves – a community called Better Homes of South Bend. In this episode, we’ll explain and examine the role redlining has played in our state’s history and tell the story of Better Homes of South Bend, which was created for the precise purpose of defeating redlining.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History

Newsreel: I was just one of the New Deal’s idealistic programs that changed the face of the nation.

Beckley: On August 1, 1933 seventeen thousand people stood in line in front of the newly opened Home Owners Loan Corporation office in Chicago. The Home Owners Loan Corporation, or HOLC, was a newly formed government-sponsored organization – part the New Deal – formed to address the ongoing foreclosure crisis in America. To do this, HOLC was offering long-term, low interest rate home mortgage loans for both refinancing existing mortgages and financing new home purchases.

Newsreel: Home ownership is the basis of a happy, contented family life. And now, through the use of the national housing act ensured mortgage, it’s brought within the reach of all citizens on a monthly payment plan no greater than rent.

Beckley: This meant that many Americans, for the first time in their lives, had the opportunity to own their own home, rather than renting. Many white Americans, that is.

[Music]

Beckley: In the 3 decades after the establishment of HOLC, just 2 percent of all loans went to non-white families. Various methods were employed to exclude minorities from receiving home loans, but among the most effective and infamous were the Residential Security Maps. These maps, kept secret and only discovered by historians in the 1980s, are considered the basis for the widespread, systematic denial of housing loans for Black Americans, known as redlining, a term referring to officials drawing red lines around specific neighborhoods.

HOLC began research for the maps in the mid-1930s. Working with local realtors and banks, the organization painstakingly divided 239 American cities, including what were then the 7 largest cities in Indiana – Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Gary, Muncie, Terre Haute, Evansville, and South Bend –  into neighborhoods, assigning each neighborhood a grade of “A” through “D.” “A” being what they considered to be the best, and “D” the worst – kind of like school. Each grade corresponded with a color on the security map – green for “A,” blue for “B,” yellow for “C,” and red for “D.”

Many features of a neighborhood were considered when assigning these grades. Building type and age, proximity to shopping and business districts, sales histories…and “infiltration of inharmonious racial groups.” The Underwriting Manual, which served as a comprehensive guide to those deciding who was to receive HOLC loans stated that:

Voice actor reading from HOLC handbook:  “If a neighborhood is to retain stability it is necessary that properties shall continue to be occupied by the same social and racial classes. A change in social or racial occupancy generally leads to instability and a reduction in [home] values.”

Beckley: If the valuator judged an area to even be in danger of “infiltration,” they were instructed to downgrade the rating of the whole neighborhood. And those ratings were incredibly important. White families seeking a mortgage in a green or blue area were nearly always approved. In yellow areas, the chances of approval dropped dramatically. And if were looking to purchase a property in a red area, their chances were slim to none. For Black families, the possibility of obtaining a mortgage in any area was close to zero.

If you’re Black, you can only live in specific all black neighborhoods. Banks won’t approve mortgages for any homes in that area due to redlining. But you can’t get a loan for a house in other neighborhoods because you’re Black. Ta-Nehisi Coates quotes Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro’s books Black Wealth / White Wealth on this topic:

Voice Actor:  “African Americans who desired and were able to afford home ownership found themselves consigned to central-city communities where their investments were affected by the “self-fulfilling prophecies” of the FHA appraisers: cut off from sources of new investment[,] their homes and communities deteriorated and lost value in comparison to those homes and communities that FHA appraisers deemed desirable.”

Beckley: Making it even more difficult for minority families to purchase property, many neighborhoods had what were called racially restrictive covenants. These covenants were written into the deed for the property, and they could be very specific about who could and could not purchase the home in the future.

Voice Actor: “No person other than one of the Caucasian race shall reside on any of said described premises excepting that a domestic servant in the actual employ of an occupant may reside in the home of his master.”

“Said tract shall not be sold, leased, or rented to any person or persons other than of white race nor shall any person or persons other than of white race use or occupy said tract.”

Beckley:  Both of those are examples of real covenants in deeds from the 1930s and 40s in Seattle, Washington. Similar covenants existed across America.

[Music]

Beckley: Together, redlining and racially restrictive covenants all but excluded minority families from participating in the American dream. The dream owning a home that could be passed down through the generations. This has had long term effects – access to home mortgage loans is an underpinning of wealth building in America, meaning that these practices hindered the upward mobility of all Black Americans. In fact, Mapping Inequality states that:

Voice Actor:  “More than a half-century of research has shown housing to be for the twentieth century what slavery was to the antebellum period, namely the broad foundation of both American prosperity and racial inequality.”

Beckley: In the early 1950s in South Bend, Indiana, 23 families challenged this inequality with bravery and ingenuity.

Most of South Bend’s African American population had arrived during the Great Migration, a period from around 1916 to 1970 when many Black Americans moved from the rural south to northern cities to fill the need for industrial workers during the first and second world wars.

Newsreel: America is many things to many people.

Beckley: Before this time, very few Black families lived in South Bend.

Newsreel: It’s all races, creeds, and religions.

Beckley: Those few families of color who did live in the city lived alongside their white neighbors, without much segregation.

Newsreel: Freedom to own property.

Beckley: As the black population began to rise, though, this changed dramatically.

By the time the families we’ll be following for this episode were living and working in South Bend, Jim Crowism, a term used to describe the racist attitudes, policies and laws from the late 1800s to the 1960s, was a strong force in cities throughout America, including South Bend. In Better Homes of South Bend, author Gabrielle Robinson writes of the Black citizens of her city:

Voice actor reading from Better Homes of South Bend: “They met Jim Crow at every step; whether they were at work… or at home…whether they were shopping and served only after white customers had been helped or could enter city hotels and restaurants only as bellboys and waiters.”

Beckley: Decades of redlining had forced the majority of South Bend’s Black population into rentals in the area surrounding the Studebaker plant, which was also one of the main employers of African Americans in South Bend. In two developments just one block from the immense, smoking factory – Maggie’s Court and Horse’s Alley – 54 families were crowded together in 44 small rental houses.

[Music]

Beckley: Those who didn’t live in that most densely populated areas often rented nearby federal defense homes.

These homes had been built to accommodate the rapidly expanding African American population during World War II and were prefabricated homes supplied, as their name suggests, by the federal government. These were meant to be temporary structures, constructed quickly and to be torn down after the war. That had never happened due to the continued lack of housing for African Americans in South Bend and the refusal of white residents to allow desegregation.

[Music]

Beckley: Even if white residents were willing to sell their homes to a Black family, they would have been hard pressed to find a realtor willing to help navigate the process. Up until 1950, the official code of ethics of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers stated,

Voice actor reading from Code of Ethics: “A realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individual whose presence would clearly be detrimental to property values in the neighborhood.”

Beckley: After 1950, this portion of the code was amended to remove “race or nationality,” but that didn’t lead to any change in their practices – redlining, racially restrictive covenants, and general racism worked together to keep the Black families of South Bend from owning land in large swaths of the city.

It was in this context that several families gathered after church on Sunday, May 21, 1950 to take matters into their own hands. Their plan was to form a housing cooperative. Through this co-op, which they named Better Homes of South Bend, the families hoped to achieve what few had done before – own their own homes, outside of the industrial slums they had been relegated to for their whole lives. The idea was for them to pool their money and resources to purchase several undeveloped lots. The co-op would obtain a mortgage loan to start the construction and then each individual family would, with the co-ops help, obtain their own mortgage to finish construction.

By and large, the people of Better Homes were just like the vast majority of the Black residents in South Bend. Many had moved to the north seeking employment and better opportunities for their families. Almost all of the men worked at the Studebaker plant in one position or another. And they had all struggled to find adequate housing for their families.

Now, I’m going to get into the actual nuts and bolts of how the Better Homes of South Bend hoped to achieve their goals – bear with me, I promise the payoff is worth it.

[Music]

Beckley: Like any new organization, the members of Better Homes of South Bend started by electing officers, hiring a lawyer, and drawing up incorporation papers. Their lawyer, noted African American civil rights advocate J. Chester Allen, advised the group that forming a corporation gave them the best chance of success. So, that’s what they planned to do. He also estimated that the group would need at least $2,000 for startup money. This money came from the founding families themselves, who would pay an initial amount of $100 to secure their spot and another $300 payment as soon as they were able to. Considering one Studebaker worker reported his income as $72 per week, these sums were nothing to be scoffed at.

After the initial meeting, things moved quickly for a time. Less than a month later, they were able to successfully place an option on 26 undeveloped lots on North Elmer Street. Leroy Cobb, the youngest member of the Better Homes group, recalls the first time he saw the Elmer Street site over 60 years later. He and a friend took a bus to the area and, after getting lost, he finally set eyes on the empty street that would become his neighborhood. Little did he know that acquiring the land would be the easiest part of the process.

Every step after that was slowed by bureaucratic red tape, discriminatory practices, and the normal problems that can creep up when taking on a project of this size.

Since these were totally undeveloped lots, one of the first hurdles was getting the city to install sewage and water lines, a task that took years to complete. The next, more obvious task was to hire a contractor, but the local contracting companies were notorious for using sub-par materials for homes being built for African Americans. When they finally found what they thought was a suitable contractor, he delayed and made excuses and changed prices so often that it was hard to attribute it just to bad business practices. And later, once the families moved in, the discrimination continued. One Better Homes resident recalled that the local little league changed the borders of the district to stop just a few blocks before Elmer Street, apparently to exclude Black children.

However, there were reasons for celebration alongside the frustrations. Milestones that were scattered throughout that same time included divvying up the lots, hiring contractors, and obtaining mortgages. That last one was especially important since local banks were well known for denying black families mortgages, especially in non-black neighborhoods. Leroy Cobb recalled the meeting with the bank executives:

Voice actor: “Here I am, just a bit over twenty years old, sitting in one of those fancy board rooms and facing all these white men in their suits.”

Beckley: DeHart Hubbard was an African American man and the race relations adviser for the Federal Housing Authority. Leroy Cobbs recalled Hubbard helping the group navigate the mortgage process, saying:

“What I was really proud of was that here was a black man standing up to white executives and telling them that Better Homes wants to have a fair shake. That inspired me.”

Beckley: And really, the whole experience must have been inspiring. The process, though long and sometimes demoralizing, was ultimately successful.

[music]

Beckley: All told, 22 homes were built through the Better Homes of South Bend Co-op. The first family was able to move into their home sometime in 1952, but it wasn’t until 1954 that all Better Homes members were listed in their Elmer Street residences in city directories.

[Music. Bird song]

Beckley: Just think about what that meant to those families. They were able to obtain what had seemed unobtainable – a piece of the American dream. The families celebrated their accomplishments with a community picnic in the summer of 1954, and let me tell you, looking at the group photo from that picnic is something special. A group of well dressed, smiling people, kids fidgeting, eyes squinted in the bright light of a beautiful summer afternoon, posing with the roofs of the homes they had worked so long to secure visible in the background. It’s beautiful. And it’s lasting.

That picnic wasn’t the only community celebration in the years to come. Picnics were held every summer. There were neighborhood parades, where a King and Queen were crowned. The children grew up together – they were the only African American students to attend the nearby Marquette Elementary School, just as their families were the only African American families to live in that area of the city. The success of Better Homes went beyond the immediate reality of living in a new neighborhood though.

Home ownership is a foundation of generational wealth and security in America. The Better Homes families built more than just houses in that empty space – they built a community and, even more than that, they built a legacy. When Better Homes of South Bend author Gabrielle Robinson spoke to the children of the members of the organization, she discovered the true importance of the project. Beyond breaking color barriers or defying racism, the members created a safe, happy place for their children to grow up and those children reflected fondly on their childhoods on Elmer Street.

Voice actor: “It was a wonderful neighborhood to grow up in.”

“We had hedges between our homes, and flowers in the yard. On Saturdays you could hear the lawnmowers in the yards.”

“We were proud of where we lived.”

“You couldn’t get away with anything…On Elmer Street, I had many dads.”

Beckley: These children went on to become lawyers, teachers, principals, nurses, and more. At a time when 70-75% of African Americans in the nation graduated high school, 100% of the Better Homes children graduated and 13 went on to graduate from college. And today, some of them can still be found right there on Elmer street, living in the same one story homes with flowers in the yards and hedges on the fence line that their parents built all those years ago.

The Better Homes of South Bend Co-op was a success. It afforded those families the opportunity to live in a nice area. The children of Better Homes members integrated their schools and went on to successful professional careers. And some other families were even able to move into the same area after the Better Homes blazed the path for them. Unfortunately, this success did not spread far from those few blocks on Elmer Street.

Redlining and other exclusionary practices have left a lasting effect on South Bend. Today, 83% of families living in areas that received “D” ratings on the 1937 Security Maps fall in the low to moderate income bracket while 95% of families living in areas that received “A” ratings earn mid to upper incomes. Simply put, neighborhoods that were redlined in 1937 are economically depressed today. The same holds true for the vast majority of cities where Security Maps were developed.

In those instances where a formerly “D” rated area now contains a high number of mid to upper income earners, it is by and large the result of gentrification, which comes with its own set of problems. When an area is gentrified, the people who have lived in the area for generations – often minorities – are forced out by inflated property taxes and higher living costs. This leads to the question posed by National Community Reinvestment Coalition researcher Bruce Mitchell:

Voice actor:  “Is Gentrification promoting sustainable desegregation? Or is it just a movement towards increased segregation in the next census period?”

Beckley: If gentrification is a movement towards increased segregation, it’s likely join the likes of slavery and redlining in history books as the basis for widespread wealth building for white Americans and widespread inequality for Black Americans.

However, redlining is effecting our communities in more direct ways than its relationship with gentrification. In fact, just this year, in June of 2019, First Merchants, an Indiana based bank, settled a redlining lawsuit brought against them by the Department of Justice. Although it settled out of court, the case was strong and made it more evident than ever that redlining is more than just a footnote in history – it’s an ongoing injustice in American cities.

[Theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. My main secondary source for the information on Better Homes of South Bend in this episode came from Gabrielle Robinson’s Better Homes of South Bend: An American Story of Courage. If you would like to see all of my sources, visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” at the top to see a full transcript and show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. We’d like to thank Brenna young, Carrie Reiburg, Alleah Varnett of Shortridge High School, Sam Smith of Butler University, and Justin Clark of the Indiana Historical Bureau for lending their voices to the podcast. Find us on twitter and Facebook as the Indiana Historical Bureau. And please, take a moment to like, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. As always, thanks for listening.

Redlining Show Notes

Jackson, Kenneth, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States, New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Lipsitz, George, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.

Robinson, Gabrielle, Better Homes of South Bend: An American Story of Courage, Charleson: The History Press, 2015.

Tindall, George and David Shi, America: A Narrative History, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act, Washington D.C.: Federal Housing Administration, 1936 accessed Hathai Trust: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015018409246&view=1up&seq=5

Newspapers

                “Thousands Ask U.S. Home Loans on First Day,” Chicago Tribune, August 2, 1933, p.9.

Articles

                Mitchell, Bruce and Juan Franco, HOLC “Redlining” Maps: The Persistent Structure of Segregation and Economic Inequality, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 2018, Accessed: https://ncrc.org/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/2018/02/NCRC-Research-HOLC-10.pdf.

Welsh, Nancy, “Racially Restrictive Covenants in the United States: A Call to Action,” Agora Journal of Urban Planning and Design, 2018, Accessed: https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/143831/A_12%20Racially%20Restrictive%20Covenants%20in%20the%20US.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Websites

                Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America: https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=5/36.721/-96.943&opacity=0.8&text=intro

                Racial Restrictive Covenants: Neighborhood by Neighborhood Restrictions Across King County, “The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project:” https://depts.washington.edu/civilr/covenants.htm

“T-RACES: a Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces”
R. Marciano, D. Goldberg, C. Hou: http://salt.umd.edu/T-RACES/

https://www.educationnext.org/graduations-on-the-rise/

https://www.indiana-demographics.com/south-bend-demographics

Other

The Indiana Historical Bureau. “Better Homes of South Bend” Historical marker file.

 

Overcoming Stigma: Ryan White, Hamilton Heights, and Tony Cook’s Educational Crusade

Ryan in the hallway of Hamilton Heights High School, 1987, courtesy of Time & Life Magazine.

In the early years of the AIDS crisis, when fear and misunderstanding accompanied any mention of the disease, schools across the nation faced a decision: whether to allow students diagnosed with AIDS to attend classes. In October 1985, a New York school district barred children from attending classes after officials learned that their mothers’ boyfriends had been diagnosed with the disease. When a different New York district admitted a student with AIDS around that same time, attendance dropped by 25%, despite the fact that the specific school the child was attending was kept confidential. In Swansea, Massachusetts, school officials decided to “do the right thing” by admitting a teenager living with AIDS—only two families decided to keep their children from school after the decision. A year earlier, in late 1984, a Dade County, Florida school admitted triplets who had been diagnosed with AIDS, but kept the siblings isolated from the rest of the students.

The (Elwood) Call-Leader, Oct. 04, 1985, 1.
Ryan White’s physician listens to his lungs while his mother, Jeanne White, looks on, courtesy of Time & Life Magazine.

While new controversies sprung up around the nation, one school in Central Indiana shot to the forefront of the debate in the summer of 1985. Ryan White, a 7th grade student in Howard County, was diagnosed with AIDS in December 1984 after contracting the disease from a contaminated hemophilia treatment. For several months, he was too ill to return to school, but in the spring of 1985 he began voicing his desire to return to his normal life by resuming classes at Western Middle School. When his mother met with school officials to talk about this possibility, she was met with resistance. Concerns about the health of other students, and that of Ryan himself, whose immune system had been ravaged by his illness, gave officials pause. In one of the earliest news articles about the issue, Western School Superintendent J.O. Smith asked:

You tell me. What would you do? . . . I don’t know. We’ve asked the State Board of Health. We’re expecting something from them. But nobody has anything to go by. Everybody wanted to know what they’re doing in other places. But we don’t have any precedent for this.

These two headlines ran within one day of each other in October 1984. Top: York Daily Record, October 11, 1984, 23. Bottom: San Francisco Examiner, October 10, 1984, 15.

He was right. While a few schools had faced similar situations, the issues surrounding a child with AIDS attending school, namely, the risk this posed to other students, were far from settled. At this time, new and conflicting information came out at a dizzying pace. Most reports held that AIDS was not transmissible through casual contact, but others implied that you couldn’t rule out the possibility of it being passed through saliva, which would have made it a much bigger threat. With so much information—and misinformation—in the news cycle, the desire to hear from health authorities on the topic was understandable.

Three months later, the Board of Health released a document containing detailed guidelines for children with AIDS attending school:

AIDS/ARC children should be allowed to attend school as long as they behave acceptably . . . and have no uncoverable sores or skin eruptions. Routine and standard procedures should be used to clean up after a child has an accident or injury at school.

Despite this recommendation, Western School Corporation officials continued to deny Ryan admittance to class. Instead, they set up a remote learning system. From the confines of his bedroom, Ryan dialed in to his classes via telephone and listened to his teachers lecture. He missed out on visual aids, class participation, and sometimes the lectures themselves, as the line was often garbled or disconnected.

Ryan participating in the Western School Corporation’s remote learning system from his home, courtesy of Getty Images.

A November ruling, this time by the Department of Education, confirmed the Board of Health’s assertion that Ryan should be admitted to class:

The child is to be admitted to the regular classrooms of the school at such times as the child’s health allows in accordance with the Indiana State Board of Health guidelines.

Ryan returned to school for one day before the school filed an appeal and he was once again removed from class. A series of rulings, appeals, and other legal filings followed, ultimately ending when the Indiana Court of Appeals declined to hear further arguments and Ryan finally got what he and his family had fought so hard for—returning to classes for good. However, upon his August 25, 1986 return, Ryan faced intense discrimination from classmates and other community members. Addressing the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1988, Ryan recalled some of the more poignant moments from his time in Kokomo:

Some restaurants threw away my dishes, my school locker was vandalized inside and folders were marked ‘fag’ and other obscenities. I was labeled a troublemaker, my mom an unfit mother, and I was not welcome anywhere. People would get up and leave so they would not have to sit anywhere near me. Even at church, people would not shake my hand.

Because of these negative hometown experiences and his desire to evade oppressive media coverage, Ryan asked his mother if they could move out of Howard County. When the family decided to settle in Cicero, they couldn’t have known how drastically different their lives were about to become.

Ryan poses with students from Hamilton Heights Middle School, along with principle Tony Cook (right), courtesy of the Hamilton County Times.

Tony Cook, who was the Hamilton Heights High School principal in the 1980s and is now a State Representative, heard through informal channels that Ryan’s family was moving into his school district in April 1987. The degree of media coverage surrounding Ryan’s battle to attend classes meant that Cook was well aware that his community’s reaction to the White family’s arrival would be heavily scrutinized. Thus, he set out on an AIDS educational crusade the likes of which had not been seen before.

With the backing of his superintendent and school board, Cook quickly made the decision that not only would Ryan be admitted to the school, but there would be no restrictions placed on what Ryan was able to do in school (while in class in Western Middle School, he was not able to attend gym, used a separate restroom, and ate off of disposable trays with plastic utensils.) After gathering AIDS-related materials from the Indiana State Board of Health, the Center for Disease Control, major newspapers, and scientific journals, Tony Cook turned what was supposed to be his summer break into a months-long educational campaign.

Throughout the coming months, Cook spoke about AIDS at Kiwanis groups, Rotary Clubs, churches, and to any group that asked. He sat in living rooms and at kitchen tables throughout the community, personally addressing the concerns of fellow citizens. The school developed a collection of AIDS education materials that could be checked out by students. Tony contacted members of the student government to ask them to act as student ambassadors, advocating on Ryan’s behalf with their fellow students and the media. The school staff went through additional training to prepare them for the possibility of a blood or other biohazard spill. By the time the school year came around, Cicero, Arcadia, and the surrounding area had some of the best informed populations when it came to AIDS.

The first few days of the 1987-1988 school year at Hamilton Heights High School were peppered with convocations in which Cook addressed each grade level to assuage any remaining concerns over sharing classrooms and hallways with Ryan. Students were encouraged to ask questions and support was provided for any feeling uncomfortable with the situation. Administration also offered to change class schedules to avoid conflict.

Ryan with classmates at Hamilton Heights High School, courtesy of Britannica.com.

On Ryan’s first day of class, which was a week after school started, the campaign seemed to have been successful. As the press surrounded him on his way out, he smiled and said, “It went really great—really. Everybody was real nice and friendly.” Later, when speaking in front of the Presidential Commission on the HIV Epidemic, Ryan attributed his positive experiences at Hamilton Heights directly to the education campaign:

I am a normal, happy teenager again . . . I’m just one of the kids, and all because the students at Hamilton Heights High School listened to the facts, educated their parents and themselves, and believed in me . . . Hamilton Heights High School is proof that AIDS education in schools works.

When reflecting on the experience in a recent interview, Representative Cook spoke to the power of education to overcome even the most intense fear, “Yes, there were some folks that were uneasy and nervous, but we did see education overcome. And we saw a community that . . . trusted us.” One obstacle Ryan and the school faced was the sheer amount of publicity surrounding his move to Hamilton County. Hamilton Heights High School was an open campus–students traveled between three different buildings throughout the day–which would have made having members of the media on campus both distracting and potentially dangerous. But restricting access all together also wasn’t possible, as Ryan was a nationally-known figure by this time. The compromise was to have weekly press conferences during which Ryan, student ambassadors, and faculty could answer questions and update the press about the goings-on at the school, a practice that persisted throughout Ryan’s first full semester at Hamilton Heights.

Ryan in April 1988, courtesy of Time Magazine.

After that first semester, the media began to lose interest in the story as it became more and more apparent that a mass walk-out or other dramatic event would not take place. The first time Tony Cook met Ryan, Cook asked why Ryan wanted so badly to attend school. During our interview with Representative Cook, he recalled that the fifteen-year-old Ryan, who by that time had been in the middle of a media storm for nearly two years, replied “’I just want to be a normal kid . . . I may die. So, for me, it’s important that I try to experience the high school experience as well as I can.” At Hamilton Heights High School, Ryan was able to do just that.

In the years following Ryan’s acceptance into Hamilton Heights High School, Ryan, Tony Cook, and others who had been involved in the educational program traveled around the country advocating for increased AIDS education. By August 1988, just one year after Ryan’s first day at Hamilton Heights, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis began developing an exhibit centering on the issue:

While Ryan White zips around the country speaking out for AIDS education, the students of Hamilton Heights High School are telling children visiting The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis what it was like accepting Ryan into school . . . ‘I think everyone was uneasy at first,’ said one student on the videotape about Ryan’s coming to the school. ‘Education eased a lot of people’s minds,’ said another student.

Sixth grade students listen to Heather Stephenson, a high school friend of Ryan, about bullying in Ryan’s room at the Power of Children exhibit, courtesy of the Washington Times.

Ryan White died on April 15, 1990 after being admitted to Riley Hospital for Children with a respiratory tract infection. In 2001, Ryan’s mother, Jeanne, donated the contents of his bedroom to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where it has been painstakingly recreated as part of the “Power of Children” exhibit.  The museum also houses thousands of letters written to Ryan and his family throughout his illness. You can read the letters and even help transcribe them here.

Giving Voice: Mike Jackson

Transcript for Giving Voice: Mike Jackson

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this Giving Voice, from Talking Hoosier History.

Beckley: During each segment of giving voice, we’ll feature a different discussion from someone who, in some way, we hope will add to your understanding of a topic we’ve covered in the main podcast. We may talk to industry experts, historians, or people personally connected with the main story. It’s our mission to allow a deeper understanding of the topic, while providing a platform for those in the communities we cover in our work.

Our last episode focused on a group of families in South Bend, Indiana who came together to rise above housing discrimination in the city through their housing Co-op Better Homes of South Bend. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of talking to someone who grew up in the neighborhood developed by Better Homes – Mike Jackson. Today, we bring you that discussion. If you haven’t listened to the episode, called “From Redlining to Better Homes: The Better Homes of South Bend Housing Cooperative,” I’d suggest doing that now, as it gives some great context on the discussion.

[Music]

Jackson: My name’s Mike Jackson. Funny thing: when I say I’m Mike Jackson, they don’t realize my real name’s Michael Jackson. It’s such a slight little thing but people don’t notice. And then, finaly they…they realize.

I grew up – I was born living on Prairie Aveneue. Prairie Avenue was right next to the Studebaker plant, where my dad, who had returned from World War II in France, started working. And the thing I remember about Prairie Avenue is that it was kind of like a housing project but it was pretty much for returning military people. I just remember all the families that were there and all the kids that were there to play with and I remember my grandmother also lived in the same neighborhood too. And the circus train – which I didn’t say before – the circus train pulled up behind our Prairie Ave neighborhood every year too. Ringling Brothers! And that was a real adventure and there was – you’d hear all the sounds of the elephants and the lions and all of that kind of stuff. So, I remember them coming several different times.

My family was on – in – in this Prairie Avenue neighborhood because my mom and all the ladies – my aunt, my grandmother had come up from Mississippi and the south while my dad and the other men were off to war. And so there were a number of other men in the neighborhood that had returned from World War II.

We were the first house built on Elmer Street – completed. There were other housed to come, and they came real fast. But we were on Elmer Street all by ourselves for a little while and as a little kid, I just remember going from our neighborhood on Prairie Avenue to Elmer Street. There we were, all by ourselves and we were the only new house on the block. There was just maybe one or two other houses. There was a basement house straight across from us where a white family lived and my brother and I, my brother Greg, we were the first black students to go to Marquette Elementary. And so, I really got consumed in my kindergarten year and my first year school at Marquette as that got going and everybody else from the prairie avenue neighborhood was going to build houses – I think 22 families built houses  – started getting their houses complete and coming to Elmer Street.

Beckley: And what was the integration process like for you? Was it an easy process as far as entering into the school? Were you accepted?

Jackson: Now, I didn’t really know. I kinda didn’t really know I was integrating the school but as I think – as I thought about it, my mom always took great, great, great pride and care to make sure we always went to school clean. We’d have on some blue jeans and the t-shirt was kinda what the style was in those years – ’52, ’53. But she always made sure we were looking good and there was no reason to look down at us. She took big pride in that. And me, though, the teachers, and the principle, and it seemed like everybody always was so nice. So, they may have been making an extra effort to be nice to us. Pretty much didn’t run into any problems that I saw as a little kid in my first years at Marquette.

Beckley: Even as more and more children came, it seems like it was a pretty smooth process, both through growing the community and everybody being accepted and – aside from the Little League story, which I think you referenced in Gabrielle’s book.

Jackson: Right. And that little league story: we were baseball players. We’d play stickball out in the street and in rocks and whatever and finally we got to play organized baseball and of course we wanted to play in the little league with the shiny stadium and nice uniforms and everything but they cut off the boundaries to the little league two blocks before Elmer Street. And, I mean, after Elmer Street, we realized there were only two more blocks with no houses on it. They could have taken up that whole are and, you know, been that area for the little league. But they cut it off. You know they cut it off. Eventually, we realized that they cut it off, you know, we were little black kids. And we were pretty much hurt by that. But we had great baseball cuz we played in the park league, but all we got was the shirt and cap. In the little league, you go the whole uniform. And in the little league, there was a fence where you could hit home runs over the fence and all those kind of things. But we, you know, we missed out on that. We have to ride our bikes to the different ball parks to play in the park leagues, which we loved – there’s just great memories, riding to all the different parks and playing the different teams at all the different parks. We were representing the Marquette school park on our baseball team.

Beckley: So, when you were growing up on Elmer Street, did you realize in the moment that you were living in a bit of a unique community?

Jackson: Ummm… I, yea, pretty soon I did. Because, when we went to Marquette, we were the only black families going – walking, we walked to school, we walked home from lunch, I mean, it was the good ol’ school days. But we were the only black families – we were the only 2 blocks of houses that had minority families going to Marquette and we knew…we realized that. Yea, we realized we were different at Marquette and so we did – and then, too, I mean, there’s always Jim Crow and all those things going on but you know, my mom and dad, we realized that they had little things that was thrown in their face. The little prejudices and this and that. We knew those kind of things were going on so we knew we were a different group.

Beckley: Did you realize while living there, like, did you guys discuss how you got there and did your parents bring that up much and did you discuss that amongst the other children? And did you talk much about Better Homes of South Bend itself?

Jackson: Eventually, we did. Eventually, we realized that the way the houses had come about was that our dads, and moms, and dads, had gotten together and they had kinda – we were that sure how, but they had built these houses. They had built our street in a place that normally we couldn’t build. So we knew they had done some different things and some special things to get our houses built so, yea, we talked about that all the time.

Another reason we talked about it, too, though, is, like, when we eventually got into high school, you know, here we are still these same two blocks, but on the west side, you know, we weren’t living on the west side, but we were going to school with all the kinds from, you know, the west side of South Bend. So, even they realized on the west side that, you know, there’s two blocks of black families over there on Elmer Street. So, we were kind of like tagged the Northsiders or whatever.

Beckley: Do you think that your, I don’t know, your childhood and growing up on Elmer Street and in that community had a big impact on your life and do you think that it affected the way that you grew up in any significant way?

Jackson: Well, we saw that our parents – our moms and dads – all got along and our moms and dads, you know, they had gatherings on Elmer Street and they had picnics and they had cookouts and we saw them always together. And of course, when they’re together, we’re there with them too, so we’re all hanging out and this and that. So, there was just this unsaid something – feeling – that we were all more family because we were all kind of isolated. So that just kind of, you know, from our observations, you could just kind of feel something different about the whole thing.

Beckley: They went through something together and that kind of created a bond that might not have been there otherwise?

Jackson: Right. Sure. And, you know, since we’re in and out of everybody’s house, whatever Keith had or whatever Charles had, whatever I had too, was like my stuff. And, you know, my mom’s baking us cooking and bringing them out while were playing stick ball in the street. We’d go to somebody else’s house and they’re giving her this and that. It was kinda like what the times were like to. Cuz, you know, you could stay for dinner sometimes, stay for dinner. But sometimes they say you go home and eat dinner. But sometimes, you’d stay and it didn’t matter. It was just like, we were all related. And we were related because we were all Elmer Street. So that stuck with us as, you know, we branched out and went to high school and this and that. We were Elmer Street.

Beckley: So, I think to wrap it up, do you have any favorite stories of your time on Elmer Street or something that’s just kind of quintessentially your childhood that you’d like to share? Just a brief story?

Jackson: As far as stories, it’s like on Saturdays – I mentioned that in the book – you’d get up on Saturdays and you’d hear all the lawnmowers running. And, you know, everybody’d be cutting their grass. All the dad’s would be cutting their grass.

The houses, and the places, and the neighborhood and the blocks all just looked so good and everybody would be going by complimenting each other on how their yard looked. And they’d be buying – some of the dads would be buying hedges or their getting different things to make sure the houses looked good and there was just a big pride and, you know, I’m proud of how the neighbors houses look, and our house too. But it wasn’t like a jealousy – it was a pride. Cuz – it was kinda like we felt like I guess we were in the spotlight or under a microscope. What are those families doin’ on Elmer Street? So that’s one thing I really remember too.

And then, eventually, I became the person cutting the grass at my dads, you know, at our house, too. Which was – oh wow! Now, he’s giving it over to me to let me cut the grass. Ya know, and keep that same pride going.

Beckley: I’m not sure many teenagers felt that way.

Jackson: I know, I know. But we did. Cuz we were always seeing them doing that.

Beckley: Do you feel like, perhaps, you on Elmer Street were held up to a different standard from other families in the surrounding areas? Cuz you were different.

Jackson: Oh definitely. Yes. Definitely. We were – and we met that standard, too, though. And surpassed it. And a lot of times, as we walked to school. So we walked, you know, we walked like…blocks and blocks to school. I won’t get into how far we used to walk to school in the snow and all that, but we always knew our block looked as good as and better, often than other blocks looked. You know, and were proud of that too. We were proud to say we lived on Elmer Street.

Beckley: Mike, I want to thank you again for coming onto our show today and for talking a little bit about your childhood and South Bend. We really appreciate your time.

Jackson: I really appreciate you paying attention to us and recognizing us.

Beckley: Of course. It definitely is a story worth telling so we’re happy to tell it.

Once again, I’d like to thank Mike for taking the time to talk with me about his experiences growing up on Elmer Street. If you want to learn more about life on Elmer Street, I highly recommend Gabrielle Robinson’s book Better Homes of South Bend, which was referenced a few times in that discussion.

We’ll be back next month with another episode of Talking Hoosier History. In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and twitter for daily doses of Indiana History tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review to Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening.

Blue Skies, Pink Slips: The Cold War in Indiana

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript for Blue Skies, Pink Slips

Newsreel: Let us face without panic the reality of our times. The fact that atom bombs may someday be dropped on our cities. And let us prepare for survival by understanding the weapon that threatens us.

[Bomb exploding]

Beckley: During the Cold War, Hoosiers dealt with the stress of living under the constant threat of impending nuclear war in a variety of ways. Some joined their local civilian defense board. Others planned and participated in extensive evacuation drills. Still others allowed their children to have their blood type tattooed on their body to facilitate blood transfusion. And still others simply looked for someone to blame. On this episode, we’ll be sharing two stories illustrating how different Indiana communities reacted to the fear and misunderstanding of the Cold War era in America.

[Duck and cover music playing]

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Near the end of, and directly after, World War II, American views of the Soviet Union began to shift dramatically. During the war, Americans pointed to similarities between themselves and one of their strongest allies. After the war, they drew comparisons between Soviet ideology and that of Nazi Germany. During the war, we were working collaboratively. After the war, the U.S. refused to share atomic research, leading to an arms race.

At the onset of the arms race, Americans retained a sense of security in the knowledge that the U.S. held an ace in the hole – the Atomic Bomb. It was thought that the Soviet Union was years away from developing atomic technology. But in September 1949, this illusion of security was shattered when President Truman announced to a stunned nation,

Voice actor reading quote from Truman:  I believe the American people, to the fullest extent consistent with national security, are entitled to be informed of all developments in the field of atomic energy. This is my reason for making public the following information. We have evidence that within recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the U.S.S.R.

Historic news audio: President Truman’s dramatic announcement that Russia has the atomic secret caused state departments all over the world to stir uneasily.

Beckley: With that revelation, and fearing the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki arriving on our shores, the United States Air Force decided to re-launch a program first established before the American entry into World War II. Then, it was known as the Aircraft Warning Service but for its Cold War operations, it was renamed the Ground Observer Corps, or GOC. The objective of the GOC was to work in conjunction with the existing radar system to guard the United States from a Soviet air attack.

[Sound of bomb dropping]

Beckley: Essentially, the GOC was a network of civilian volunteers strategically placed across the northern 2/3 of the country to identify incoming enemy aircraft in the event of an aerial attack Volunteers observed from rooftops or watch towers constructed in any location with an unobstructed view of the sky. And participants came from all backgrounds. There were monks and prisoners, school children and centenarians, oil executives and housewives – all doing their part to keep their neighbors and loved ones safe.

Historic Newsreel: Just as important as all of these is the vast army of civilian observers. People from all walks of life – thousands of them – watching, vigilant, 24 hours a day.

Beckley: From atop their towers, volunteers would scan the sky for suspicious air craft. When a potential threat was spotted, they telephoned a filter station, where volunteers worked alongside Air Force personnel to review each report. If the station confirmed that threat, the Air Defense Direction Center was immediately contacted and interceptor jets would be deployed to shoot down the enemy plane.

Newsreel fades in: …accordingly sending them up at the strategic moment to intercept the oncoming bombers.

Beckley: In early 1950, Indiana emerged as a leader in organizing their GOC. It was thought that the heavily industrialized northern region of the state made us particularly vulnerable as a target, an assumption which spurred government officials and citizens to act. Governor Henry Schricker led the organizational efforts and advised officers from nearby states in forming their own programs.

The need for such a system as the GOC was highlighted on March 16, 1950 when multiple B-26 Bombers conducted a mock air raid over Indiana. They went “completely undetected” by the states only warning facility, located at Fort Harrison in Indianapolis. The radar of the time was unable to detect low flying aircraft – and that is where the GOC would step in. In the wake of the mock attack, Civil Defense directors were named in 51 of Indiana’s 92 counties, Ground Observer Corps towers began to spring up across the northern 2/3 of the state, and filter centers were established in Terre Haute and South Bend.

Newsreel: In each of these, a skeleton crew remains on crew 24 hours a day.

Beckley: The exact number of GOC volunteers throughout the duration of the program is unknown but it can be estimated to have been in the thousands.

At first, volunteers were essentially on stand-by to be called to their posts in the event of an attack. But after Soviet backed North Korea invaded US supported South Korea on June 25, 1950, fear of Soviet aggression rose, prompting the United States Air Force to implement “Operation Skywatch.” Skywatch moved GOC operations from an as-needed bases to a 24 hour per day enterprise. These volunteers were doing more than just scanning the skies for enemy aircraft – in fact, the United States Air Force itself admitted that, at best, GOC activity and Air Force intercepts could destroy only 30% of enemy aircraft. So, why was the United States Government supporting a program that it knew would only work a third of the time? In large part, it was the promotion of American Values.

The volunteer-style of civil defense used by the Ground Observer Corps was seen as the antithesis of communist principles. In America, hundreds of thousands of civilians were volunteering to watch the skies for enemy aircraft, while the Soviet Union had to force their citizens into observation roles- or at least that’s how the US government framed the mandatory observation in the Soviet Union. American communities were coming together to build and man watchtowers and the very act of willingly working together towards a common goal was thought to be a deterrent to the Soviets.

Historic audio clip: I found out that a bunch of guys can do anything if they work together. That’s the way democracy works and that’s why democracy works.

Beckley: As the Korean War ended, this alternate utility of the GOC began to move from being a secondary motive to the primary – historian Nicole Poletika sums it up saying,

Voice actor reading from article: “Officials increasingly realized the program’s utility as a vehicle to impress upon citizens the objectives of the Cold War, the Soviet communist threat, and traditional American values of volunteerism and individualism.”

Beckley: As that quote eludes to, volunteers were encouraged to educate themselves and their fellow citizens about the “Soviet threat.” One United State Air Force officer overseeing the GOC argued for the continuation of the program even after advances in ground radar had made the GOC all but obsolete, saying:

Voice actor reading: “No other group is better equipped and positioned at the community level to take an active hand in the enlightening of all citizens on the dangers confronting this nation in the atomic age.”

Beckley: A last significant component of the importance of the Ground Observer Corps in the Cold War period is the simple fact that it was something for people to do to feel as though they were doing something – anything – to protect their homes and their families.

Newsreel: …that the preparation that we are making new will be the very thing that will prevent our being harmed at all and that, I say, is worth the time and energy of every man, woman, and child.

Beckley: Families like the Haans, of Cairo in Tippecanoe County, worked long days in the fields and yet still volunteered to man the tower throughout the night, almost as an act of defiance in the face of a seemingly overwhelming enemy. The simple act of sitting in a tower, scanning the night sky, knowing that other Hoosiers were doing the same, must have provided them with some sense of security during a time of widespread fear and anxiety.

In direct contrast to the democratic, collaborative effort of the Ground Observer Corps of Cold War America stood the aggressive and at times combative tactics employed by various levels of leadership throughout the Red Scare.

Historic audio: [gavel] Order please. This committee, under its mandate from the House of Representatives, has the responsibility of exposing and spotlighting subversive elements wherever they may exist.

Beckley: Often, when we think of McCarthysim and blacklisting, our minds leap to the Hollywood 10 and perhaps loyalty oaths. But another group widely targeted during this time were academics at universities across the nation. One early instance of this occurred in southern Indiana at Evansville College, now the University of Evansville.

Yale University graduate George Parker was brought onto the college staff in 1946 to teach religion and philosophy. When Parker arrived at the campus, he would have found a recently expanded student body made up largely of World War II veterans and a city dominated by conservative beliefs. As the Cold War heated up in the 2 years after his arrival, the students grew ever more anxious and ever less willing to trust alternative viewpoints. Parker, who espoused no specific political affiliation but generally supported “liberal” positions, may have felt out of place in the increasingly conservative landscape of Evansville College. If so, he wasn’t the only one. One student wrote to the editor of the school’s newspaper, saying:

Voice actor reading from letter: “There are two dangers inherent to a student body from such a present hysteria – the first and greatest lies in the overwhelming readiness of students to condemn as ‘Communistic’ any statement or practice which does not agree with their own thoughts; without regard to truth or facts, the average student will unfailingly dismiss such thoughts by applying the current most devastating censure – ‘Communistic.’”

Beckley: It was in this atmosphere that the presidential election of 1948 began revving up and the field included former vice-president Henry A. Wallace, running on the Progressive Party ticket.

Wallace audio: I announce that I will run as an independent candidate in 1948 for President of the United States.

Beckley: Wallace’s platform consisted of a string of progressive policies such as school desegregation, gender equality, a national health insurance program, and, most importantly to this story, he supported improved relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, something he believed would benefit both countries.

His willingness to work with the Soviet Union earned the ire of conservatives and moderates across the country but he remained popular in liberal circles – 15 percent of poll respondents approved of his platform just after he announced his candidacy. Not too bad for a 3rd party candidate. One of those who approved of his message was Professor Parker who soon took on the post of chairman of the Vanderburgh County Citizens for Wallace organization.

Evansville College President Lincoln Hale was unenthused. He later stated that:

Voice actor reading quote: “within a week I called Mr. Parker in for a conference. I made it quite clear to him that further participation in such an official political capacity would prove embarrassing to me and would be certain to seriously harm Evansville College.”

Beckley: Hale was acting in what he thought was the best interest of the college. In order for the school to thrive, it needed the support of the community. And having a staff member acting in an official capacity for a figure that was so unpopular in conservative circles didn’t bode well for community support. Parker, on the other hand, knew that he was well within his rights to continue in the position. And the position was only temporary – Parker was planning to leave during the summer to work on his doctorate, and he told Hale as much.

Parker wasn’t breaking any rules. In fact, it was his right to be politically active in his free time, regardless of who he was supporting. Therefore, Parker had no plans to set aside his political activism and no rules or regulations barred him from such activities. In fact, as chairman of the Vanderburgh County Citizens for Wallace, Parker coordinated a campaign event in Evansville, scheduled for April 6, where Henry Wallace himself would deliver a speech promoting the conversion of wartime industry to peacetime uses.

As the day of Wallace’s appearance neared, tensions mounted. Local newspapers, businesses, and veterans organizations voiced their displeasure about the event. Two hours before the event was to begin, protesters began gathering for a parade to the coliseum in which the politician would appear. By the time Wallace supporters began arriving, they were met with a crowd of over 2000 protesters, many of whom were shouting accusations of communist affiliation.

The leader of the protest, Arthur Robinson, intoned,

Voice actor: “That group in Memorial Coliseum tonight and their candidate, Henry Wallace, are enemies to the American way of life.”

Beckley: As the meeting started, the crowd outside the building grew more and more restless. Windows were shattered. Doors were pounded in. And before Wallace even arrived at the venue, the protestors pushed their way into the coliseum lobby, forcing attendees of the event to barricade the doors with metal chairs. Several Wallace supporters entered the lobby in an attempt to calm the crowd, but soon returned after being struck by the protestors. After some time, local police arrived and were able to clear the protestors from the lobby and Wallace was finally able to make his speech without much further disturbance.

Wallace audio: We can turn towards darkness, destruction and death. Or towards light, peace, and abundance.

Beckley: Four days later, Evansville College announced the dismissal of George Parker. In the aftermath, students protested on the basis of free speech. Later, there was a report by the American Association of University Professors stating that Parker had not violated any guidelines. Despite this, Parker would never work at Evansville College again, making him among the first of a long list of Americans striped of their livelihoods due to accusations of un-American-ness.

Americans – and Hoosiers – reacted to the perceived threat of war in thousands of ways. We continue to feel the echoes of this tenuous time in American history. We can look to the past and see Americans who met peril with volunteerism. Others met the same peril with fear that overrode their democratic principles. Today, we are faced once again with mounting tensions between the United States and Russia. We’re confronting a similar question: how do we preserve democratic ideals and liberties while fighting infiltration. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the not-so-distant past.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History, a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. Today’s episode was based largely on two articles. For the Ground Observer Corps portion, I relied on Nicole Poletika’s graduate thesis “Wake Up! Sign Up! Look Up!’ Organizing and Redefining Civil Defense through the Ground Observer Corps.” And for the second segment I turned to Oakland City University’s Dr. Randy Mills’ article “The Real Violence at Evansville,” The Firing of Professor George F. Parker.” Both articles are linked in the show notes. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Excerpts read by Justin Clark, courtesy of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration. Visit blog.histori.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” to see all of the sources for this episode. Find us on twitter and Facebook as Indiana Historical Bureau. And please take a moment to like, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Blue Skies, Pink Slips.

Articles

Poletika, Nicole, “Wake Up! Sign up! Look up!:” Organizing and Redefining Civil Defense Through the Ground Observer Corps, 1949-1959, Indiana University Graduate Thesis, 2013.

Mills, Randy, “The Real Violence at Evansville”: The Firing of Professor George F. Parker, Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 99, Issue 2. 

Walter Dorwin Teague’s “World of Tomorrow”

Walter Dorwin Teague, courtesy of North Carolina State University.

Visit the ultra-sleek website of the industrial design firm TEAGUE and you will see the echoes of company founder and namesake Walter Dorwin Teague. TEAGUE touts “we design experiences for people and things in motion.” This could easily have been declared in 1939 when Teague applied his experience as an industrial designer to the New York World’s Fair “World of Tomorrow.”

Walter Dorwin Teague’s story starts in the house of a Methodist circuit-riding preacher in Decatur, Indiana. Here, Walter was born on December 18, 1883, the youngest of six children to Reverend M.A. Teague and Hettie Teague. By late 1889, the family had settled in Pendleton, where Teague graduated high school in 1902. Teague credits his time in Pendleton, and particularly a book on the history of architecture from the Pendleton High School library, with setting him on the path that would eventually lead him to become a dominant force in American industrial design.

Walter Dorwin Teague designed the Kodak Baby Brownie Camera and its packaging, seen here. The Baby Brownie, sold for just $1, is credited with helping popularize amateur photography. Image courtesy of Cooper Hewitt.

Soon after his graduation, Teague moved to New York City to study at The Art Students League of New York. However, it wasn’t until the late 1920s that Teague discovered his life’s passion: industrial design. He was early to the game – in the decade after Teague scored his first major contract with Eastman Kodak in 1928, mentions of the phrase “industrial designer” in printed material increased 40 fold. Many sources consider Walter Dorwin Teague to be one of the five founders of industrial design in the United States, along with Henry Dreyfuss, Donald Deskey, Raymond Loewy, and Norman Bel Geddes.

In the decade after his first contract with Kodak, Teague designed for the likes of Boeing, Texaco, the Marmon Motor Company, and Ford Motor Company. He built lasting business relationships with many of these companies, and in some cases those relationships went beyond the designing of products. In the early 1930s, Henry Ford turned to Walter Dorwin Teague to design a cutting-edge exhibit hall for the 1934 re-opening of the Chicago World’s Fair, themed “Century of Progress.” The exhibition featured a wide array of elements, including a museum, industrial barn, and gardens tied together by–what else–design.

Interior of the Ford Pavilion at the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress. This diorama shows the extraction of different materials used in automobile production. Image courtesy of Hemmings Daily.

According to historian Roland Marchand, the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress:

ushered in a period of striking convergence between an increasing corporate sensitivity to public relations and the applications of designers’ expertise to display strategies. More than ever before, the great fairs became arenas for the public dramatization of corporate identities.

Gone were the sales-driven exhibits of the past, in which company representatives pitched the latest and greatest Ford products. With Teague at the helm, salesmen were replaced by young, affable college students. Product demonstrations were replaced by art, dioramas, and museums. Pressure to buy was replaced with entertainment, as well as information about the concepts behind and benefits of featured products. These innovations made the exhibit a hit of the fair and Walter Dorwin Teague a highly sought after exhibition hall designer.

In the wake of the successful Ford project, Teague designed exhibits for a number of regional fairs. He designed for Ford in San Diego (1935), Dallas (1936) and Cleveland (1936), and for Du Pont and Texaco in Dallas (1936). These smaller exhibits were a trial of sorts for the 1939 New York World’s Fair, which would become Teague’s crowning achievement in the realm of exhibit design.

Cover, New York World’s Fair 1939 Brochure, from the Collections of The Henry Ford.

For the New York World’s Fair, which was themed “The World of Tomorrow,” Teague designed the exhibition halls for heavy-hitters like Ford, U.S. Steel, Du Pont, National Cash Register (NCR), Consolidated Edison Company, Eastman Kodak, A.B. Dick, Bryany Heater Company, and parts of the United States Government Building. In addition, Teague served on the official Design Board, the lone industrial designer among a group of architects.

One might assume that with so much on his plate, Teague would have moved towards a more hands-off approach at the 1939 fair. However, he was deeply involved in the conceptualization process. While on previous projects he had simply put the finishing touches on an already developed idea or perhaps added design elements around an existing exhibit plan, by 1939, Teague was involved in “the fundamental work of determining what [the] exhibit should be.” Employing lessons learned at the 1934 Century of Progress, Teague determined that exhibits should include animation and audience participation whenever possible. He and his team also began using phrases such as “visual dramatization” and “industrial showmanship” to describe their work. The resulting 1939 New York World’s Fair exhibits reflected the evolution of his design approach.

Exterior of Du Pont’s “Wonder World of Chemistry,” designed by Walter Dorwin Teague. Image courtesy of Curbed New York blog; The “Tower of Research,” from the cover of the June 1939 issue of The Du Pont Magazine, accessed with the Hagley Digital Archive.

Du Pont, the company responsible for developments such as Kevlar, Teflon, neoprene, and Freon, had high expectations for their exhibit. In the November 1938 issue of The Du Pont Magazine, the company promised, “a panorama of man’s triumphs over his environment, of the progress he has made in building a new nation and a new civilization, of the hopes and plans he has for creating a better world in the future” and to illustrate “chemistry’s part in making the United States more self-sufficient.”

The resulting exhibition building, featuring a 120-foot “Tower of Research” inspired by test tubes, literally towered over passersby. The essential element of animation was incorporated through lights and bubbles that flowed through the test tubes and brought the structure to life. Inside the building were a variety of displays that highlighted the role of chemistry in the modern world–and painted a picture of what the “World of Tomorrow” could look like with further investments in the sciences. Displays followed the production process from raw materials to laboratory testing, and finally to manufacturing. Still other exhibits featured technicians weaving rayon, making cellophane, and demonstrating various techniques used in producing Du Pont materials. From the Tower of Research to fully functional displays to a plethora of dioramas, every aspect of Teague’s design employed the tenets of visual dramatization, industrial showmanship, and educational entertainment.

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Ford Building Model, courtesy of New York Public Library New York World’s Fair (1939-1940) Collection.

The same tenets were present in Teague’s development of the Ford building. Whereas a tower drew visitor’s eyes towards the Du Pont building, a metallic sculpture of the Roman god Mercury–symbolizing “fleet, effortless travel”–attracted exhibit-goers. Inside the exhibition hall, a 70-foot-high moving mural made of automobile parts, planned by Teague and designed by Henry Billings, welcomed visitors to the Ford building. The theme, “From Earth to Ford V-8,” was depicted in the “Cycle of Production,” a massive revolving wedding cake-like structure with three tiers. On the bottom tier, small animated figures harvested raw materials such as cotton, wool, and wood. On the next tier, figures processed those raw materials into cloth and boards. Finally, on the top tier, those products were incorporated into the final product – the wildly popular 1939 Ford V-8, a finished version of which adorned the top of the turntable. Surrounding the “Cycle of Production” were live demonstrations of the production process depicted in the display.

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Even more so than in the Du Pont exhibition, Teague incorporated a plethora of entertainment elements into the Ford pavilion. The same figures from the Cycle of Production were featured in a Technicolor film, telling the story of Ford production. Visitors watched the history of transportation unfold in the form of a live musical drama and ballet. They also watched race car drivers demonstrating the abilities of Ford cars on an outdoor track. Teague united these seemingly disparate parts through design to tell the story of Ford’s impact on the world–whether that be in job creation, technological advancement, or simply as an amusing diversion.

The features seen in these two exhibition buildings could be found to varying degrees in Teague’s other designs at the fair. The U.S. Steel building consisted of a 66-foot-high stainless steel hemisphere, an early example of a building designed to highlight, rather than mask, its steel structural supports. The National Cash Register exhibit was perhaps the least innovative, yet most striking of Teague’s 1939 World’s Fair designs–it was simply a gigantic, working cash register which displayed the fair attendance numbers. Inside, various models of NCR registers were shown being used in exotic locals around the world. For Consolidated Edison’s “The City of Light” display, Teague recreated New York City by building 4,000 scale buildings. The diorama came to life to depict a day in the city–the printing press of the Brooklyn Eagle whirred, a family lounged on a porch listening to the radio, and a six-car subway sped through the display.  These innovative features developed by the industrious Hoosier and his design firm would be the central design elements in exhibition halls for decades to come.

Walter Dorwin Teague is best remembered as the “Dean of Industrial Design.” His impact on corporate exhibitions has largely been forgotten with the diminishing role of exhibits in modern life. But at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the impact of this industrious Hoosier was impossible to ignore.

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2019 Marker Madness

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While the rest of Indiana is gearing up for March Madness, IHB is excited to announce the second annual Marker Madness! In 2018, we pitted 32 potential marker topics against each other every day in March until, in the end, we came up with one winner – the Tuskegee Airmen at Freeman Field.

This year, we have 32 NEW potential marker topics from across the state. Each day, there will be a featured match up from one of the four regions: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast and YOU get to decide which topic will move forward.

Below are the results of 2019 Marker Madness as of Monday March 18, 2019.

Voting for the featured match will start daily at 5:00 am and close at 5:00 the next morning. You can vote on Facebook and Twitter so follow us on both to participate! Check back here to see the results and the updated bracket.

Want to get even more involved? Fill out your own here and post it on social media using #MarkerMad2019 by March 1, 2019. The person who gets the most individual matchups correct will win an Indiana gift bag containing a t-shirt (size S-2XL), an 1816 Indiana Map, and a copy of Getting Open: The Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball. See the contest rules here.