THH Episode 30: Giving Voice: Erin Carlson Mast

Transcript of Giving Voice: Erin Carlson Mast

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice.  

For this installment of Giving Voice, I had the pleasure of talking with Erin Carlson Mast, the CEO and Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC. The Lincoln Cottage is leading the way for institutions working to infuse history relevancy into their practice.  If you haven’t listened to the most recent episode of Talking Hoosier History, History Relevance 101, I would suggest going back and listening now, as Erin and I dive right into the thick of things with the history relevance campaign. That episode will give you a good basis for understanding our conversation.  

And now, Giving Voice. 

(Talking Hoosier History Theme) 

Beckley: Alright, I’m here with Erin Carlson Mast, CEO and Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C. Welcome, Erin! 

Mast:  Thank you for having me, I’m delighted to be on. 

Beckley: I’m so excited to get to talk a little bit about history relevance today. Our last episode – full episode – was about history relevance, so I know that our listeners are pretty excited to hear a little bit more, especially since we used President Lincoln’s Cottage as an example in our episode.  

Mast: Yea, excellent. I’m happy to be here to share.  

Beckley:  So, I thought we’d start out with just talking a little bit about how your institution has infused history relevance into your programming and into other parts of your institution.  

Mast: That’s a great question. So, I think , part of what makes this interesting for us is that we began doing this work before the field had a name that they put to it, that they were using more broadly. So, this goes all the way back to the capitol project when we were trying to figure out what the Cottage could be and what the Cottage should be, and we had a fair amount of flexibility in determining that, even though you could say that there is kind of well worn path of what historic house museums are, in their interpretive approach, you know, their period of significance. We were doing this planning in the ’00s when there were – the conversations had come around, yet again, as to whether the traditional historic house museum was failing. So there was a big appetite to do something differently. And what we seized on – because the Cottage itself had been in continual use, the property its on, which is now called the Retired Forces Retirement Home Campus, is still serving the same fundamental purpose it served in President Lincoln’s time, it’s still a home to retired veterans. What really made this place important was what Lincoln did while he was here; the conversations he was having; the people who were influencing him; the ideas that he created and turned into policy and action.  

So, that – when we landed on that – we started to say, “Well, if those are the stories we’re gonna tell, what is the methodology?” And, as I mentioned, the Cottage had been in continual use. It was the first woman’s dormitory at one point. Presidents Hayes and Arthur had also lived there – So, it wasn’t like the owners had locked the doors and turned the key over. 

Beckley: Boarded it up, yeah. 

Mast: Yea, right. It’s not like all the furniture from the Lincoln Era was in there. There were very poor records on what had been there. Like, maybe we knew there was a marbletop table but that could mean almost anything. So rather than seeing that as a handicap, we thought that that was a real opportunity to keep the focus on ideas, which, by definition, have relevance to today. It’s about freedom, democracy. We see ourselves not only as a site of war history and presidential history and political history, but of labor history. So we realized we could use these stories that were kind of based in these fundamental ideas about human rights and civil rights and democracy and justice, and carry that forward to the present.  

And we decided that the most effective way to do that was through a conversational guided tour so that we could really gauge where visitors were coming from, the ideas that they were bringing with them to the site and have a conversation so that we could really understand one another. And so that was the genesis of it, really. Sort of figuring out what to do with this place in what is already sort of a crowded sea of other historic sites and museums here in D.C.  

Beckley:  Yeah, I definitely think you’ve accomplished standing out from the crowd, in that sense, from other house museums or other historic sites there in D.C.  

I was wondering – so, obviously, you’re the CEO and executive director – I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how to get leadership invested in history relevance and how that can kind of change how your institution views it.  

Mast: Yeah. That hasn’t been a linear process for us. So, when we first opened, we were part of a larger national organization – the National Trust for Historic Preservation – and we had a lot of autonomy in sort of creating what the experience would be. And after we opened, there was a time period where the National Trust was really looking towards the period of significance being now, and so what we were already doing fit within it.  

Beckley: Yeah, absolutely. 

Mast: So, that was a situation where the leadership then, when I was the executive director – it was sort of going back and forth, it wasn’t one directional, it wasn’t like the hierarchy said “you need to do this” and then we implemented it. We were trying something out and they recognized the value of it, not only at our site but at some of our sister sites like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Acoma Pueblo, you know, a lot of our sister sites that were starting to do this in different ways.

So then fast forward to when we started being our own 501c3 – and that became official in 2016 – the Board of Directors we have now really kind of started out as our advisory council. And as much as we had been building credibility with our audience, that we were committed to telling these more complex stories, that it was just a function of how we do our work – the board was seeing the value in that. It was influencing who we were attracting to the board, and for that reason, it’s sort of grown together. It’s not that I had to convince the board, they became convinced of it on their own, and it has influenced their very makeup, so that it’s something they fully support. 

On a staffing level, we really embody it – I talk about it as living our vision and mission. That it’s not just – you could be doing the best work interpretively, but if you’re not living those same messages internally as an organization, you’re going to loose your credibility pretty quickly.  

So, I’ll give a concrete example. For the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that was before we separated from the National Trust, we thought, you know, we could do another historical exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation. Or we could talk about slavery in the United States 150 years later. What we did was an exhibit called “Can You Walk Away?” on human trafficking in the U.S. in the present day. And we were fully confident that that fully fit within our mission and that it was the right thing to do – we did have a few board members who said, “are you sure you don’t want to do just a nice exhibit on Civil War Generals?” or something like that, and I’m not mocking that, but I think for them – well, for some of them, they weren’t really seeing what the connection was, because they weren’t there everyday having the conversations with visitors that we were.   

Beckley: Yeah, and visitors often make those connections themselves, so if you’re just using feedback from visitors and then incorporating that into your programming, that’s obviously going to be a winning strategy.  

Mast: One-hundred percent. And that’s actually a point that I think is worth highlighting, that we really do have an inquiry-based conversational tour. There are stories that it’s based on, but there is – it is conversational. So it’s what we are hearing from visitors. So when we have something that’s like – okay, we have to be clear with people that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end slavery. That’s pretty elementary, we need to make that clear. And so, we need to point out that it’s the 13th Amendment that actually legally ended slavery, constitutionally ended slavery, right?  

Well, just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it stops, right? That’s logical, and yet it became very clear to us that visitors were walking away with this false message of, “oh, that solved the problems.” And it didn’t. There are so many problems that sprang up, you know, in the void of that, or in the wake of that, rather. So, those ideas for special exhibits and programs come from the conversations we’re having with visitors, understanding where we could or need to go deeper on a subject, because they’re having a hard time making a connection between what happened historically and what’s happening in their lives today. So that’s why we did that exhibit. And all of the ones we’ve done since.  

Beckley: Absolutely. And it seems to me that having more of a conversational, feedback kind of tour would give visitors a richer experience as well. Because if I go to a museum once and I know that the next time I go to that museum I could get a totally different experience based on what questions I ask, what I’m bringing to the table, that’s definitely going to drive me to go there – that site – more often than, say, somewhere that’s going to give a docented, standard tour every time I go there.  

Mast: Right, like a script. So that you know it’s the same content. Yeah, and we’ve actually had that feedback from our visitors too. You know, we’ve talked to folks who have come eight different times for a tour. We opened in 2008 so they’re averaging taking the tour itself, not just coming to our other programs, at least, a little less than once a year, and they said it was different every time. And it’s not that they were not walking away with the same main points or stories, but the way it was presented was different, the transitions were different, the personal, you know, additions by each person giving the tour was a little bit different. And of course, if you’re really, truly inviting thoughtful questions from the visitors, by definition the experience is going to be different because it is partly led by the visitor.  

Beckley: I was hoping we could shift gears a little bit and talk about a few questions that were actually posed during our History Relevance Workshop that we held last fall. And the first one from that workshop that kind of got me thinking and that I’d like to get your thoughts on is: are historical institutions and museum neutral? And should they be? 

Mast: Yeah, that’s a great question and I think one of the first things to think about is what is meant by “neutral,” because sometimes that comes up in, you know, if we’re talking about present day issues, does that risk harming neutrality, if an organization thinks they are and should be neutral. Another way to think about it is, is the information being presented, is it factual?  

Of course, there is a fair bit of interpretation that goes it our work. You know, we do the research. We interpret the results. Even if an organization is trying to present things as close to the original source as possible, they’re still choosing which primary sources they’re sharing and which they aren’t.  

But I think this also gets to a question about the origin story of our organizations. You might want to think your organization is neutral but looking at the history of the organization itself, you might find that its founding was anything but neutral. It might have been created with a very specific point of view that it was trying to espouse. It might have been created to suppress another point of view, or created in a way that in effect did that. [Here’s an example of a museum coming to terms with it’s origin story and attempting to break with that origin]  

So, I think that President Lincoln’s Cottage itself came about recently enough that we know our origin story and the people that were a part of that very well and we also have a very strong point of view and we own that point of view.  

So, I mentioned the “Can You Walk Away?” exhibit. Another thing that was coming up a lot on our tours that had always been a part of our interpretation but was an example of another topic that we thought we could go deeper on was immigration. It coincided with a scholar who – there’s something like 16,000 books written on Lincoln but no one had touched Lincoln and immigration. And there’s a really rich history there. I mean, he signed an act to encourage immigration on July 4, 1864 and yet no one had written about his immigration views and policy. 

Beckley: Wow! 

Mast: Yeah, and so we knew that this new work of scholarship was coming out and of course getting the latest news and scholarship out is a big part of our work, and making that accessible to the general public. So, everything was just coming together to say that we should be doing this kind of exhibit. 

Well, that exhibit was set to open right during the primary season for the last presidential campaign, when immigration became a huge issue. So as a team we were pretty unified that we shouldn’t be backing off on this exhibit that not only talked about the issue historically, but also shared stories and data on immigration today, including the stories and pictures of families who had been here for their naturalization ceremonies at the Cottage. So it was pictures of them here at the Cottage. And we thought, you know, do we need to review this for our messaging? We did that just because sometimes a turn of phrase can become a partisan slogan. The title of the exhibit was “American by Belief.” And it wasn’t suggesting that we should remove birthright citizenship, but that was something that at that time was being discussed more. So, I actually spoke with the executive committee of my board and I said, “You know, we aren’t a partisan organization, but if partisan actors take an issue that we already have a strong interpretation on an make it partisan or political, I don’t think that we should back off on that.” And they agreed.

So, it was sort of a line in the sand, that, you know, we believe that the narratives that we have and the stories that we’re sharing are absolutely espousing a certain viewpoint. Maybe it’s Lincoln’s viewpoint, but more often it’s multiple points of view that are a unifying voice around an issue. But, you know, the point being, there is no neutrality, because if you’re going to try to be safe and neutral, everything around you is shifting anyway and it strikes me as a much more courageous, you know, just that – a more courageous point of view to say, “This is our point of view. This is why we believe this is important to tell or exhibit,” or what have you, and to move forward with that than to hold onto this idea of being neutral only to have everything around you shifting.  

Beckley: I like your point that something can become “politicized,” even if it – you know, we could do the same exhibit today and then the same exhibit ten years from now and it’s going to be interpreted in a whole different way depending on the world we’re living in and the politics that are going around at the time. That’s no reason to step back from it. Maybe review, make sure that everything is still accurate and that the interpretations are still good, but don’t step back, just maybe take a little closer look, and then keep going forward in doing good work.  

Mast: Yeah, and I would say there’s both, “don’t step back” but also, “don’t fear stepping forward.” You mention that towards the end of that comment, too, and I would underscore that. There shouldn’t be a fear of “oh, we’re going to loose supporters” or “we’re going to loose visitors” as long as it’s reflective of the organization, and you’ve been messaging who you are and what you do as an entity, it shouldn’t be a surprise to people, and so that fear shouldn’t be there. You know, through this work we have-and this wasn’t intentional-we have gained supporters and board members who, maybe they have an appreciation for Lincoln or the Civil War, but what really gets them going about the Cottage is the impact we’re having today.  

Beckley: One last question. Since we’re talking about history relevance and how we’re using it in our institutions, I was wondering if you think that we can be relevant to everyone. If one institution can or should try to be relevant to every single visitor.  

Mast: Well, I think it depends on what we mean by being relevant. The way we try to be, at least – and I don’t think we set out with a goal of being relevant – but when you asked that question I thought about what we do for every visitor and what our expectations are for how we treat and serve every visitor, and how they in turn treat us. We are committed to being good listeners and to hearing people and facilitating conductive conversations, so, you know, if we were trying to, sort of in a patriarchal way, try to say what’s best for everyone, I think that we would fail, but by listening to what our visitors are bringing with them every day to the site, we’re facilitating those connections, and it’s a one-on-one, or not one-on-one necessarily but one-on-however many people are on the tour, connection and conversation to be made.  

So, there are some people who maybe don’t like the experience because it’s not their cup of tea, because not every visitor is going to want the same thing. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a visitor walk away saying, “it’s not relevant.”  

Beckley: Well, what we started out our History Relevance episode with is the question: “What do you expect from your history institutions or from your museums?” and I think that by shifting what we expect from those museums and us as public historians shifting our perceptions of historical institutions, like you have- rather than words on a wall, or exhibits in a hall-it’s a conversation. I really like that point.  

Mast: Well, and also taking those – it really is, I have to say that we get so many great ideas – there are wonderful ideas that come from the team itself. But a lot of it comes from listening to the visitors and realizing what’s happening in the communities that we serve, and that tells us what people don’t know, and what they’re confused about, and what they’re worried about, and what they want more information on. And that’s how we’re able to respond in a way that’s, I think, much more productive than sort of reacting and doing things in a sporadic way that doesn’t make sense externally. You know, I mean, our mission statement – it’s right there. We say the mission is to reveal the true Lincoln and continue the fight for freedom.

So, in just a few words, we’re signaling that we are committed to telling the truth about the past, and that we recognize there’s a lot more work to be done today, which is not a neutral statement, and that we are committed to being part of that. So, anyone who comes here and is surprised that it’s not a traditional experience that sort of glorifies one person and is only focused on one person, really didn’t do even the bare minimum homework of looking at the main page of our website, because we’re very transparent about what we are and what we promise to do and be.  

Beckley: Absolutely. And I was on your website earlier today and it really comes through in all the work you do and I just want to thank you for all of the work you do. I know that a lot of us here at the Historical Bureau kind of look up to you guys and take note of what your doing and model ourselves after you, so thank you for that. 

Mast: I appreciate that. That’s a huge honor that – I’m really humbled by that.  

Beckley: So I wanted to give you a few minutes here at the end of the episode to plug any websites or any programs that you guys have, remembering that most of our listenership is going to be in Indiana, so we can’t all necessarily come out to Lincoln’s Cottage, no matter how much we want to, so I’ll give you a few minutes to do that now.  

Mast: Great! Thanks for that. So, of course, folks can check out our website, LincolnCottage.org and connect with us on social media, but especially because this is mostly listeners in Indiana and they’re listening to your great podcast, I would plug our own podcast, which is called Q and Abe, which is kind of a cutesy name, but it is available on all major streaming services and through our website. And the whole premise of this is around those great questions we get on the tour. So, when we were thinking, “you know, how do we continue that conversation?” we landed on the idea of starting our own podcast.

It’s my colleagues Callie Hawkins and Joan Cummins, who lead it. And to give you an example of the kind of issues we delve into, the very first episode of the very first season, we took a question that we got from a second grader on a tour who asked, “How could Lincoln sleep if slavery was happening?” So we explored that question with sleep experts. There’s a Civil War dream expert, and others to really sort of go down the rabbit hole of these great questions and give the listeners all around the country and all around the world a really intimate  learning and conversational experience. We already have listeners in eighteen countries, and we’re getting started on season 3 now.  

Beckley: That’s amazing. And I just want to note that the fact that there’s a Civil War Dream Expert proves that there is an expert on everything. 

Mast: One hundred percent, yes. We were so excited to find someone whose expertise was actually that because it was perfect for that episode. So, thank you so much for allowing me to share that information.  

Beckley: Of course, and thank you for coming on and taking a little bit of time during this kind of crazy, crazy time in our lives to talk with us a little bit about history relevance.  

Mast: It really is. Thank you so much, Lindsey.  

Beckley: Alright, so everyone, make sure you go and download Q and Abe and listen to the existing two seasons and watch out for those coming episodes and thank you guys for listening. 

Mast: Thank you! 

(THH Theme) 

Beckley: Once again, I want to thank Erin for taking the time to talk with me for this episode. Check out the Lincoln Cottage website at lincolncottage.org to learn more about the awesome work they’re doing. Specifically, I recommend taking some time to read their blog, which is an absolute master class in History Relevance.  

Like everyone out there, our work situation is a little bit up in the air as we are transition to remote working. But we’ll be back soon with the second and last installment of our Tenskwatawa series! 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!  

 

THH Episode 29: History Relevance 101

Transcript of History Relevance 101

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley, based on talks given by IHB staff members Dr. Michella Marino and Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

Beckley: What do you expect out of a museum? A chronological recounting of a specific facet of history? Old stuff with little labels telling you what it is and where it’s from? Around the nation, museums, historical societies, and other cultural institutions are going beyond the expected to meet the varied needs of different communities. In Brooklyn, New York, the Weeksville Heritage Center hosts a Farmers Market, a program started after the community around the center was designated a food desert. Just outside of Washington D.C., on the morning after the 2016 presidential election, staff at President Lincoln’s Cottage decided to stay open late to act as a forum, sending out the following message on their social media platforms:

Voice Actor: We recognize that people are expressing a need to come together peacefully when we are a House Divided. As a National Monument, where Lincoln came to deal with epic division and chaos in our country, we are committed to providing a secular place of reflection and serving as your beacon of hope. Our lights are on for you. All of you.

Beckley: And right here in Indiana, when state legislators in the General Assembly enter their chambers, one of the first things they see are monitors displaying important stories from Indiana history – stories that show the influence of yesterday’s lawmakers and that may, in turn, offer lessons for today’s decisions. Produced through a partnership between IHB and the Indiana State Archives, this project, called Indiana History in Session, is an attempt to remind legislators of the legacy they’re creating each day.

These programs are nothing alike – they have different audiences, different run times, different methods, and different goals – but they all go beyond what is typically expected of historical institutions. They all address current issues using historical context. They show why history is relevant and the impact history has on our everyday lives. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the history relevance campaign, which is the movement behind some of the most innovative programming in the field today.

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

As you may have guessed, this episode is going to be a little bit different from our usual fare. Last Fall, IHB partnered with the National Council on Public History and Conner Prairie Interactive History Park to host a history relevance workshop. Public historians from organizations in Indiana and surrounding states gathered for a day of hard questions, discussions, and (we hope) ideas on how to infuse the practice of history relevance into their organizations. Today, we’re bringing those same discussions to our listeners – both those who are in the public history field and those who are just interested in history.

We hope that public historians use this episode as an introduction to the History Relevance movement – something to spark inspiration in our fellow educators. But these ideas aren’t just for those of us working in the field – they’re for everyone. We hope that through the course of this episode, you think about what you expect from your historical institutions – and what you should expect. We’re going to lay out our case for why history is just as important to the modern world as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s right. We’re taking on the almighty STEM right here and now.

But before we get to that, we should get ourselves acquainted with the origins of the History Relevance Campaign. Throughout this episode you’ll be hearing from leading figures in the movement, Tim Grove and Richard Josey, both history consultants who led the workshop last fall – some of the audio is of a bit lower quality than you might be used to, but the content is worth it. First, I’ll let Tim Grove give you a little run down of the history of history relevance:

Grove audio from workshop:  It all started here, actually, in Indianapolis at History Leadership Institute. I was in town and we started talking about it one night. And it was – I guess it was 2012 because the movie Lincoln was out and I was saying you know, lots of people are going to see the movie Lincoln but a lot of those people don’t visit historic sites, don’t go to museums. You know, what’s up with that? People do like history. They claim to like history. They’re interested in their own genealogy, their own past. Why are we not engaging them more?

I was working at the National Air and Space Museum at the time, which is a unique place because it focuses on history and science. It’s a history of technology museum but depending on who you ask, people would say its science. They do have hard core planetary science research going on – a division devoted to that – so they are science but they’re also history of technology. But at the time, the secretary of the Smithsonian was focused on STEM and he kept talking about STEM and he had just made this proclamation that we’re now going to focus on STEAM, and add the “a.” And that was just too much for me.

So I went on a rant with my colleagues in Indianapolis and I said, you know, why is history always left out? And that’s not a new question. In no way is it a new question. It’s not a new conversation. We’ve had this conversation before. But whatever we’re doing is not working. We need to do more.

If you think about history as a brand and STEM as a brand, which we started doing – this little group started talking about the branding aspect of it – STEM has a huge strong brand, right? And history doesn’t. So this group started talking about how can we raise the brand of history, the profile of history?

Beckley:  How do you go about changing the perception of something as broad as history? How do you “re-brand” a discipline that is thousands of years old? First, you need to understand what the current perception is.

Voice Actor: History is real simple. You know what history is? It’s what happened.

Beckley: That’s conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh’s view of it. And that’s what a lot of people think – history is simply an accounting of names and dates and events. But it’s not. That’s just the past – a series of facts strung together – and that perception of history has been making high schoolers and college freshmen loathe the subject for a century. This is the brand we’re trying to change. But how did we get to this brand in the first place?

Well, that’s a question with a complicated answer. Let me just pull one thread out and examine it for our purposes here. Dutch Historian Pieter Geyl defined history as “an argument without an end.” Not facts in a book. Not labels in a museum. An argument. Historians are constantly revisiting previously “settled” topics, and bringing new perspectives and new evidence, with them. They revise history. Politicians and the media throw around “revisionism” like a dirty word. But that’s history. Learning and revising is the whole idea of history. If history didn’t change – if it were simply “what happened,” then there wouldn’t need to be more than one book written about any one topic. There wouldn’t be a 34 foot tower of books at the Ford Theater Education Center– each telling a slightly different version of “what happened” – all dedicated to the life and times of one man – President Abraham Lincoln.

You may be thinking, “But surely, not every one of the books in that tower tells the true story of Lincoln’s life, right?” And while I haven’t actually read more than 10 or 15 of the books in that tower, I can tell you that no, not every one of them is factually correct through and through. Not every interpretation is equal. And there is scholarly consensus on certain facts. For instance, historians generally agree that Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president. It’s when you’re fleshing out the story that interpretations can vary. But that’s why history, and a better understanding of what history actually is, is so important.

Every day, we, as historians, and you, as human beings living in the world, encounter claims – whether they be on the news, in a dusty filing cabinet, or on social media. And with each new claim we encounter, we have to choose whether or not we are going to trust the source it’s coming from and thus believe the claim being made. In order to do this, we need to engage in “historical thinking,” a type of critical thinking that can be learned through the “doing” of history.

Tim Grove, who we heard from earlier, lays out five key elements of historical thinking in his article, “Historical Thinking is an Unnatural Act,” from the Spring 2016 issue of History News.

Voice Actor: One: Multiple Perspectives

Beckley: Always keep in mind that there are several ways to look at a story – whose perspective are you seeing? Whose is missing?

Voice Actor: Two: Analysis of Primary Sources

Beckley: Think about what claims are being made in the source. What claims are left out? Given your prior knowledge of the topic and other sources, do these claims seem valid?

Voice Actor: Three: Sourcing

Beckley: What are the questions related to the source? Why was this document, photograph, video –  or whatever it may be –  produced? Why did it get saved? Who created it? What were their biases? These questions surrounding sources could be endless.

Voice Actor: Four: Context

Beckley: What else was happening around these events that could impact your understanding of the story? What led up to the events being told? Were there unseen influences? Context can completely change a story.

Voice Actor: Five: Claim/Evidence Connection

Beckley: Is the claim you’ve encountered based on evidence? Does the source provide that evidence? If not, why?

In short, historical thinking is turning a critical eye on sources being presented to you. We all come into each situation, whether that’s reading a historical document or deciding who to vote for in an election, with preconceived notions, opinions, and biases. It’s nearly impossible to be completely neutral, but when we employ historical thinking, it makes that a little more achievable. And it’s okay if we change our minds on a topic as we go along – that just means we’re learning and growing!

And when we use this kind of solid historical thinking as a method for understanding a current issue, interest, or problem – whether it’s examining your family’s roots or the roots of the healthcare debate – we make history relevant to today. We call this application HISTORY RELEVANCE. And this – the application of historical thinking outside of the field of history – is what makes history – real history – so important, even if it is hard to fit into the STEM acronym.

So, we’ve established, I hope, that history is useful. But are people interested?

According to Norman Burns, the President and CEO of Conner Prairie, who spoke at the History Relevance workshop, they are.

Burns’s audio from workshop:  Ninety-one percent of Americans think it’s important to learn about history to build a strong foundation for the future, and that curiosity in history is expanding in generations across the nation. And I found this very encouraging, especially with millennials. Fifty-five percent of millennials say they’re more curious about history today than they were even last year.

Beckley: So – history is useful. People are interested and growing more so every day. We just need to work on our branding and outreach to connect the two. And that’s where the history relevance campaign comes in.

Historical organizations, libraries, and museums across the country, like those discussed at the top of this episode, are participating in the campaign, which is attempting to communicate the value of history to the public. The goal is to use historical thinking skills to address contemporary issues and recognize how history has value in our daily lives. To this end, the campaign has identified several ways that history is valuable to us today. The values are split into three different categories. First, is the value of history to ourselves – to each and every one of us – at a personal level. Within this category are identity and critical thinking. Here’s what the value statement says on those topics:

Voice Actor: Identity – History is valuable to ourselves at a personal level. When we look into the stories of our families and our communities, we find stories of sacrifice and achievement of injustice and triumph that can shape our personal views and the values that guide us through our own lives.

Critical Thinking – History leads to personal development of life skills. It teaches us to evaluate evidence, consider multiple perspectives, develop contextual understanding, and it provides historical perspective. It teaches us to interpret and communicate complex ideas clearly and coherently.

Beckley: The next category is Communities – how is history of value to the community in which that history took place? Again, from the values statement:

Voice Actor: Vibrant Communities – a place becomes a community when it is wrapped in memory. When we tell and commemorate our histories we open up discussions with our neighbors and recognize our responsibilities to each other.

Economic Development – When communities build strong heritage institutions and a sense of historical character in neighborhoods they become desirable destinations. This attracts tourism, revenue, and business opportunities and builds the local economy.

Beckley: The final category, and perhaps the one most often overlooked or misunderstood: What is the value of history to our future? How do these two diametrically opposed ideas, “history” and “the future,” interact with each other? The values statement lists three distinct ways in which history is valuable to our future (and not one of them is that “history is a circle” or that it repeats itself).

Voice Actor: Engaged Citizens – Democracy thrives where people both actively express their opinions but also listen to others who may disagree. Building these discussions on a historical foundation can clarify misconceptions, reveal complexities in arguments, ground views in evidence, and provide ideas for solutions.

Leadership – History shows us examples of effective leaders and role models who we can learn from and who can inspire us to become today’s leaders. Looking to leaders of the past can help guide today’s leaders’ values and ideals.

Legacy – When we value history, we preserve history. And this preserved historical knowledge is crucial to preserving democracy. Through the documents, artifacts, images and stories that we save, we provide a foundation for future generations to understand what it means to be a part of the civic community.

Beckley: At the top of the episode, we mentioned a few examples of History Relevance in action. Now, let’s take some time to go over a few more inspiring examples of how the campaign is influencing work – both around the nation and right here in Indiana. As we go through these, keep in mind those values we just went over – Identity, Critical Thinking, Vibrant Communities, Economic Development, Engaged Citizens, Leadership, and Legacy. We’ll go back to this list to see which of these values are most obviously present in each one.

During the history relevance workshop, Richard Josey added a few additional aspects of relevance to think about when looking at an institution or project.

Josey’s audio from workshop:  I want you all to think about relevance in three different spheres, or in three different ways. The relevance of history to society, which lends itself to sort of that big picture – the macro, if you will. The relevance of an organization to its community – and when we think about the community, let’s define that not just in a geographic sense, you know, in geographic terms. But in all the different ways in which – how we think about your organization’s community. And also the relevance of an organization to the individuals it engages through its exhibitions. Through its mission. Through its programs and the like.

Beckley: So, keeping both the values and those spheres in mind, let’s see what history relevance looks like in action. First, let’s start with the national stage. At our relevance workshop, Tim Grove and Richard Josey brought in some really strong examples of organizations doing this work. The first example is an advertisement from the Tenement Museum in New York City, which tells stories from the 1860s to the 1930s of immigrant families who lived in the building where the museum is located.

Audio from advertisement:  America is a great nation. It’s lived through these amazing advancements, right – the Civil War, the Great Depression. We remember the politicians, you know, we remember the people who are thrust into power and leave their legacy. But it’s people that live through those events. It’s people that die in those wars. It’s people that build the bridges. The stories we tell are about those people, and not that many places tell those stories.

What we do here at the Tenement Museum is we collect the stories of ordinary new Americans – people starting their lives here. And we see what they did to survive.

We’re going to go into that building – 97 Orchard. It was built at the same time as Lincoln was president.

It was important to me that the Tenement Museum become a storytelling museum. People remember stories much more than facts. If the facts are hung onto the tree of a story they become relevant – they become memorable.

Ruth’s genius was to identify an abandoned tenement – a condemned building – as a museum. In effect to put up a sign and say this is a place where we can tell America’s most important story.

The mission of the museum is to engage people in the power of the past to make them think about the present.

Beckley: The ad goes on to show docents leading groups of attentive adults and spellbound school children through the spaces once occupied by the people who built New York – the construction workers, the seamstresses, and the factory workers. Then, toward the end, there’s this:

Audio from advertisement:   I had this Chinese immigrant who came and after the tour I said does anybody have anything to say about what they saw? And this Chinese woman, she goes, “I never knew that this happened in New York in the past and that people lived this way and now I see my own life in a completely different light.

Beckley: What a powerful reminder of what history, when done right, can do. I think that’s every public historian’s dream, right? Change lives through the power of history. And that’s happening at the Tenement Museum. Now let’s relate it back to what we’ve covered today.

When thinking back to those spheres Josey covered – relevance to society, to community, and to the individual – in this case, the relevance of the Tenement Museum to each of those spheres comes from the same place. They tell the stories of people who are often forgotten by history. Now, I’m not an immigrant but I do connect with that – it’s very unlikely that my name will ever appear in the pages of a history book or on a panel in a museum, and the same is true for the vast majority of people in the world. And yet, we are the ones who build the world. We live and work and love here. Yes, the Tenement Museum is telling the story of immigrant families who lived in their building. But, in a way, they’re also telling my story, or at the very least, one I can connect to. And when people can connect to a story, they can empathize with the people in the story. Creating empathy is the first step to creating acceptance and if just a portion of the 200,000 annual visitors to the Tenement Museum are impacted in this way, well, that’s a fantastic example of history having a tangible effect on the present.

Now let’s turn to the values we went through earlier. Which of those seven values are most prominently featured here? First and foremost, is Identity. They’re redefining who we might see as our founders. Yes, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the men at the Philadelphia Convention framed the Constitution. But it was the masses who lived out those sentiments, who fought to preserve them, endeavored to extend them to all, and who came to America seeking them. Thoughts like those can really affect your personal identity and shift your mindset if you let them.

Also very prominent in the Tenement Museum are the values of Creating Vibrant Communities and Economic Development. The founders of the museum took a boarded up, crumbling building that was more likely to be condemned than to become a tourist destination and turned it into one of the most innovative museums in the nation. And they did that through telling the history of the community surrounding it. They now lead neighborhood walking tours that tell the history of the broader community and offer English Language Workshops in which new immigrants, just like immigrants from all times, learn the language of the nation they’ve chosen to call home.

I could go on and on about the importance of the Tenement Museum and its use of History Relevance but I want to turn to another example.

We’ve talked about History Relevance on the national stage but this is Talking Hoosier History so – let’s talk about history relevance in Indiana. Actually, let’s talk about History Relevance right here, on this show. You might recognize that we often end our show with a section talking about how the topic of that episode is still affecting Hoosiers today – whether that’s tying redlining to gentrification or the story of a formerly enslaved family to the present state of the American judicial system. And we try to choose topics that are a little bit off of the beaten path, or at least take a new approach to familiar stories. That’s not an accident. We aren’t telling these stories just to tell them. We want to challenge our listeners’ understanding of our history and of what the lasting effects of that history are on their fellow Hoosiers. We hope that all of our listeners come away from each episode with a new perspective on our past and a better understanding of how that past effects our present and our future.

Now, I’m going to turn to another program here at IHB – the Indiana state historical marker program. The marker program is one of IHB’s central programs and my boss, Dr. Michella Marino, talked at our workshop about how we are working to keep this 80-year-old program relevant.

Before we go to that clip, let me give just a brief overview of the program. Putting up a historical marker is a collaborative effort between IHB and the community. A community member or organization applies for a marker. We evaluate the applications, approve those which qualify, conduct additional research on the topic, work with the applicant on the text that will be on the marker, and then once it’s installed, we come together to dedicate the marker, along with the community.

During her talk, Dr. Marino covered a few examples of IHB’s use of historical relevance in this program. I’m just going to pull one example out of her talk. In 2019, IHB installed a marker for the free black settlement, called the Sugar Creek Community, in Boone County in rural Indiana. And in 2020, we’ll dedicate another marker to the Weaver Settlement in Grant County, which was also a free black community settled in the mid-1800s.

Marino’s audio from workshop: But today I want to focus on how this marker in particular returns history to the landscape, and directly hits on History Relevance components of Identity, Community, Engaged Citizenship, and even Ecotourism.

So these markers in particular challenge a long held belief that there isn’t much Black history in Indiana until the Great Migration or we’re focused on Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis. And that later on in the 20th century, Black people are moving into white spaces. This is partly because of Article 13 in the 1851 Indiana Constitution that bans Black people from moving into the State of Indiana.

But through research, we know that there were vibrant African American communities across the State of Indiana very early on in the state’s development. So, Black settlements were founded in the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, and even after Article 13 is put into place. So by including and marking these stories, Indiana history is no longer one of Black people moving into white spaces – they were Black spaces to begin with.

Beckley: Something important to note about these communities is that oftentimes, there are very few physical remnants of them left. The houses, churches, and businesses have been converted or torn down and the descendants of those settlers have moved away. But those descendants, along with the current residents of those towns, are invested in preserving that history, giving IHB the opportunity to return some of that story to the landscape in the form of a marker.

Marino’s audio from workshop: So, again, we’re highlighting Identity through the marker, we’re hoping to inform and create an engaged citizenship by bringing in multiple perspectives, we’re showing a misperception about Black migration to the state in this story. And also markers can spur Ecotourism. A lot of people stop to read these still. They drive around the countryside looking for them. And we’ve heard multiple times about people planning their vacations or trips around the markers themselves. Which – good for them. I like Florida but whatever – you know, people can do whatever.

Beckley: So, markers in general, and these markers in particular, can add to a community’s understanding of its identity, get citizens engaged with preserving their own history, and even bring tourist dollars into the town – whether the trip was planned around markers from the beginning or a family stopped to read a marker and decided to stay for lunch at the café across the street.

Here we have a medium that, on its face, seems a little antiquated– historical markers are far from the high tech interactive and immersive exhibits at some museums – but we’re still able to infuse the values of the History Relevance Campaign into them and tell a compelling and relevant story because IHB as a whole has dedicated ourselves to doing so. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

That’s one of the results of embracing the History Relevance Campaign. Historical institutions can change themselves and their values just by learning how to make history relevant to their audience. And when history is relevant to your audience, they are more likely to think deeply about what they have learned and more likely to return to your institution for more.

And the results of exposing our audiences to history relevance are even more profound. When visitors are presented with different perspectives and challenging ideas, they are presented with the opportunity to practice the fine art of critical thinking and to grow as people. And if enough institutions are committed to doing this, and enough visitors are exposed to this kind of mindset, we can change lives and, if we want to be ambitious, we can change the world.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of IHB, a division of the Indiana State Library. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley, adapted from talks given by Dr. Michella Marino and Jill Weiss Simins. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. A special thanks to the National Council on Public History and Conner Prairie for partnering with us on the History Relevance workshop and to Tim Grove and Richard Josey for taking the time to walk us through the concepts behind history relevance. And, of course, thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. You can find more resources about the History Relevance Campaign, the projects we mentioned in this episode, and other sources in our show notes which can be found at blog.history.in.gov. 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 History Relevance 101

The majority of this episode was based on talks given by Jill Weiss Simins and Dr. Michella Marino, along with the History Relevance Workshop led by Richard Josey and Tim Grove.

Learn more about the History Relevance Campaign here.

See the Value of History statement here.

Learn more about the Weeksville Heritage Center farmers market here.

Learn more about the programming at the President Lincoln’s Cottage here.

2020 Marker Madness

 DOWNLOAD A PRINTABLE BRACKET HERE

To generate visibility of select Indiana history topics and encourage the public to apply for historical markers commemorating them, we’re once again kicking off Marker Madness. This year, in honor of the centennial of women’s suffrage, we selected 32 potential women’s history topics for Marker Madness. Each day starting on March 1, there will be a featured match-up from one of the four categories: Arts & Culture, Politics & Military, Pioneering Women, and Organizers. YOU get to decide which topic will move forward.

Want to participate? Between now and March 1, fill out your own bracket and post it on social media using #MarkerMad2020. Then vote on your favorite topic daily on both Facebook and Twitter. Check back here to see updated brackets!

Below are the standings as of the end of the day on March 22, 2020.

 

The 1968 Black Market Firebombing: Revolution and Racism in Bloomington, Indiana

 

Protesters at the Jeannette Rankin Peace Parade on January 15, 1968, courtesy of the AP.

“There has never been a year like 1968, and it is unlikely that there will ever be one again.”1968: The Year That Rocked the World

In the very literal sense of the word, 1968 was an extraordinary year. Even situated as it was within a decade characterized by social and political upheaval, 1968 was unique in the sheer number of transformative events: the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Apollo 8 mission, anti-Vietnam War protests, protests against racial discrimination. The list goes on.

While the majority of these events occurred on the East and West Coasts of the United States, it would be a mistake to think that the Midwest was immune to the revolutionary spirit sweeping the nation. In fact, many of the movements seen at a national level played out within the confines of the Indiana University Campus in Bloomington. When recruiters from Dow Chemical Company (the company responsible for producing napalm for use in the Vietnam War) visited campus, hundreds of students marched in protest. Following objections to exclusionary judging standards drawn along color lines, the IU Homecoming Queen pageant was permanently cancelled.  African American students demanded more representation in all aspects of campus life and staged a sit-in at the Little 500. That sit-in led directly to the removal of discriminatory covenants from Indiana University’s fraternities.

Clarence “Rollo” Turner at the Little 500 Sit-in, Indiana University, Artubus (Bloomington, Indiana: 1968), accessed Artubus Archives.

While this wave of revolutionary fervor was cresting both nationally and on IU’s campus, another wave was close behind – the “third wave” of the Ku Klux Klan. Rising in response to the Civil Rights Movement, approximately 40,000 Klan members  belonged to the Klan nationally in the 1950s and 1960s. In the spring of 1968, Klan members from nearby Morgan County attempted to establish a chapter of the terrorist organization in Monroe County. A membership drive, which was to consist of a gathering on the Bloomington courthouse square followed by a march through the business district, was scheduled for March 30, 1968. But before events could get underway, Monroe County Prosecutor Thomas Berry requested and was granted an order blocking the event, citing the possibility of violence.

This was neither the first nor the last appearance of the Klan in Bloomington. In Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928, Leonard Moore estimates that 23.8% of all native-born white men in Monroe County were members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1920. The Indiana Daily Student on November 7, 1922 described the supposed first appearance of the Klan in the city:

Marching with slow and solemn tread, 152 men paraded Bloomington streets, garbed in mysterious robes of white, with tall hoods masking their identity, and carrying aloft the flaming cross of the klan, while hundreds of townspeople and students stood and witnessed [as] the pages of fiction and movie scenarios unfolded before their eyes.

Example of a calling card left by the Ku Klux Klan, accessed Nate-Thayer.com.

Although county officials blocked a similar scene to that described above from playing out in 1968, the Klan still made its presence known in the city. During a Bloomington Human Relations Commission meeting on September 30, 1968, African American commission chairman Ernest Butler showed his fellow commissioners and others present at the meeting a card which had been left on his door. The card read, “The Ku Klux Klan is watching you.” Butler claimed to have received as many as ten such cards, as well as several similarly threatening phone calls. Soon, local Klan affiliates would go further than simply making threats.

In the face of these threats, Black Indiana University students continued to demand more representation and equality, staging protests and demonstrations across the campus. The Afro-Afro-American Student’s Association (AAASA)—an organization formed in the spring of 1967 with the goal of fostering unity among IU’s Black students—frequently encouraged members to participate in this activism. At the forefront of many of these protests was AAASA co-founder and sociology graduate student Clarence “Rollo” Turner.

“Rollo Turner and The Black Market,” accessed Indiana University Archives.

In the fall of 1968, Turner shifted his attention towards a new project – The Black Market. Financed entirely by Black faculty and staff, The Black Market was a shop specializing in products made by African or African American artists. This included “free-flowing African garb, Black literature and records, African and Afro-American fabrics, dangling earrings, and African artifacts.”

As a leader in the African American community at Indiana University, Turner served as the shop’s manager and its public face. He and his backers had two main objectives when opening the shop. First, it was to act as a cultural center for Black students at the university, who had limited recreational opportunities in the predominantly white city. Second, he aimed to eliminate “misconceptions about black people” by exposing IU students and Bloomington locals alike to Black culture.

“Advertisement for The Black Market printed in The Spectator,” accessed Indiana University Archives.

After its late-September opening, it seemed as though the shop would be a success. The campus newspaper, Indiana Daily Student, proclaimed, “suits and ties may eventually join the ranks of white socks and baggy slacks if the immediate success of The Black Market is a sign of things to come.” However, at the same time that the shop was proving a popular enterprise with IU students, factions within Bloomington were pushing back against its very existence. This resistance took the form of violence when, on December 26, 1968 a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the front window of the store.

The resulting fire destroyed the entire stock of The Black Market and caused structural damage to adjacent businesses. To those most closely associated with the shop, the motive for the attack seemed obvious, especially considering the heightened presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the city. As student newspaper The Spectator commented:

It was not very difficult, of course, to determine a ‘motive’ for the bombing. Since the construction of the Black Market in September, black students involved have been harassed periodically by abusive white ‘customers,’ . . . Larry Canada, owner of the building, had received telephoned bomb threads because he allowed the ‘n––rs’ to use the space for the store.

Black Market after fire, printed in The Spectator, accessed Indiana University Archives.

Two weeks later, 200 students attended a rally on the sidewalk outside of the burnt remains of The Black Market. Amidst calls for action from university and city officials and appeals to Black students to make a stand in the face of violence, Rollo Turner said, “the only reason this store was bombed was because it was a black store.” Behind the rally, hung across the splintered door of the shop a hand lettered sign that read, “A COWARD DID THIS.”

Eight months would pass before those students knew the identity of the man responsible for the attack, though. In the intervening time, IU students and faculty came together to raise enough money to pay back the financial backers of the shop, as the shop’s inventory was uninsured. Rollo Turner also made the decision not to re-open the store – all of the funds raised had gone to pay back investors, leaving none for re-investment in new stock. Additionally, the extensive damage to the structure necessitated its total demolition, meaning a new space would need to be secured and it may have proven difficult to find a landlord willing to risk their property if a repeat attack was carried out.

“The Black Market,” accessed Indiana University Archives.

Details about the search for the perpetrators are limited. An ad-hoc group formed by representatives from the community, university, and local civil rights organizations offered an award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. The alternative student newspaper The Spectator alluded to a person of interest in their coverage of the attack, saying:

Acting on reports of witnesses, police are searching for a white male with dark hair, about 5’8”, 160 lbs., wearing a light gray finger-length topcoat at the time of the fire.

Whether or not either of these played any part in the search for the perpetrators, or if they were identified in some other way, on August 6, 1969 the Marion County Circuit Court issued arrest warrants for two men in relation to the crime. One of those men, Carlisle Briscoe, Jr., plead guilty to the second degree arson charges while implicating as an accomplice Jackie Dale Kinser, whom he accused of driving the get-away vehicle. Eventually, the charges against Kinser would be dropped, just before he plead guilty to three unrelated crimes.

Both men had strong ties to the local Ku Klux Klan – Kinser was a member who in subsequent years would be arrested multiple times in Klan-related crimes. Briscoe’s Klan connections are slightly less clear. At first, Monroe County Prosecutor Thomas Berry and Sheriff Clifford Thrasher announced that both men were Klan members. An article in the September 19, 1969 issue of the Indianapolis Star, states that Briscoe himself claimed to be a Klan member. The headline of Briscoe’s obituary in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial proclaims, “Notorious Klansman Dies in Prison: Briscoe Led a Bloomington Crime Wave in 1960s and ‘70s.” As late as 1977, he was arrested while committing crimes alongside Klan members, apparently while carrying out Klan business. However, in 1969, the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, William Chaney, denied that Briscoe was a member of the organization. Regardless of Briscoe’s official Klan membership status, Briscoe at the very least maintained close ties with the terrorist organization. He was sentenced to one to ten years and was released on April 7, 1973 after serving approximately three and a half years of his sentence.

The story of The Black Market firebombing could have ended there. The structure had been demolished, the investors had been paid back, and a conviction had been made. However, the revolutionary atmosphere on the Indiana University campus stretched beyond the 1960s, and the space would once again be used to make a statement.

YIP Poster Advertising the 1968 Festival of Life, accessed Wikipedia.

In late February 1970, a group of Yippies, or members of the Youth International Party, were looking for ways to bring the community of Bloomington together. One of the ideas that emerged from these discussions was the creation of a people’s park on the vacant lot where The Black Market had once stood. People’s parks, which were spreading across the nation, could trace their roots back to the People’s Park in Berkeley, California. Typically created by activists without the approval of government or other officials, the parks were meant to promote free speech, activism, and community involvement.

By May 1970, work had started on the project. Anyone who was interested in the enterprise was encouraged to join in helping to prepare the land for its future intended use. The Bloomington People’s Park was to be a mix of gathering space, community garden, and a place for “everyone to sing, dance, rap, and generally ‘do his own thing,’” and by the next summer, it was being put to good use, as reported by the Indiana Daily Student:

About 250 blue jeaned “freaks,” tapered-legged “straights,” the bell bottomed curious and two guys with rolled-up sleeves, greasy hair and tattoos celebrated the 4th in People’s Park Sunday evening.

Student protest in People’s Park, Artubus, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana: 1981, accessed Artubus Archives.

Over the next five years, various issues threatened to put an end to the whole affair. The city threatened to shut it down over “public health” concerns. The property owner, Larry Canada, had various plans to develop the property. In the end, though, People’s Park became legally sanctioned after Canada deeded the land to the city in 1976.

Throughout the years, the park has carried on the site’s democratic heritage, hosting anti-Vietnam War protests, protests against the US involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s, music festivals, flea markets, and, more recently, Occupy Bloomington protests. Today, the park serves as a reminder of the revolutionary ideals that swept through Indiana University’s campus in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2020, IHB, in partnership with the Bloomington Chamber of Commerce, will commemorate those events by installing an Indiana state historical marker.

THH Episode 28: Giving Voice: Chris Newell

Transcript of Giving Voice: Chris Newell

Jump to Show Notes

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

Today on Giving Voice, I talk with Chris Newall, co-founder and Director of Education for the Akomawt Educational Initiative. In our last full episode, we covered roughly the first half of the life of Tenskwatawa, or The Prophet. Throughout the episode, we talked about danger of relying on sources produced in large by white colonizers to tell Native history, and how IHB and other history organizations are learning to broaden our ideas of what a source can be to include more Native voices in Native history.

To give you some more information on this topic and some context about why it’s so important, we knew we wanted to speak with someone who is working to bring these issues to light every day, and Chris Newall and the Akomawt Educational Initiative are doing just that.

And now, Giving Voice.

[Talking Hoosier History Theme Music]

Beckley: We’re here today with Chris Newell from the Akomawt Educational Initiative and I’m gonna let you go ahead and introduce yourself, Chris.

Newell: Hi, Lindsey, hi everybody! My name’s Chris Newell and I’m a cofounder – one of three cofounders – of the Akomawt Educational Initiative. We’re located in the southeast corner of Connecticut, based out of Ledyard, Connecticut but we have roots all over Indian Country. I am originally Passamaquoddy from [place name], which is known as the Indian Township Preservation in Maine and live in Mashantucket and work at the Pequot Museum and do a lot of work – a lot of the focus of what we do is working with the Indigenous histories, helping with places that want to teach them in a culturally competent fashion to do so and hopefully create some resources, change some thinking in the future and make sure that when we talk about Indigenous histories that we include the voice of Indigenous people. So that’s the focus of what we do at Akomawt.

And just a little background – Akomawt is a Passamaquoddy word. It comes from my language. It translates in English to the snowshoe path. It’s the symbol of our mission. Essentially, in the winter time, up in my territory, the snow shoe path was how you got out to where you needed to do work. When you needed to get back home, you found it again and traversed back on it. The more you used it, the easier it becomes to use and every season it renews. So that’s what we think about when we think about the educational initiative that we have brought forth here, is creating new learning paths for people to engage with Native content in a way that will be impactful as well as culturally competent, you know, trying to erase some of the old habits of Indigenous history in colonial spaces that have crept up and are still pervasive to this day.

Beckley: That’s great. And I know that we really admire your work. I know that one of the people here at the Historical Bureau saw you at the National Council on Public History and came back and we had a lot of really good conversations from that so, thank you for the work you’re doing and you continue to do and thank you for being here, of course.

Newell: Oh yea, absolutely love being here.

Beckley: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about those old habits you had mentioned. What are some of the habits that you were seeing and still see that you want to address with your initiative?

Newell:  So, when it comes to museums, you know, essentially museums are places that were created by the colonization of America so when it comes to Indigenous histories told in museums, museums are essentially really colonial artifacts. Places of public history are oftentimes colonial artifacts and oftentimes tell the history of Indigenous people through that lens. American anthropology has a long history from the time it was founded of doing things like collecting human body parts, collecting material culture, and portraying a myth of saving the idea of the vanishing Indian, back in the early days of anthropology. Thoughts have changed over time but, you know, that’s kind of the basis of how these spaces were created in the first place and how a lot of these earlier books were created. And, so, there are some things that – some habits that were created back then. A lot of times, the use of generalized terminology – so Native, Native American, American Indian – to kind of put all Native peoples under one umbrella oftentimes appears and it’s not clear enough to a lot of people that there are literally, in existence right now in America, 573 separate, sovereign Native communities recognized by the government and over 1000 Native communities just in general in America – we’re not talking Canada and other places.

So there’s a really complex – there’s a serious complexity when it comes to Indigenous histories and when it comes to Indigenous contemporary issues and things of the sort. And unfortunately, museums generally still give the kind of general impression that we can put everything under the box of American Indian or Native American. If you visit a fine arts museum that has collections of fine art from around the world, literally all the Americans – the art of Americas – are usually places in one small room. So all of these 1000 different communities being represented in one small room. You know, it’s just – it give the general idea that we can put everything in one box and everything fits there when in fact there is no box that can contain the complexity of Native existence as well as our history and our arts and our cultural ways. So those old habits still exit today. We see changes happening when we see places like the MET have gotten rid of their Native American collection and have incorporated their Native American find art into their American wing. That was a big move there from a major museum of kind of rethinking how we present Native art as simply art, rather than cultural artifacts.

Also, the idea at a lot of public historical places, of presenting Native peoples as only existing in the past. That’s another old habit that is kind of pervasive today. I work at a major Native museum, and it’s not uncommon for a 4th grader to come into our museum, have a Native educator in front of them, and the first question they ask is, innocently, “When the Natives were alive …” and that’s how they begin their question. So there is literally a section – a significant portion of the population – that sees us as all dead and gone and vanished. And it’s largely due to the way public history is taught and the way it approaches Native Histories as if we are still having to be saved from being vanished, rather than incorporating the very vibrant ways that we have found ways to exist in the modern times and kept our culture alive and been very dynamic through history. And also, involved with all of American history.

That’s another thing with the story of America is that Native people are often so left out. And yet, the American Revolution was largely aided by Native peoples. All the way from that time – the industrial revolution was largely aided by work efforts in Native communities and things of that sort. And military times – you know, Native people have participated in the military in higher numbers per-capita than any other ethnicity in the United states and as a result, Native cultures were actually used in military structure and strategy to overcome things such as the code talkers from about 33 different tribes during World War II, which was a big part of the success of America in that war. So, in the story of America, Native people are, unfortunately, often let out as if we are a separate part of something else. And those are things that we at Akomawt are looking to address and looking to bring all together, so when we’re talking about the history of this land, we don’t just start at the time of colonization and think of it as only 400 or so years old. But rather, we think about people living on this land back 13,000 years at least, which includes Indigenous history as well and not erase that part of the history of this land here. Because Native people did exist here and thrive and subsist in a sustained fashion well – for millennia prior to any colonization. So, the idea that colonization saved Native people in some form is also something that we look to address as well. You know, so we really want to give Native perspective to a lot of these things. And that includes bringing Native voices and changing the framework by which Native history is taught inside of these colonial artifacts of public history such as museums to present them in a different framework that would expand the thinking outside of that box that we are constantly put inside of.

Beckley: That’s great. I know that we at the Historical Bureau have been  thinking a lot about that and trying to come to terms with what we’ve done in the past and how we can improve ourselves going forward. And I think one of the major, I wouldn’t say blocks, but one of our – something that intimidates us about going forward is that, as public historians, we’ve gone through school. We’ve gone through, you know, some of us up to PhD level and all of it is learning how to use primary sources and how to read primary sources. And when we think of primary sources, we primarily think of written materials, weather that be documents or newspapers – things like that. Obviously, a lot of Native history isn’t written down in the same way European history was. And if it is, it was probably written by a European person. What are some of the sources that you turn to, to look at Native history?

Newell: Ok, so, the sources that I look forward to are really those conversations that I have in Native communities talking to people that have history there through multiple multiple multiple generations. And oftentimes, there are a lot of stories – a lot of oral histories that you can delve into that can really teach you a lot, especially when it comes to Native perspectives. So things like the name of the land, prior to colonization. Prior to the renaming of it. How did Native people name different aspect of land or the land that they live on? What was the lens that they viewed land through? So language is an important tool – so important for the view into the Native perspective. Native languages are so different from the English language. And that’s one of the things that I’ve delved into the most. So that requires from people that are language speakers and people that have that frame of mind of thinking through and Indigenous lens though language. And those are oftentimes elders, but not always, so sometimes you’ve got to spend some time and you’ve got to search out who is the respected person and who has these stories. Have conversations and just kind of let things come out as naturally as they would.

So oral histories for me are a bit part of what drives me because a lot of what they tell is not written down and what writing it down would do is kind of photograph it and freeze it in time because the stories do change over time, but that’s also part of the history. Viewing how to stories do change over time as well. So there is a way to view oral history that you can gain knowledge from that can be factual. But there is a method for viewing oral history that really takes some experience. You really need to be able to talk to a lot of people that have these histories and kind of get a sense of what a broad swath of how they’re viewing things, rather than just talking to one single person, which is the same as looking at one single primary – a piece of paper – a primary source document. It’s really the perspective of one person. So it’s kind of a failure of a primary document is that it does give an accurate photograph of that person’s view at that time. But it’s only that person and we’re not getting the swath of information across a broad perspective of people. So that’s why for me oral histories are one of the ways that I go and also I pay attention to the particular language. And just to give you a window into how different that is – the English language, when it was introduced to this land when the English arrived – has the blueprint of England. The ideas of land improvement – and I’m gonna put quotes around that word improvement – in 17th century English knowledge meant cutting down trees, planning crops, raising cows, chickens, and pigs – which are very different from the 13,000 years of sustainable farming and hunting practices and fishing practices that Native people had done for millennia. And would actually destroy the environment, upset the natural balance of things. And we’re currently still living under that and so that’s not sustainable here. You know, we’re seeing America return to Indigenous ways of knowing. So the Indigenous language has words that – of viewing land as property, and even viewing people as property. In the Algonquin language, at least in my language, land is not considered something that we can possess as an object. In fact, when we pick up a handful of dirt, the way we translate what would be the English equivalent of dirt really translates to “the molecules of our ancestors,” which shows Indigenous knowledge of the cycle of life and the science of all of that. And under that framework, with that translation, we see land as literally life. So if you pick up a handful of what would be in English dirt and you let that to fall out of your hand, that’s literally in our viewpoint, the molecules of your ancestors falling to the earth or literally life falling out of your hand and back to the earth. Therefore, how can you own life – if your framework, you cannot. And the land sustains everybody, not just people, but all animals, all life, is sustained by the land. Therefore, in our viewpoint, it cannot be owned. A lot of Native languages have similar kinds of concepts in them in that land is oftentimes considered in some shape or form alive. Or a version of substance. So elders, oral history, and language especially. Very very important to pay attention to the language of the people that lived on that land for thousands of years and have an intimate knowledge of it and developed a language around the way the land required them to live – to really have a knowledge of that history there. So please be sure you include knowledge of language and language keepers when talking about Native history there because of the importance of the framework.

Beckley: That is incredibly interesting. I have, of course, heard through my traditional education all about “Native people didn’t believe in land ownership,” but I never heard anybody, I don’t think, explain why they didn’t believe that. It’s always kind of a given of “of course they didn’t believe that. We believed that and they were different so that’s why.” Thank you for explaining that. That’s incredibly interesting to me.

Newell: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. Absolutely.

 Beckley: I wanted to ask if you think that our current methods of historiography are adequate for doing Native history. They’re just so based in a Eurocentric worldview and they’re roots are in Europe. So I want to know if you think that we just need to rethink the very foundations of how we’re doing history or is there a way to make our methods fit in with doing Native history?

Newell: Yea, so we really do need some radical thinking amongst historiographers and the way that we retell histories. And sometimes, in historical tellings we really try to achieve objectivity, which has its own merit and is valuable in its own right. However, there is something to be said for the subjective history. So to tell a story from a Native perspective completely is going to have a completely different ring to it than the primary source document history that was likely written by early Americans or people of European ancestry. And so, that’s one of the ways that we can rethink the way that we do these things. And technology is really affording us ways to bring back or to rethink how we do things. Some of these old things – one of the things that would often happen is that a lot of these things that were kept in collections were actually kept in the collection and you had to have special access to get to a collection to get that knowledge. And guess what? Some of that knowledge that was recorded by Europeans and early Americans is actually really factually and very valuable to Native communities who, through colonization, have in some way shape or form maybe have been forced to lose that knowledge. And by keeping it from native communities, you’re actually putting a block in front of them from getting a sense of sovereignty for themselves. Which includes not just self-governance, but also sovereignty in the way they tell their history.

For them to be able to look at those documents and then for them to be able to frame that information through their lens now allows historiographers who are largely translating it from one point of view, to see an opposing point of view, and when it comes to objectivity – that’s how we’re going to get to a more objective route there is by hearing both sides, which sometimes are opposed to one another. Which is totally find because not all things in history are very clear cut and we should discuss and debate. But we should also make sure that we are including all perspectives while we’re doing so and be aware when we’re not. So those are all things to consider for going forward there. And also creating long term relationships with tribal communities. For these colonial spaces of public history telling, that is such an important thing as well because when you bring a Native perspective into your museum, you can – there are ways to re frame the work essentially, decolonizing your museum. I know we use that term a lot these days, “decolonizing,” that’s really a way of re framing things back to an Indigenous perspective. My preferred word, when it’s applicable in actually re-indiginizing. So, what we’re doing is we’re taking a colonial space telling a story from a colonial perspective, and we’re going to take that history and then re-indiginize it because prior to colonization, this is the way the history was told was through an Indigenous lens, just not in a museum. So we’re taking that history and we’re re-indiginizing it through that fashion.

Beckley:  So, for our last question, I think it might be a little bit redundant, but I keep on – I hear you talk about the importance of community engagement and including Native perspectives. Can you just elaborate on why it is so important to do these things and why it’s important for everybody who’s listening to be thinking about some of these questions?

Newell: Absolutely, So, in native communities, there is a lot of knowledge that gets passed down through the generations, and these types of things – that type of knowledge being passed down – doesn’t get a degree passed with it. There’s not a piece of paper that goes with that knowledge and these people become respected knowledge keepers in their communities. And when we approach these communities and we find these knowledge keepers and we’re going to bring them into these academic or public history spaces – the common thing is, if we were to bring in another academic, we would pay them for their service of research or knowledge in helping that institution to accumulate – we should also think of Native knowledge keepers who don’t have a master’s degree of a PhD to be on the same level of knowledge as somebody with a masters or PhD. It’s just that they have that level of knowledge on their own community and therefore, we should compensate them appropriately when we do involve their knowledge. Too often, one of the old habits of old anthropologists was to go into a Native community, extract knowledge, not give any compensation to the people they extracted the knowledge from, and then leave the community, write books, and develop careers based on what they have extracted from that community. And that really needs to change. There really needs to be some collaboration. Some equity. If we go back to the presentation that we did for NCPH, there really needs to be some equity in the collaboration and these colonial spaces really need to recognize Native knowledge keepers on the same level as the PhD’s that they have in their institutions and make sure that we treat their knowledge equally as well as compensate them properly because in this modern day world, unfortunately we cannot live necessarily off the lands we used to, and therefore, the use of money to get food and things – that’s what we all live under these days. Therefore, we should consider these traditional people with that compensation or, possibly maybe doing something for the community if they would choose not to have money because some of these people don’t want money. So when that happens, there should be some sort of give and take going with the community as well to acknowledge what is that, to make sure we’re lifting it up and putting it on the same level as those that would write about it that come from outside the communities.

Beckley: Thank you. I think, Chris, I think we’re running up against our time limit here but I wanted to give you an opportunity to say anything that you wanted to say that I’ve left out – address any concerns that you have, or just promote yourself or your institute.

Newell: So, yes, once again we are the Akomawt Educational Initiative. You can find our website at www.akomawt.org. That’s the Passamaquoddy spelling. I know that the “k” sounds like a “g,” so that Akomawt, but it is a “k” in there. So, you can find out more information about what we’re doing and what we’re up to. We’re also on social media at Akomawt, on twitter at Akomawt as well as on Facebook, and those are the places that you can really see an up-to-date of what we’re up to in real time. And we have some other things that are coming up in the near future so follow our social media and keep an eye on our efforts – one of the things that we’re looking to do in the very near future is provide a database for Native American mascots for people who want to have conversations about that and to see the data about those schools and which ones have changed and all of the information. And in the future, possibly, a Native sourced website on treaties. So, once again, a very subjective history – we’re going to let tribes tell their own view of how treaties were historically signed with the U.S. government or with British government history. So, get a different side of the story as well. So that’s things you can look forward to from Akomawt. We look forward to this work – this is really something we’re all impassioned about, endawnis, Jason and I feel very strongly about this work and thank you so much for having us here to bring our voice to your podcast.

Once again, I want to thank Chris for taking the time to talk with us for this segment. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or Native history in general, we will include a link to a great reading list compiled by Akomawt in our show notes, which you can find by going to blog.history.in.gov and clicking on Talking Hoosier History at the top.

We’ll be back next month with another episode of Talking Hoosier History. In the meantime, follow IHB 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!

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Chris Newell:

Learn more about the Akomawt Educational Initiative at their website: akomawt.org.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, or Native history in general, Akomawt has put together a phenomenal resource list, including websites, books and more. Find it here.

In the episode, Chris mentioned a database for Native American mascots that Akomawt was working on. In the intervening time since we spoke, that database has gone live and is a greats resource to learn about the history surrounding Native American Mascots, the conversations going on about the topic and ways to approach conversations on the topic. You can see that here.

THH Episode 27: Tenskwatawa: The Making of a Prophet

Transcripts of Tenskwatawa: The Making of a Prophet

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

[Flute Music]

Beckley: The bright day darkened as the summer sun disappeared from the sky on June 16, 1806 in present day western Ohio. The people looked up – some in fear or astonishment, but others as though they were expecting it – and they were. For what they were witnessing had been prophesied by their leader.

This is the story of the meteoric rise from obscurity of a vibrant political and religious leader, a story often overshadowed by that of his brother, Tecumseh. This is the story of Tenskwatawa, otherwise known as The Prophet.

In this, the first of a 2 part series, we tell how Tenskwatawa rose from anonymity in Western Ohio to become a prophet for many Indigenous peoples and the leading figure in a Native “revitalization” movement. In the next installment, we’ll explore how Tenskwatawa relocated his followers to the banks of the Tippecanoe River and worked to protect his movement by whatever means necessary, whether that meant forging alliances or employing violence.

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

Before we get to the main story, there are a few things we need to put out there. This might take a while but it’s all really important for us to say – hang in there, we’ll get to the good stuff soon.

First, let’s talk about nomenclature. The most common ways to refer to the Native People of the United States–American Indian and Native American– are both problematic. Both come from outside the community that they try to describe, and both are trying to describe hundreds of different groups with just one phrase, a generalization that Native People themselves would never make. Ideally, to be accurate and respectful, we would always use the term a group uses to describe themselves, such as Shawnee or Miami, but in this case, multiple groups of people came together and intentionally set aside tribal affiliations.

In this episode, I’ll be using Native People or Indigenous People. As Native education specialist Chris Newall of the Passamaquoddy Tribe explained, neither of these terms link Native people to the nation which perpetrated a genocide against them. And one more note on nomenclature, Tenskwatawa’s name at birth was Lalawethika, meaning the Rattle or Noise-maker. He didn’t take the name Tenskwatawa, meaning “Open Door” or “The Prophet” until later in life, as part of his transformation into a religious and political leader. Today, to avoid confusion, I’ll be sticking to Tenskwatawa and the Prophet throughout.

We have been wanting to tell this story for a long time – the Indiana Historical Bureau has wanted to include more Native history in our work for years but, time and again, we’ve struggled with finding accurate language and utilizing Native sources, as well as forging sustained and mutually beneficial relationships with local native communities. We’ve produced problematic native history in the past – especially the mid-20th century – and we want to try our best to avoid making those same mistakes going forward.

But we do want to tell native history – in fact, we must tell native history, because native history is absolutely essential to understanding Indiana history, and to avoid telling it, no matter why, is a disservice to all Hoosiers. We strive to be ethical, respectful, and just in our representations while also understanding that, as non-natives, ours is inherently the perspective of the colonizers. All of this is to say – we know we won’t get it perfectly right, but we feel it’s imperative to try, and we sincerely hope that you’ll learn from this amazingly complex story nonetheless. Because this is a story that teaches us much about the complications and tensions between religion, politics, democracy, and land ownership – and similar tensions can be found throughout history all around the world.  So let’s get to it.

[Flute Music]

Beckley: The story of Tenskwatawa’s rise to power starts before he was born. Just months before his 1775 birth, his father Puckshinwa, a member of the Shawnee tribe, died in the Battle of Point Pleasant. Puckshinwa died fighting for a cause that would eventually become central to his son’s life – the retention of Native land and culture. In 1768, seven years before Tenskwatawa’s birth, the colony of Virginia was looking to expand, and had their eyes on present day Kentucky. The people living on that land – members of the Delaware, Wyandot, Mingo and Shawnee tribes – had no desire to cede their land to the American colonists.

In a continuation of what by this time had become an established pattern, the government of Virginia approached a group willing to make a deal. Thinking of Native Peoples as one cohesive group with shared ambitions is a massive oversimplification. Various tribes had different goals, and even villages and clans within the same tribe could have competing objectives. British, American, and Native factions often used one another against each other.  In this case, it was the Iroquois that the colonial government turned to. While the Iroquois did not live on the land, they claimed ancient conquest rights over it, ostensibly providing a loophole that the colonists would exploit. The Virginia government used this loophole to circumvent the land rights of the Native People living there, allowing them to “buy” Kentucky from the Iroquois for a pittance.

The resulting conflict between American Settlers and the Shawnee and Mingo people living on the land lasted for years. Tenskwatawa’s father was one of many killed in the battles, and the Shawnee of Kentucky were displaced to modern-day Ohio, which is where Tenskwatawa would be born and raised.

The disastrous effects of white encroachment on Tenskwatawa’s family continued even after the death of his father. When Tenskwatawa was a child, his mother, Methoataske, migrated west, leaving both Tenskwatawa, Tecumseh, and their siblings behind. While it’s unclear exactly why she left or why she didn’t take her children with her, it’s highly likely that she was fleeing the continued pressure being put on the Native groups in modern day Ohio by white encroachment.

Tenskwatawa would have heard the stories of his father’s sacrifice in his youth, felt the residual effects of his mother’s migration all of which were the result of incursions of Europeans into Native lands. In 1794, he watched his people fight for their land once again, this time against the American Republic rather than the British Colonies.

The conclusion of the American Revolution led directly to further European conflict with native groups when Britain ceded the Northwest Territory to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. That land had been occupied by a variety of Indigenous groups for millennia.

The Native Peoples had no representation at the proceedings, had not signed the treaty, and did not recognize the authority of Britain to sign over large swaths of their land to the Americans. When the US government began dividing and selling the land to white settlers, many of the Native factions in the area, including parts of the Wyandot, Shawnee, Lenape, Miami, and Wea tribes, formed a confederacy and fought for their homes in the Northwest Indian War. Ultimately, their confederacy was unsuccessful. Under great economic strain and military threat, they signed the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795, ceding much of present day Ohio to the Americans in exchange for just $20,000 worth of goods, or $400,000 in today’s currency.

This “Western Confederacy” of Natives was an attempt to preserve the land of the Wyandot, Shawnee, Lenape, Miami, Wea, and other Native Tribes for the people who already lived there. Following the collapse of the confederacy, a period of accommodationist policy prevailed. Under intense economic pressure, some leaders like Shawnee Chief Black Hoof, agreed to accept US government oversight, adopt European Agricultural methods, and make other concessions. People like Black Hoof saw these policies as an alternative to total cultural genocide. Of course, all of this is a very simplified version of a rich and complicated story. There could be a whole podcast dedicated to the westward expansion of the United States, and the Native resistance of various forms to that expansion, but I just wanted to make sure I laid some general ground work for what comes next.

All of this – Puckshinwa’s death at the Battle of Point Pleasant, Methoataske’s westward migration, the Shawnee involvement in the Western Confederacy, and the accommodationist policies that prevailed afterwards – all of it set the stage for Tenskwatawa’s rise to become one of the most powerful leaders of his time.

In the decades following the end of the Northwest Indian War, there was little to indicate what was to come from Tenskwatawa. By his own account, he drifted, at one point married and had children but couldn’t support them so he drifted some more. He drank too much, was an alcoholic, and became overly cynical. Then, in the fall of 1804, it happened – the prophecy.

The main account of the prophesy comes from an 1808 boon by Richard McNamar called The Kentucky Revival. Academic history’s reliance on written sources means that Native voices are often left out of Native stories. This is problematic.

Yet, in many cases these narratives written by white men are the only print sources we have recounting Native history and so, we can either use what sources we have access to, while acknowledging their limitations, or further the injustice by not telling the story at all. Many times, the sources on Native history that can be found in archives were created by men who actively promoted the destruction of the Native peoples through warfare, or the death of their culture through religious conversion and assimilation. This makes it incredibly important to understand the sources and the biases with which they were written.

In this case, we’re using McNamar’s Kentucky Revival for a few reasons. Written from the first-hand experience of a man of the Shaker faith, this book seems to lack many of the paternalistic, derisive overtones evident in many contemporary documents. This is because the author, as an envoy of the Shakers, was not in the Prophet’s settlement as a missionary bent on conversion, but rather as a delegate who suspected that the Spirit of God was at work there. In other words, he was there to learn about the religious awakening surrounding Tenskwatawa, rather than to try to teach the Native inhabitants about his own religion. For these reasons, we’re drawing on McNamar’s description of Tenskwatawa’s vision. It says that Tenskwatawa…

Voice actor reading from McNamar: “fell into a vision, in which he appeared to be travelling along a road, and came to where it forked – the right hand way he was informed led to happiness and the left to misery. This fork in the road, he was told, represented that stage of life in which people were convinced of sin; and those who took the right hand way quit everything that was wicked and became good. But the left hand road was for such as would go on and be bad, after they were shown the right way…On the left hand way he saw three houses – from the first and second were pathways that led across into the right hand road, but no way leading from the third: this, said he, is eternity. He saw vast crowds going swift along the left hand road, and great multitudes in each of the houses, under different degrees of judgment and misery…He was afterwards…taken along the right hand way, which was all interspersed with flowers of delicious smell and showed a house at the end of it where was everything beautiful, sweet, and pleasant, and still went on learning more and more; but in his first vision he saw nothing but the state of the wicked; from which, the Great Spirit told him to go and warn his people of their danger, and call upon them to put away their sins, and be good. “

Beckley: And with that mandate from the Great Spirit, Tenskwatawa awoke and began immediately preaching and spreading the message that he had received. He turned from all of the sins of his past and became a new man, more than a man – a prophet. And if this drunk, meandering man could reform his ways, he believed, surely all others could follow. And many did. Yet, there were those who balked at the prophecy, and Tenskwatawa at times dealt harshly with dissenters, even going so far as to execute them. The Great Spirit sent yet another vision, again recorded in McNamar’s Kentucky Revival:

Voice actor reading from McNamar: ”Whereupon the Great Spirit told him to separate from these wicked chiefs and their people, and showed him particularly where to come, towards the big fort where the peace was concluded with the Americans: and there make provision to receive and instruct all from the different tribes that were willing to be good.”

Beckley: “The big fort where the peace was concluded with the Americans” could only refer to one place. And so the Prophet and his followers removed themselves from the potentially corrupting influence of dissenting voices to the Fort Greenville area, constructed a town, and began calling other Native Peoples to Greenville to hear the Prophet’s message. But what was that message?

Our best source on what exactly Tenskwatawa was preaching while in Greenville is the transcript of a speech given in 1807 by Le Maigouis, a messenger of the prophet. In the speech, Le Maigouis speaks with the words of Tenskwatawa. After warning his people to limit their contact with Americans Tenskwatawa said:

Voice actor reading from Le Maigouis: “They are not your Fathers…but your Brethren… My Children, The Whites I placed on the other side of the Great Lake, that they might be a separate people – To them I…have given Cattle, Sheep, Swine and poultry for themselves only. You are not to keep any of these Animals, nor to eat their meat – To you I have given the Dear, the Bear, and all wild animals…and the Corn that grows in the fields, for your own use – and you are not to give your Meat or your Corn to the Whites to eat.

My Children, You must not get drunk. It is a great sin…you must not drink one drop of Whiskey. It is the drink of the evil spirit…

My Children, You must kill no more Animals than are necessary to feed and clothe you…”

Beckley: That’s a sampling of the various instructions meant to keep his followers free from the influence of white culture, and today when we learn about the Prophet’s teachings in school, this portion of his message is always present. Historian James Madison’s textbook Hoosiers and the American Story says, “[Tenskwatawa] convinced many Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware to turn from the bad habits of the white man and return to Indian tradition.” And that’s absolutely true. But The Prophet also advocated a departure from some Native traditions as well.

One example of this is his denouncement of the mishaami, or medicine bags:

Voice actor reading from Le Maigouis: “Your wise men have had medicine in their bags – they must throw away their medicine bags and when the medicine is in blossom collect it fresh and pure.”

Beckley: These medicine bags were bundles of herbs that played a part in the religion of the Shawnee, Sac, Fox, Kickapoo, and other tribes. It was believed that they were able to heal the wounded, and they had been a traditional remedy for generations. Yet, Tenskwatawa deemed them of the evil spirit and required his followers to burn them. He also banned specific traditional dances, saying:

Voice actor reading from Le Maigouis: “You are no more to dance the Wabano, nor the Piogan or pipe dance – I did not put you on the earth to dance those dances, but you are to dance naked with your bodies painted and with the Poigamangum in your hands.”

Beckley: What became the main objectives of Tenskwatawa’s movement was also laid out in the message:

Voice actor reading from Le Maigouis: “You are however never to go to War against each other, But to cultivate peace between your different Tribes that they may become one great people.”

Beckley: “That they may become one great people…” What Tenskwatawa was advocating for here was more than a confederacy such as had been seen in the past. He was calling for the total abandonment of tribal affiliations – no longer would there be Shawnee, Potawatomi, Miami, Kickapoo, or Iroquois. Rather, all Native People would become one Pan-Indian nation with Tenskwatawa as their sole leader – both spiritually and politically. Le Maigouis, who carried Tenskwatawa’s message of unity, also carried a warning for those who refused to comply:

Voice actor reading from Le Maigouis: “Those Villages which do not listen to this talk . . . will be cut off from the face of the Earth.”

Beckley: To Tenskwatawa, his political goal of preventing further land loss was inextricably tied to his spiritual goal of uniting all Native People as one. One could not be done without the other. And for his spiritual goal to be achieved, his followers had to have faith in him as their prophet. As the movement spread and Tenskwatawa gained political strength, U.S. territorial leadership began questioning his spiritual powers in an attempt to weaken his influence. In a letter to the followers of Tenskwatawa, Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison wrote,

Voice actor reading from Harrison:  “Who is this pretended prophet who dares to speak in the name of the Great Creator. Demand of him some proofs at least of his being the messenger of the Deity. If God has really employed him he has doubtless authorized him to perform some miracles, that he may be known and received as a prophet. Ask of him to cause the sun to stand still – the moon to alter its course – the rivers to cease to flow – or the dead to rise from their graves. If he does these things, you may then believe that he has been sent from God.”

Beckley: Almost as if in direct response to this taunt, Tenskwatawa sent envoys  to many surrounding Native villages carrying his message, calling followers and skeptics alike to join him at Greenville for a demonstration of the power possessed by the Prophet – For on June 16, 1806, Tenskwatawa would put out the sun.

And this is where we’ll end part 1 of the story of Tenskwatawa. In part 2, we’ll see the teachings of The Prophet begin to spread and demand the attention of U.S. government officials in the area soon after he and his followers relocate to the banks of the Tippecanoe River in present day Indiana. We’ll also examine his relationship with Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison, including the battle of Tippecanoe, and the War of 1812 in order to better understand how Tenskwatawa’s uniquely successful movement began to come apart.

Join us in two weeks for a very special segment of Giving Voice. I’ll be talking with Chris Newall, the Director of Education at the Akomawt Education Initiative. Akomawt is an initiative dedicated to changing the ways in which we teach and learn about Native History, and we were so happy to have the chance to chat.

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. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show, and to Dr. Michella Marino for all of her wonderful help with the script.

The music for today’s episode was written and performed by award-winning flute player Darren Thompson from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Indian Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. You can learn more about Darren’s work to promote American Indian cultural awareness as well as listen and buy his music on his website darrenthompson.net. We’ll put that link in the show notes.

The book The Gods of Prophetstown by Adam Jortner was my main secondary source for this episode. 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. If you enjoy Talking Hoosier History and would like to help spread the word, rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Tenskwatawa: The Making of a Prophet

Music

All music in this episode was produced by award-winning flute player Darren Thompson from the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Indian Reservation in Northern Wisconsin. You can learn more about Darren’s work to promote American Indian cultural awareness as well as listen and buy his music on his website darrenthompson.net.

The tracks heard in this episode are:

“The Creation Song”

“Eagle Whistle Song”

“Night Traveler”

Books

Calloway, Colin, First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.

Calloway, Collin, The Shawnees and the War for America, New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Cayton, Andrew, Frontier Indiana, Bloomington: IU Press, 1998.

Dubar-Ortiz, Roxanne, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.

Edmunds, David, Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership, New York: Pearson Longman, 2008.

Edmunds, David, The Shawnee Prophet, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.

Gugin, Linda and St. Clair. James, Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, pgs 346-348.

Harrison, William Henry, Messages and Letter of William Henry Harrison, 1773-1841, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922.

Jortner, Adam, The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Kinietz, Vernon, and Voegelin, Ermine, Shawnese Traditions C.C. Trowbridge’s Account, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1939.

Madison, James, and Sandweiss, Lee Ann, Hoosiers and the American Sotry, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014

McNemar, Richard, The Kentucky revival, or, A short history of the late extraordinary outpouring of the spirit of God in the western states of America: agreeably to Scripture promises and prophecies concerning the latter day: with a brief account of the entrance and progress of what the world call Shakerism among the subjects of the late revival in Ohio and Kentucky : presented to the true Zion-traveler as a memorial of the wilderness journey, New York: Reprinted by Edward O. Jenkins, 1846.

Michigan Historical Commission, Michigan Historical Collections, Vol 40, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 2006, pages 127-133.

Sugden, John, Tecumseh: A Life, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1997.

Warren, Stephen, The Shawnees and Their Neighbors, 1795-1870, Illinois: University of Illinois, 2005.

Web Sites

Candey, Robert, and Young, Alex. “Total Solar Eclipse of 1806 June 16,” NASA Eclipse Web Site. https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEsearch/SEsearchmap.php?Ecl=18060616 (accessed July 23, 2018).

Academic Journals

Cave, Alfred. “The Shawnee Prophet, Tecumseh, and Tippecanoe: A Case Study of Historical Myth-Making.” Journal of the Early Republic, Vol 22. No. 4 (Winter, 2002). Accessed: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3124761?read-now=1&loggedin=true&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

THH Episode 26: Giving Voice: Rachel Smith

Transcript for Giving Voice: Rachel Smith

Jump to Useful Links

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 Episode 25: 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.

 

THH Episode 24: 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.

 

THH Episode 23: Overcoming Stigma: Ryan White’s AIDS Education Advocacy

Jump to Shownotes

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