Fellowships announced to study anti-Black racism in Indiana

Indiana Humanities has awarded fellowships of $5,000 for four humanities-based research projects that examine anti-Black racial injustice and structural racism in Indiana.

Indiana Humanities has awarded fellowships of $5,000 for four humanities-based research projects that examine anti-Black racial injustice and structural racism in Indiana. The Wilma Gibbs Moore Fellowship program strives to provoke and inform meaningful discussions about race and racism in Indiana and about how Black Hoosiers have responded.

Fellowship-supported research will examine the history of Black Indianapolis neighborhoods, the built environment of Black communities, environmental injustice and the role of Black doulas. Independent scholars, professors and a Ph.D. student will conduct the research.

The four research projects and the selected fellows are:

  • Reviving a Forgotten Freetown: Preserving the Legacy of the U.S. Colored Troops in Southeast Indianapolis | Fellow: Kaila Austin
  • Black Poetics of Place | Fellow: Danicia Monét Malone
  • An Unequal Burden | Fellow: Britt Redd
  • Obstetric Racism in Indiana: How Hoosier Doulas Resist Anti-Black Racism in Birth | Fellows: Julie Johnson Searcy and Angela Castañeda

“We created the Wilma Gibbs Moore Fellowship program in 2020 as a way to explore race-related issues in Indiana,” said Keira Amstutz, Indiana Humanities president and CEO. “We were thrilled with our inaugural class of fellows and how their humanities research promoted greater understanding around the complexities of race. We’re glad to offer the fellowship again and are looking forward to continuing the conversation around this vital topic.”

The Wilma Gibbs Moore Fellowships are named for a former Indiana Historical Society archivist and librarian who served as one of Indiana’s preeminent scholars of African American history. An advisory panel of esteemed humanities scholars reviewed the proposals and made the final selections.

“The reviewers were especially excited about this year’s fellowship topics,” said advisory panel member Dr. Terri Jett, a Butler University political science professor and faculty director of the Butler University Hub for Black Affairs and Community Engagement (who also serves as an Indiana Humanities board member). “We’re honored to support projects that explore unique Black experiences and that elevate diverse voices within the Black community.”

Project Details

Reviving a Forgotten Freetown: Preserving the Legacy of the U.S. Colored Troops in Southeast Indianapolis

Kaila Austin, an independent scholar, will conduct an oral history and archive project with the descendants of U.S. Colored Troops in two small African American communities, Norwood and Lovetown, which began as Reconstruction-era settlements outside Indianapolis in 1872. The founders were veterans from Kentucky, drawn to the area due to its proximity to Camp Fremont, home of the 28th Infantry, Indiana’s only U.S. Colored Troops regiment. Norwood and its partner community Lovetown were affluent, independent Freetowns until they were annexed into Indianapolis in 1912. Today more than 15 descendant families still live on the lots their ancestors purchased over a century and a half ago. Because of their stability, each family has home-based archives dating back to Emancipation, tracking nearly every person and story in their extensive history. This grant will allow for Austin and a team of scholars to discover more about how this resilient community has retained its history, culture and spirit, often in the face of unrelenting injustice.

Kaila Austin is an Indianapolis-based public historian, writer and artist who runs a consulting firm that helps historical African American communities mobilize their histories to save their ancestral spaces. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Association of African American Museums recently appointed her to a working group that will collaborate with museum-industry experts to address key challenges of the African American–focused museum field. Austin has served as a Burroughs-Wright Emerging Professional Fellow for the Association of African American Museums and as a fellow in the Indiana Arts Commission’s On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator. She holds a degree in art history, painting and African American and African Diaspora studies from Indiana University.

Black Poetics of Place

Danicia Monét Malone, a doctoral student in geography and urban studies at Temple University, will examine public and private built environments to learn about the historical ways that Blacks have built, maintained and passed down their methods of Black living. Looking at architectural design to analyze vernaculars of space, Malone’s work will establish patterns of urbanization and cultural accoutrement within historically Black Indianapolis communities such as Norwood, Sunnyside and Haughville and will highlight innovative diasporic identities of Black homesteading otherwise lost or overlooked by a White spatial imaginary. Through her research, Malone will unearth a rich body of architectural infrastructure created by Black architects and designers throughout Indiana, adding to the cultural canon of historical design.

Danicia Monét Malone holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management and sustainability from Indiana University. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in geography and urban studies from Temple University. Malone serves as programs manager and researcher at the Purdue University Black Cultural Center, where she curates enrichment programs and researches the correlation of race and place. She cofounded BlackSpace Indianapolis and has served as a fellow at Americans for the Arts, Transportation for America, Next City and other organizations.

An Unequal Burden

Indianapolis’s long history of housing discrimination has contributed to some neighborhoods having significantly higher pollution burdens than others. City planner Britt Redd will conduct an environmental justice project to capture the lived experiences of the people in those neighborhoods. The project aims to deepen the understanding of pollution burden in Indianapolis by combining existing data with oral-history interviews and archival research.

Britt Redd is an Indianapolis city planner whose work centers on giving neighbors greater power over the places they live and the decisions that affect them. Redd has collaborated with neighbors and community advocates on regional and neighborhood plans, the design of public spaces, green-corridor revitalization and economic-development strategies. Redd holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning and a certificate in social and environmental justice from Ball State University. 

Obstetric Racism in Indiana: How Hoosier Doulas Resist Anti-Black Racism in Birth

Professors of anthropology Julie Johnson Searcy and Angela Castañeda will utilize oral histories to gather the experiences of Black Hoosier doulas as they serve families across the state. Doulas are birth workers who offer informational, emotional and embodied support to people giving birth; they move between homes and hospitals as they extend prenatal education, support during labor and postpartum care. Research on Black birth workers notes that doulas often see themselves as mediators between women and the obstetric racism they may face in hospitals. There is power in shared stories about supporting birth, for these stories can reveal the strategies for navigating racial injustice at a crucial moment for families. By gathering the stories of Black doulas who have their own private practice and doulas who work for collectives such as the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, this project will offer a unique lens into examples of structural racism that women experience during birth, and it will document the ways that Black families and Black doulas navigate, uplift and support women through their work.

Julie Johnson Searcy is an assistant professor of anthropology at Butler University. She holds a doctorate in communication and culture and in anthropology from Indiana University. She has researched and published extensively on topics such as the anthropology of reproduction, medical anthropology, feminist anthropology, gender, labor and race. She received the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation for her work on birth and HIV in South Africa and the Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies, along with Butler University’s Future Faculty Teaching Fellowship and the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship. She is also a practicing community doula. 

Angela Castañeda is professor and Lester Martin Jones Professor of Anthropology at DePauw University. She holds both a master’s degree and a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Indiana University. Her research in Brazil, Mexico and the United States explores questions on religion, ritual, expressive culture and the anthropology of reproduction. She has published on the performance of Afro-Caribbean identity, the commercialization of Brazilian religious traditions and mothering in a neoliberal world. Castañeda is a practicing birth and postpartum doula with El Centro Comunal Latino, where she also volunteers as a Spanish childbirth educator.