By Jennifer Sicking
ISU News Release
TERRE HAUTE —
Two nationally known speakers will close out Indiana State University’s year-long celebration of the 40th anniversary of its African and African American Studies program.
Thavolia Glymph, an associate professor at Duke University and distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, will speak on “Rosa’s War: Enslaved Women in the Battle for Freedom in the Civil War” at 7 p.m. March 5 in the University Hall Theater. Arnold Rampersad, the Sara Hart Kimball Professor in the Humanities at Stanford University, will speak on “The Life and Legacy of Jackie Robinson” at 7:30 p.m. April 26 in Hulman Memorial Student Union, Dede I. Both talks are also part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Community Semester.
Gymph’s books include “Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household.” She also researches enslaved and freed women on the battlefields of the Civil War, focusing on the lives of black women and children in Civil War refugee and labor camps as well as emancipation, Reconstruction and southern women.
“Thavolia Glymph is a nationally renowned historian of the U.S. Civil War, slavery and African-American women,” said Chris Olsen, chair of the Indiana State history department.
Rampersad has written distinguished works on Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Arthur Ashe and Ralph Ellison. Rampersad received unprecedented access to Robinson’s private papers, which allowed the author to bring the readers close to the legendary ballplayer who became a pivotal figure in race and civil rights. Rampersad’s talk is sponsored by the English and history departments, the African and African American Studies Program, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Terre Haute Rex.
“Arnold Rampersad has written widely on African-American culture and history,” Olsen said.
Throughout the 2012-13 school year, Indiana State has celebrated the founding of the African and African American Studies program, which was born of protests during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Special lectures, panel discussions and a concert have paid homage to the program.
Olsen noted that the program’s start was advocated by black and white students and many faculty, staff and administrators. The program is housed in the history department and includes a major and minor for students as well as classes that are part of the university’s Foundational Studies program.
“It’s is one indication of ISU’s historic commitment to African-American students, which stretches back to the late nineteenth century,” he said.
A sit-in, race riot and other efforts led to the establishment of an African-American Studies program in August 1972. Indiana State's interdisciplinary program is one of the first in the Midwest and one of the earliest in the nation.
Alumni such as William Powell, Sam Dixon and Ron Gremore returned to campus to talk about those tumultuous times with students. Alumna Crystal Reynolds, who wrote her dissertation on that time at ISU, also spoke to the students about ISU’s history.
“It’s been a great year with some terrific events, but I’ve been most gratified, I think, for all the alumni who’ve come back to ISU to celebrate the program, which many of them helped to establish,” Olsen said.
About 7:30 a.m. on May 1, 1969, a secretary arriving for work found her office blocked and the sit in well under way with additional students joining those who became known as the "Magnificent Seven." Students walked out of classes and gathered at the building until a crowd of about 500 stood outside what is now known as Gillum Hall. Students also shut down The Grill, the campus eatery.
"I was surprised," Powell, one of the Magnificent Seven, said, recalling that day. "I didn't think they would support us."
The sit-in followed demands presented a year earlier demanding the recognition of black fraternities and sororities as well as establishing black history courses and the hiring of more black professors. While that request saw a national black fraternity on campus, ISU President Alan Rankin also agreed to support petitions for courses in black history.
But on that May day in 1969, the requested demands included a reduction in tuition, the city police not to have jurisdiction on campus, more freedom for professors in academic affairs, unlimited serving in residence hall cafeterias and the creation of a black studies department.
Almost a year after the sit-in, racial strife reached a boiling point on the campus. On April 23, 1970, a bulletin board in Blumberg Hall featuring photographs of national Black Panther leaders, the Chicago Seven and lynchings had been torn up and racist and other remarks were scrawled on two black residents' doors. Black female students staged a sit-in at Blumberg in protest of the desecration. That day rumors grew and expanded among the black and white students causing tensions to rise as they jostled each other at the residence hall.
That night at the Sycamore Towers threats boiled into action. White and black students threw rocks and other objects at each other before the white students briefly retreated. They returned in force with between 400 and 600 white students, according to Crystal Reynolds, who wrote her dissertation on "Leadership Response to the Black Student Protest Movement at Indiana State University." An Indiana State Police report stated that the students wielded weapons that included gas pipes, ball bats, rocks, bricks and tire tools. White students threw rocks and bricks into the lower windows of the Statesman Towers where 75 to 100 black students had congregated in the stairways. Police in riot gear arrived, firing shotguns in the air and teargassed the students to disperse them.
"It was unexpected, astonishing," Dixon said. "It overwhelmed all of us. We just reacted to it. No one expected that much resistance. It was beyond talking then."
But in the aftermath, Dixon said opposing forces joined together "so it wouldn't happen again."
Now with the 40th anniversary of the program, Dixon said he feels deeply humbled.
“I had no vision how this day would come. I want to make sure that we preserve this once-in-a-lifetime event so it doesn't fade away," he said.