THH 32: Giving Voice: Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe

Transcript of Giving Voice: Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe

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

For this installment of Giving Voice, I was lucky enough to speak with Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. If you haven’t listened to THH’s two-part series covering the life of Tenskwatawa, I’d suggest going back to do that now, as I do reference those episodes a few times throughout the discussion and they give some good context for understanding where our conversation picks up.

And now, Giving Voice.

Beckley: I’m here today with Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. I’m so happy that you had time to come on and talk with us today.

Barnes: Thank you very much, Lindsey. I appreciate the invite.

Beckley: Of course. We’re absolutely thrilled to have you on the show. So, I thought we would start off with a super basic question. I know we use the term tribe or tribal nation a lot and I’m not sure that people know exactly what that means, what all that entails, and what being a member of a tribe entails. If you could give us a little bit of insight into that, I would really appreciate it.

Barnes: It’s probably easiest to summarize it in the way the federal government defines it. The constitution of the United States states that there are three types of sovereigns. There is the federal government, there is the states, and there are the tribes. So tribal nations are separate inherent sovereigns within the United States similar in some ways to state governments. So, the constitution dictates that these three entities are sovereigns within each other in our nation. So, for a tribal nation such as the Shawnee Tribe, we are one of those sovereigns and we have been here since prior to the United States, identifying as Shawnee People. We’ve had numerous flags over portions of our area – Spain to the French to Canada to Britain and the Republic of Texas as well as the United States.

Beckley: And to be a part of the Shawnee Tribe or, I guess, any tribal nation, could you give us a little bit of insight into what it means to become a member and what it takes to become a member?

Barnes: If you’re a citizen of Italy, you know you’re a citizen of Italy. You were born, you met the standards of citizenship or Italy. It is much the same with tribal nations. You are a member of that nation. Your ancestors are a part of that community, you have citizenship within that nation. So the government of that tribe recognizes you as a citizen of that indigenous nation of peoples.

Beckley: So, to talk a little bit more about Shawnee history in Indiana, or in present-day Indiana – I think a lot of people think about Potawatomi and Miami maybe, if they think about Native history in Indiana, and they might not know much about the Shawnee connections here. Could you speak to that a little bit?

Barnes: I think you also have to define terms. You’re talking about Indiana. Indiana was much larger than in was at time of statehood. Indiana territory was also Illinois, so Indiana was a very large area. And even before that, Indiana was part of a larger western holding of colonial powers. So, inside what is the current state of Indiana, you have present-day Prophetstown, you have Shawnee villages along the White River. Fort Wayne is also known by other names – Kekionga by the Miami or Chillicothe amongst the Shawnee people. So, the old city of Chillicothe, which is the Shawnee town that was located at Fort Wayne. So, you have Prophetstown where Tenskwatawa the Prophet – he had a town that he lived in, and his brother. During the War of 1812, that was a stronghold for them and they even, prior to the War of 1812, Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa lived along the White River, hatching their plan for pan-Indian resistance to colonialism.

Beckley: Yeah, and if folks have listened to our previous two episodes, they know a little bit more about that, so I’m glad that you touched on that a little bit. I know that you’re still active in the state and that you’re still coming here and doing some work every once in a while. Could you speak to the sort of causes you work for when you come here and how folks can learn more about that?

Barnes: There are federal and state laws that require tribal interactions with the other sovereigns, the federal and the state. And amongst those is a law called NAGPRA – Native American Protection and Repatriation Act. Because Shawnee’s lived in Indiana, and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced eastern tribal nations to be relocated to western states like Oklahoma and elsewhere, those villages and the graves of those villages – there are people still buried there. So, as cities expand, as someone puts in a mini mall, as highways are built, occasionally graves are discovered. So, for the Shawnee and other tribes of historic Indiana, we engage in at the state and federal levels with those entities to make sure we’re doing what is best for those people there, and try to be as respectful to the people and make sure those remains are being treated as respectfully as possible, just like you would do with any other cemetery relocation. So, there are federal laws that mandate this for tribal nations and tribal cemeteries.

There is also an educational component that we work with as well. We have a great relationship with the Indiana University staff in various departments – folklore, anthropology, archaeology et cetera, we work very well with them. There’s an ethno-musicology archive of traditional music there at the campus in Bloomington. You know, we’ve known them for more than a decade. And early anthropologists called – a great many of them came out of Indiana University. A lot of that was because one of the early fathers of industry in Indiana, Eli Lilly, had an obsession with Indian artifacts and he hired teams of anthropologists, cartographers, linguists, et cetera to do research on tribal nations. He sent researchers out and one of the peoples that were rich in culture and language were the Shawnee, so Indiana University has known the Shawnee for a long time. And it’s been a pleasure for my tribe to become acquainted with them in the last ten or fifteen years and renew those relationships, but this time on our terms, rather than just having a bungee jumping anthropologist come into our communities, extract data for their own purposes, with no intention of reciprocity with that community.

Beckley: Yeah, we talked a little about that with Chris Newell. . . . about anthropologists coming into communities and using the knowledge of the people living there, and then creating a basis of work that is created out of the ancestral knowledge of these people. Basically, they’re building a career on the knowledge of others.

Barnes: That’s correct. Like, we can take an example- Eli Lilly hired a linguist, Charles Vogel [Voegelin], and [Voegelin] came into Shawnee communities and collected linguistic data, and the purpose of the linguistic data was not to preserve the language. It was not to make sure this language continued to be spoken in the Shawnee community. It was not to develop curriculum so that children could more easily learn the language of their ancestors as they were facing the pressures of assimilation. His goal was to bring that information back to Indiana, use it to create Masters and PhD’s and prove the richness of the university experience and part of the linguistics of Indiana. And so, untold careers were launched literally off the bones of our ancestors – the voices of our ancestors, with no thought for reciprocity towards the people that were contributing that knowledge. So that richness of these indigenous communities that lifted up these scholars, there was no reciprocity back to our communities to make sure that these cultures could benefit from the research that was going on. There has been a change in academia – largely because of pressure and interest from tribal nations wanting to engage with academics and journals and other academic publishing – to tell a truer story of early America. To make sure that Native voices are included in those narratives, that the context is not lost and that we can re-contextualize those old documents and put Shawnee voices back into them.

Beckley: Absolutely. We talk a little bit about that in our past two episodes. We’re using these colonized documents, but we have to find a way to contextualize them with Native voice and make sure that we’re telling as complete of a story as we can.

Barnes: That’s how it started for me . . . I initially got into tribal government, there was a couple of key issues and one of them was language preservation. So, quickly, when you do the work of language preservation, you come in contact with the archive. So, Indiana, there is this troika of institutions. The triad of institutions that hold the corpus of Shawnee language and one of them happens to be Indiana, and that’s because of Charles [Voegelin] and his time and tenure as a linguist in the employ of Eli Lilly.

Beckley: So, what sorts of things are you doing to promote the language, the Shawnee language? Are you doing curriculum? Is that something that you’re interested in? What kinds of things are you working towards?

Barnes: Curriculum and pedagogy methods. So, the world’s turned, and it’s changed and it’s becoming more digital and while we are able to, like, you and I are talking from a vast distance today, across a couple of computers. In prior generations, it was the telephone, and before that we had to send letters, so the method of teaching needs to adapt to become more like 2020 than 1920. And unfortunately, a lot of language teaching methods are still based in early-20th century teaching methodologies. Well, that doesn’t work in a diaspora community where people are spread across a continent. And so, we have to find new ways to deliver content and to deliver curriculum.

Beckley: I think that being here in a time when we are all separated by a distance and communicating through various methods – Zoom, Google Hangouts, and whatnot, I think that that has really opened our eyes to a few more opportunities as far as teaching methods and stuff like that. I know I’m taking an online baking class this weekend so it’s interesting to see how much people have kind of opened up different avenues for teaching different topics.

Barnes: Yeah, there’s a little irony for me . . . you know, we’re talking about these bungee jumping anthropologists that would jump into our communities and take data, you know, and they were observing our communities. Well, now, we find that the coin is flipped and we’re watching you guys in the glass bubble of academic institutions and seeing how you’re going to handle campuses that are closed. How are you going to be able to deliver curriculum? Universities have been loathe to move to an online learning model – they’re stuck in the Oxford method of teaching people. One person stands in front of a class and teaches forty or fifty people. Well, how are you going to accomplish that now with social distancing? So, it’s interesting and ironic to me. Now we’re watching you, instead of, a century ago, you were watching us.

Beckley: Hopefully we’ll be able to navigate it a little bit better than – I think we’ve pivoted a bit. It took a little bit, but it seems like people are slowly but surely figuring it out. Speaking of COVID-19 and the social distancing, I was wondering if you could speak a little bit to how the pandemic has hit your people and just Native populations in general.

Barnes: I suspect it’s much like other states. We’ve been watching other states and other locals deal with this and I see Kentucky responding differently than Tennessee, or I see this county respond differently than that county or this city compared to this city. So, each one has its own type of leadership. And it’s much the same in Indian country. One county’s more progressive in its measures, you know, they put in more restrictive methods. We have another county that wants to have the economic – has more economic concerns. They may have a tax issue in their city and there’s a real cash need to make sure that things go back to normal as quick as possible, seeing how those things are balanced. So, we’re watching those things.

But, at least with the Shawnee tribe, within our government itself, we find ourselves in an advantageous position that we are equipped financially to ride this out and keep our people employed. We’ve been lucky to secure food, and for Shawnee citizens, we have ShawneeRelief.org, where we’re providing food for the elderly to keep them indoors as much as possible. We try to keep everyone up to date. Language curriculum is now being delivered in an online – it’s forced us to move to an online format sooner than we wanted. We had a project that was in the planning process for 2020, to be deployed in 2021, to deliver online language classrooms to our citizens. Well, we’re finding ourselves having to do that now and we’re not even halfway through the year.

Beckley: It sounds like you guys are, along with all of us, pivoting well. I’m glad to hear that.

Barnes: We’ve been really lucky. We’ve found that some of our best resources have been our tribal citizens. I found a epidemiologist that is a tribal citizen and she lives in Norman [Oklahoma] and works at the University of Oklahoma, and she’s an epidemiologist. So, actually being able to have someone who is able to interpret some of the details that I just don’t understand, I don’t have the education to interpret. . . . And to be able to draft policy at a governmental level, send it to an epidemiologist, and have them give me professional advice on what that should look like and on what areas we can do better, what steps are unnecessary – that is invaluable. So, we are very fortunate that we have the citizens that have the skill sets to be able to contribute to their tribal nation in this difficult time of social distancing.

Beckley: I think that is about all the time we have, but I was hoping you could tell the folks at home how they can learn more about your work, and about the Shawnee Nation and about Shawnee history – is there any online resources for them that you would suggest?

Barnes: Online resources are always dodgy when it comes to indigenous peoples because you always have to question the source – who wrote it, what was the context of it? The three Shawnee Tribes are the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Shawnee Tribe. Each of us have our own corresponding website. Those are the three Shawnee tribes. There has been a body of work that has been written by scholars. The best is a guy named Stephen Warren. Stephen Warren’s written a couple of books on Shawnee people. There’s others that have written on treaties like Collin Calloway, he’s written on Shawnee people. So, I would start with a couple of those books and look at the references at the back of the book – who did they cite, who did they read, who did they research? Because those are two top notch scholars.

Beckley: We’ll put a link to those things in our show notes which are found at blog.history.in.gov. Ben, I want to thank you so much for coming on today. It’s been a real pleasure talking with you.

Barnes: Thank you for the invite. We appreciate it.

Beckley: Once again, I want to thank Chief Barnes for taking the time to talk with me for this episode. As mentioned at the end of that discussion, check out the show notes for useful links for resources to learn about the Shawnee Tribe. We’ll be back on June 10 with a new episode! 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!

How Indiana’s Religious Institutions Kept the Faith During the 1918 Flu Pandemic

Indianapolis woman wearing a mask during the Spanish Flu epidemic, November 27, 1918, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

For many Hoosiers across the state, this week marks the sixth week that they’ve been asked to stay at home to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. In addition to the many schools, businesses, libraries, and other enterprises that have been impacted, so too have Indiana’s religious institutions. During this stretch, Christians could not come together as parishioners to celebrate Holy Week as they have for centuries past. Jews had to find alternative ways to observe Passover. And last week, with the start of Ramadan, Muslims could not gather in mosques or with family to mark the month of spiritual rejuvenation as they traditionally would.

Beyond adjusting to holiday commemorations is the general desire among worshipers to practice their religion and attend daily or weekly services together as normal. Most religious leaders across the state have made the difficult, but necessary decision to help comply with social distancing orders in an effort to do their part and protect their followers and other Hoosiers.

Muncie Evening Press, October 7, 1918, p. 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

Historical records show us that this is not the first time Indiana’s religious institutions have faced such circumstances. When the Spanish Influenza pandemic hit Indiana in the fall of 1918, U.S. public health service officials mandated a statewide quarantine here and in most other states. The order, put in place by October 6th, called for the immediate closure of “all schools, churches, theaters, amusements of all kinds, and to put a ban on all public meetings and gatherings.”[1] In a previous Indiana History Blog post, IHB historian Nicole Poletika examined how Hoosiers coped with the quarantine in a number of ways. Here, we take a more in-depth look at how the order directly impacted Indiana’s religious institutions and believers in late 1918.

As we’ve seen today, Hoosiers have not let the stay-at-home order prevent them from finding creative ways to come together, celebrate, and in some cases mourn. While technological advancements might afford us more opportunities to “see” one another and connect virtually now, religious leaders in 1918 also found many ways to help keep the faith among their followers as the number of influenza cases grew.

South Bend Tribune, October 12, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

Many used the local press to stay connected with members, give each other hope, and encourage the continued practice of their religion. Through the newspapers, they shared scripture readings, offered Bible school lessons, and encouraged their followers and anyone else interested to worship as individuals or together as a family. In mid-October 1918, A.F. Mitchell, chairman of the press committee of the Ministerial Association, issued the following statement to city church members in Richmond, which was published by the Palladium Item on October 12, 1918: [2]

On account of the ban laid upon congregational assemblies there will be no public services of the churches until after October 20. During this period of time there should be no cessation in Bible study or worship. The home is still fundamental and the basis of all good government. . . Let the home then be true to its highest privilege and around the family altar keep the home fires burning adding even a brighter glow while the churches are closed.

Rev. G.P. Fisher published a similar statement in the Culver Citizen a few days later, urging all families to continue to pray at the stated hours of services.[3] When the statewide ban was extended to the end of October, First Presbyterian Church in Rushville implored members to “make [Sunday] a day of prayer and meditation in their homes” and the pastor offered an outline of readings to unite the congregation despite their physical isolation.[4]

Muncie Evening Press, October 19, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

Some newspapers went a step farther and dedicated larger portions of their publications to celebrating Sunday morning services. In a series the Indianapolis Star named “Worship with the Star,” the paper featured a full page that included opening and closing hymns, a scripture lesson, and sermons.[5] The Muncie Press responded similarly in their October 19, 1918 issue, presenting sermons from the pastors of First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church, and High Street M.E. Church.[6]

Indianapolis Star, October 13, 1918, p. 30, accessed Newspapers.com.

Religious leaders sought other ways to maintain contact with their members and keep services going during the influenza pandemic. Today, during the present COVID-19 crisis, we’ve seen a trend among a number of churches across the country to offer “drive-in” services. Some worshipers have also celebrated services on their front lawns in an effort to comply with social distancing regulations. In 1918, some church leaders actively proposed and, in some cases held, open air services, believing that “brief religious services in well ventilated churches” could be held “without in any serious sense compromising the health of the community.”[7]

Local health boards across the state discouraged this practice. On October 13, 1918, a policeman had to be dispatched to the Adelbert Polish Catholic Church in South Bend when the pastor of the church offered one such service.[8] Similarly, in Evansville, the local health officer denied granting permission to the Assumption Church to hold open air services at Bosse Field in mid-October, stating that “even a gathering in the open air might prove dangerous.”[9] As conditions seemed to improve in early November and the ban was lifted, many churches held open air services with the approval of their local boards of health.[10]

Fort Wayne Journal, November 13, 1918, p. 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

Rev. F.E. Smith of Jackson Street Christian Church in Muncie came up with one of the more creative ways of safely “getting around the flu order.” Working with the Central Union Telephone Company, Rev. Smith arranged to hold services by having members of the church call in and listen by phone, our modern equivalent to following services online or watching them broadcast on television.[11]

Muncie Evening Press, October 12, 1918, p. 8, accessed Newspapers.com.

As the flu pandemic went on, worshipers and religious leaders alike wondered what the lasting impact might be once buildings began to reopen and gatherings were again permitted. A cartoon in the Fort Wayne Sentinel offered one view, with different families seated apart from one another in church and everyone required to wear masks upon entry to help contain the spread of germs.[12]

Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 16, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

As new outbreaks of the flu occurred in late November and December, health authorities across the state strongly urged all people attending churches or theaters, or visiting stores to wear regulation masks.[13] Some churches curtailed services, while others closed again for a few weeks under new bans. In December, board of health officials in some areas ordered churches to keep their services to one hour in length and “instructed [pastors] to devote fifteen minutes of that hour to the subject of ventilation in the homes and business houses as a preventative of influenza.”[14]

Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 6, 1918, p. 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Like businesses across the state, religious institutions also had to deal with the financial strains imposed by the pandemic. Several weeks of missed weekly offerings left heavy burdens on some churches. Many religious leaders looked for ways to continue collections as their buildings remained closed, with some publicizing specific hours whereby members could safely drop off their offerings.[15]

Temple Beth-El, South Bend, Indiana. Photo courtesy of Temple Beth-El.

Pastors and rabbis also sought ways to help those more directly afflicted by influenza. In mid-October 1918, Rabbi Julius A. Leibert of Temple Beth-El in South Bend offered the city the “use of the temple as an improvised concentration hospital where cases of influenza could be taken.”[16] Local board of health members discussed the plan with other leading health experts and declined the offer, fearing that concentrating larger numbers of people at the temple at that time would increase the mortality rate. Other actions were taken elsewhere in the state as the pandemic continued. For example, as the number of influenza cases grew in Tipton County in December, leaders at Elwood’s First Christian Church converted the building into a temporary hospital to help offer aid to those afflicted.[17]

First Christian Church, Elwood, Indiana, ca. 1908. Photo courtesy of Indiana Memory.

Though pressure to end the state’s COVID-19 quarantine has increased in the last few weeks, it remains unclear when businesses, cultural institutions, and religious buildings will reopen and what guidelines will be enacted when they do. The 1918 influenza pandemic offers us examples of how religious leaders and worshipers handled closures and bans on gatherings in the past and how they continued to safely practice their faith and serve the community in the midst of a crisis.

Notes:

*All newspaper articles were accessed via Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] “Closing of All Public Places is State Order,” Muncie Evening Press, October 7, 1918, 1, 8.; “No Public Assemblages,” Princeton Daily Clarion, October 7, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] “Keep Church Work Going, City Urged,” Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN), October 12, 1918, 5.

[3] “Preacher to People,” Culver Citizen, October 16, 1918, 4.

[4] “With the Churches,” Daily Republican, October 26, 1918, 3.

[5] “Worship with the Star,” Indianapolis Star, October 12, 1918, 1.; “The Star’s Sunday Morning Services,” Indianapolis Star, October 13, 1918, 30.

[6] “Go to Church Sunday with the Muncie Press,” Muncie Evening Press, October 19, 1918, 2.

[7] “Urges Open Air Church Service,” South Bend News-Times, October 13, 1918, 3.

[8] “Polish Priest Holds Open Air Service in Defiance of Health Order,” South Bend News-Times, October 14, 1918, 3.

[9] “The Influenza is Decreasing Reports Show,” Evansville Press, October 17, 1918, 6.

[10] “Hold Services in Open Air,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, November 9, 1918, 1.; [Untitled], Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, November 10, 1918, 2.; “Celebrated Masses in Open-Air Sunday,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, November 13, 1918, 6.

[11] “Church Services by Phone to Get Around ‘Flu’ Order,” Muncie Star Press, October 12, 1918.; “And Don’t Forget to Put Baby to Sleep,” Muncie Evening Press, October 12, 1918, 8.

[12] “Church Services Might be Resumed Under Conditions Represented Below,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 16, 1918.

[13] “The Need of Precaution,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, November 20, 1918, 7.; “Flu Mask Order Stands; Option is Permissible,” Indianapolis Star, November 24, 1918, 1.; “Must Wear Flu Masks,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, December 3, 1918, 1.; “Epidemic Fought by Wearing Masks,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, December 6, 1918, 1.

[14] “Ban is Lifted as to Churches,” Columbus Republic, December 17, 1918, 4.; “Health Board Rapped for Closing Churches During the Epidemic of Flu,” Columbus Republic, December 25, 1918, 3.

[15] “Pastors Need Support While Flu Ban is On,” Indianapolis Star, October 25, 1918, 9.; “Church Needs,” Indianapolis News, October 26, 1918, 6.

[16] “Board of Health Rejects Temple Beth-El Offer,” South Bend News-Times, October 20, 1918, 2.

[17] “Condition Serious at Elwood,” Tipton Daily Tribune, December 13, 1918, 1.; First Christian Church, Elwood, Indiana, photograph, ca. 1908, accessed Indiana Memory.

HoosierKind: Drawing and Piecing Together Community

Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography on Foter.com / CC BY

As you’re likely in your second or third week of social isolation, you’ve probably done everything you can think of to occupy yourself. You’ve exercised at home, binged all your favorite shows, cleaned and dusted, and reread your favorite books. What else is there to do?

Puzzles!—a longtime mainstay of home-bodied folks. Whether it’s crosswords or word searches, tabletop jigsaw puzzles or drawing games, puzzles can be a welcome pastime. These three stories from Hoosier State Chronicles, our freely-accessible digital repository of nearly a million pages of historic newspapers, will challenge your mind and warm your heart. The first item comes to us from nearly 100 years ago, in the August 28, 1920 issue of the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. This puzzle, known as “Pencil Twister,” was printed in the Junior Palladium section of the paper, a four-page insert published on Saturdays.

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, August 28, 1920, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Do you think you can complete the picture? (You can view the answer here.) You would copy the object shown onto a blank piece of paper and then turn it 90-degrees counterclockwise.From there, you would attempt to complete the drawing based on a clue, which for this puzzle is “Can you change Santa into an Apricot Sundae?” I hope that you got it! This drawing puzzle is a bit different than most of your average brain games.

Next up is an inspiring story from the October 29, 1983 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder. It centers on the life of Bertie Miller, a retired nurse’s aide and secretary who devoted her golden years to jigsaw puzzles—using only one hand to complete them. Years before, Miller lost her right hand to an amputation following a stroke, but that didn’t stop her. Her passion for puzzles started around that time, when her friend asked her to help finish one. “By having use of only one hand,” Miller shared, “I didn’t think I would be much help—I looked past my handicap and helped her.” After that, she was hooked. Over the next seven years, she completed roughly 200 jigsaw puzzles, many of which she had framed for display in her room at the Central Healthcare Center where she lived. She even won a blue-ribbon award at the Indianapolis Black Expo for one of her puzzles.

Alongside her jigsaw joys, Miller kept herself busy with distributing mail to her fellow residents at the Central Healthcare Center, playing bingo, chatting with other residents who were room bound, and attending church. She was also a grandmother to seven and great grandmother to another seven, all of whom she would regularly visit with. The Recorder called her a “truly remarkable and independent lady.”

Indianapolis Recorder, October 19, 1983, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mary Jane Allen, activity director for the center, remarked on Miller’s love for puzzle craft. “Among Mrs. Miller’s favorite puzzles to work have been The Lord’s Supper, the Changing of the Guards, animals, flowers, antique cars and a large puzzle of kinds of jellybean candies.” Allen also reflected on how this hobby improved Miller’s life for the better. “She has rehabilitated herself with this hobby and is learning to use her good hand,” Allen said. Miller loved sharing her hobby with others; her completed puzzles adorned the walls of the center and were given to fellow residents as gifts. Bertie Miller “hasn’t let her handicap prevent her from living and [bringing] happiness to others,” the Recorder noted. During your time at home, dust off your puzzles and finish one in Bertie’s honor.

Our final story comes from a May 4, 2001 article in the Indianapolis Recorder that also reports on jigsaw puzzles but focuses this time on their educational value. W. Bruce Adams, an entrepreneur who worked as a salesman for iconic game company Parker Brothers, started his own venture creating African American history themed jigsaw puzzles. “I couldn’t believe that 10 years after I left Parker Brothers there were still no puzzles with African-American themed images on them,” he said. This inspired Adams to develop his own line of African American themed puzzles. “I looked all over and couldn’t find any,” he remembered. “I said ‘this is a perfect opportunity for me to start a business, doing something no one else is doing.’”

Indianapolis Recorder, May 4, 2001, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Adams’s passion for culturally-relevant products may have started when he worked as an intern for the trailblazing congresswoman and presidential candidate, Shirley Chisholm. Realizing law wasn’t for him during his work with Chisholm, Adams found his calling in sales and worked for Parker Brothers, as well as Gabriel Toys and Bristol-Myers. It was at Parker Brothers that he first discovered there were no African American themed games, so he started developing prototypes in his spare time that he sold at flea markets, yard sales, and trade fairs.

Portraits of African American Inventors, W. B. Adams Puzzles & Games, Amazon.com.

Adams began his own game company around 1998, with his first two puzzles centered around African American history. The first, “Portrait of African American History,” highlighted important figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The puzzle “The Dream, Martin Luther King, Jr.” focused exclusively on the civil rights leader and orator. Later, he created puzzles focusing on Kwanzaa and Kenyan culture. Adams developed these puzzles and others with African American artists, such as Brenda Joysmith, Synthia St. James, Charles Bibbs, and Paul Goodnight. His roster grew to 20 puzzles by 2001.

“Developing a Winner,” W. B. Adams Puzzles & Games, Art by Brenda Joysmith, Amazon.com.

Customers at flea markets and trade shows were thrilled with Adams’s puzzles, citing their educational value. Adams recalled:

When I was doing flea markets, African American parents would always come up to me and ask, ‘Do you have any African-American educational puzzles?’ Puzzles are very educational because they teach eye hand coordination skills, they help your memory, and I noticed that a lot of African Americans bought puzzles.

His success with the company led to retailers like Walmart and Toys “R” Us carrying his products, which sometimes sold out too quickly for his small sales staff to keep up with. In an effort to meet demand, the company used telemarketing and the internet to get the word out about his puzzles.

Kwanzaa Family Celebration 300 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle, W. B. Adams Puzzles & Games, Amazon.com.

Alongside puzzles, Adams developed educational CD-ROM games with Lady Sala Shabazz, a nationally-syndicated radio host and independent children’s book author. He also developed puzzles with food entrepreneur and television personality Wally “Famous” Amos. Adams’s dedication to fun games with a message should encourage you to take advantage of the time you have at home, to perhaps finish a puzzle with a historical or educational theme. If you have kids, bring them in on the fun!

We hope these stories of puzzles, games, and community have helped uplift you. It’s through all of our actions that we can extend our sense of Hoosier kindness to ourselves and others. Now, get to puzzling!