Indiana Humanities Awards New Round of Wilma Gibbs Moore Fellowships

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

Indiana Humanities has awarded fellowships of $5,000 for six 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 legacy of environmental racism in Indianapolis, the history of Hamilton County’s Roberts Settlement, segregated student teaching at Indiana University and other topics.  Professors, professional historians, an independent scholar and a Ph.D. student will conduct the research. 

The six research projects and the selected fellows are: 

“We recognize the responsibility we have to support Hoosiers’ exploration of race-related issues in Indiana,” said Keira Amstutz, Indiana Humanities president and CEO. “Since 2020, 12 fellows have been able to dive deeper into issues like redlining, political activism and environmental justice. We’re grateful to have the ability to continue the conversation and achieve a better understanding around the complexities of race.” 

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. 

“Determining the next cohort of fellows was rather difficult given the quality and creativity of the applications,” said advisory panel member Joseph Tucker Edmonds, an associate professor of religious studies and Africana studies at Indiana University’s School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI. “The number of thought-provoking proposals that we reviewed was so great that we expanded our cohort to six recipients instead of four. As a former fellow, I am acutely aware of how much these grants will mean to the recipients and their communities, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the process.” 

As part of the fellowship, the scholars are required to present their research to the public via presentations, tours, historical markers or other formats. For details about future fellowship deadlines and progress on these projects, visit the Wilma Gibbs Moore Fellowships web page.

Project Details

What Lies Beneath: The Monon Trail, the Indianapolis Sewage System, and the Politics of Race.  

In the early 2000s the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a suit on behalf of the city’s black residents in federal district court charging that the city was violating the civil rights of Black residents under the provisions of the Clean Water Act of 1972. The DOJ and the Black residents argued that the City of Indianapolis committed environmental racism in the operation and maintenance of its sewage system by intentionally pumping untreated sewage from affluent White neighborhoods into the waterways of Black neighborhoods, thereby making the existing sewage overflows situation far worse. In 2006 the city entered a binding federal court consent decree under which it agreed to make massive improvements and upgrades to its aging sewer system. Leon Bates, a Ph.D. student at the University of Louisville, will conduct research to understand, in light of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the factors that led the city of Indianapolis to operate its sewage system in such a discriminatory fashion.  

Leon Bates is a doctoral student in the Department of Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville. He holds master’s degrees in public history from Wayne State University and in Pan African Studies from the University of Louisville. In 2022 he received the Walter K. Nugent Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the Indiana Association of Historians, and in 2021 the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts Alumni Association at IUPUI honored him with its Career Achievement Award. Bates has written several entries for the Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis and an article for American Legion Magazine. His research has led to the installation of three Indiana state historical markers. He has presented at numerous conferences, including the Indiana Association of Historians Conference, the Midwestern History Conference, the Borderland Stories Conference and the National Council for Black Studies Conference.  

Roberts Settlement, a Pioneer Story: Through the Lens of the Children  

Roberts Settlement was among nearly 60 rural spaces settled by free Blacks throughout Indiana during the 1800s. It was founded in 1835 in Jackson Township, Hamilton County, by Elijah Roberts, Hansel Roberts and Micajah Walden, who migrated from North Carolina and Virginia, purchased land from the federal government and established a farming community. Roberts Settlement expanded from an initial 900 acres to more than 2,000 acres. As Roberts Settlement grew, so did the families that lived, worked and prayed there. African American historian Susan Hall Dotson will explore Roberts Settlement through the lens of the children who were born and raised there. The children will become the “storytellers,” sharing what it was like to live in Roberts Settlement in the 19th and 20th centuries.  

Susan Hall Dotson has more than 25 years of museum and research library experience. She currently serves as the African American collections curator at the Indiana Historical Society and adjunct professor of African American studies at Ball State University. Previously she was curator and director of community relations at the Western Reserve Historical Society and senior coordinator of community programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Hall Dotson received her master’s degree in history from Cleveland State University, focusing on African, African American and American pop culture history. She is president of Indianapolis’s Joseph Taylor branch of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, is an inaugural community scholar in the Africana Studies Program at the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, and serves on several boards and committees, including Indiana Landmarks’ Black Heritage Preservation Program Advisory Council and IUPUI’s Library Information Systems Advisory Board.  

On Etheridge Knight: Letters, Interviews, Essays and Review  

Independent scholar Norm Minnick will examine more closely the life and work of poet Etheridge Knight, a leading literary figure in the Black Arts Movement. Knight struggled with personal and systematic racism his entire life, from an eight-year-long sentence at the Indiana State Prison for robbery, to limited access to publication and teaching opportunities in a predominantly white literary establishment. The causes and effects of racial injustice and structural racism in Indiana has been well documented in Knight’s poems in The Essential Etheridge Knight and The Lost Etheridge: Uncollected Poems. Minnick will contribute a more in-depth and personal consideration of these issues and their impact on Knight’s work by gathering and publishing additional Knight-related materials (e.g., letters, interviews, essays and reviews) housed at archives, libraries and the personal collection of Knight’s literary executor and partner, Elizabeth Gordon McKim.   

Norm Minnick has served in faculty positions at IUPUI, Butler University, the University of Indianapolis, Marian University, Ivy Tech Community College and other central Indiana educational institutions. He holds a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Florida International University. He is the author of three collections of poetry. His poems and essays have appeared in dozens of publications such as The Christian Science Monitor, The Georgia Review, The Sun, World Literature Today, The Writer’s Chronicle, Oxford American, and New World Writing. He has edited several books, including The Lost Etheridge: Uncollected Poems of Etheridge Knight (2022) and On Etheridge Knight: Essays and Interviews (forthcoming in 2023).    

Indiana University Bloomington’s Segregated Student Teaching  

In November 1934, administrators at Indiana University (IU) decided to stop allowing Black undergraduate students to complete their student teaching requirements at the Banneker School in Bloomington. Instead, to keep schools in Bloomington (and central Indiana) segregated, Black students were required to travel at their own expense to train at Crispus Attucks High School, the all-Black high school in Indianapolis. Jo Otremba, a graduate student and archives assistant at IU Bloomington, has identified seven Black IU students who traveled to Crispus Attucks for their student teaching. With this fellowship, Otremba will conduct further research, examining the experiences of these seven students (and potentially others) at Crispus Attucks. Otremba will use this research to explore more broadly the history of segregated schools in Indiana, especially during the 1930s and 1940s, and how segregation impacted K-12 education for Indiana’s Black community. They will also use this as a case study for how archivists and historians should search for and utilize Black stories in archives and repositories at predominantly White institutions and how these organizations can restructure records to make them more accessible.   

Jo Otremba is a graduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, working toward a master’s degree in library science with a specialization in archives and records management. They serve as an arts and humanities library assistant and an archives assistant at the university and have provided instruction as a subject-matter expert for several courses. They have delivered presentations at a variety of conferences, including the Midwest Archives Conference (MAC), and received the MAC’s Mark A. Green Award for First-Time Meeting Attendees. Prior to coming to Indiana, Otremba received a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Virginia.  

black m|othering  

elle roberts is an Indianapolis-based scholar exploring Black reproductive freedom and future making in Indiana. The roots of black m|othering takes after SisterSong’s reproductive justice: “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” roberts will bring together research analysis, artistic storytelling and public education to document and honor community-led efforts to protect and uplift and expand Black reproductive care in Indiana across time, space and access.  

elle roberts is an Indianapolis-based writer, artist and facilitator exploring the connections and collisions between the political, personal and poetic. She shares her essays, music and political education workshops in community spaces throughout and beyond central Indiana. roberts is the founding organizer of shehive, a grassroots gender equity project operating in Indianapolis from 2015 to 2017, and curating facilitator of hateration, a public teach-in series challenging a hate framework through the 2018 legislative session in Indiana. She holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership from Purdue University. In case of wonder, she spells her name all lowercase after bell hooks. When roberts isn’t writing, listening for a good story or working a desk job to make rent, she’s somewhere dancing.   

Notes from Natatorial Naptown: A Counter Story to Anti-Black Violence in Indianapolis Aquatics  

Teigha Mae VanHester, an assistant professor at Butler University, will use radical feminist archival research (RFAR) and historiography to trace the legacy of systemic, anti-Black, “Jim Crow-adjacent” legislation and urban planning that has limited Black Hoosiers’ relationship with water. Indianapolis has historically weaponized leisure spaces and centers based on race, socioeconomic status and ability, to the detriment of its marginalized citizens. Aquatic-based leisure and literacies are essential for survival, healing and sovereignty. Through this work, VanHester will amplify the resilient legacy of Black Hoosier radical imagination that will engage with community-based intellectuals, places and spaces where Black aquatic access, leisure and literacies are being achieved through the use of emergent strategies. Community initiatives, activists and organizations are central to this work, and thus VanHester will spend extensive time documenting the unapologetic resistance efforts in Indy’s aquatic-leisure spaces [i.e., Indianapolis’s Belmont Beach; Indy Parks and Recreation’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives; and the Central Indiana Community Foundation’s Summer Youth Program]. The project strives to cultivate an understanding of the transformative power of pleasure, rest, survival and resistance through aquatic-based leisure and literacy.  

Teigha Mae VanHester is a fierce intellectual;, pleasure activist; joyful griot; SoCal native; proud Black, Polynesian femme; and assistant professor of race, gender and sexuality studies at Butler University. They hold a Ph.D. in English composition and rhetoric and a graduate certificate in women, gender and sexuality studies from Illinois State University. As a childfree millennial TiTi, with three amazing dogs, a hoard of house plants, a mushroom farm and a fabulous partner, VanHester works to situate joy, rest, creativity and pleasure as key strategies to liberation. VanHester has presented at several conferences, including the Cultural Rhetorics Conference, the Conference for College Composition and Communication, and the National Women’s Studies Association Conference. They have been a Coalition for Community Writing writer-in-residence and a recipient of the CCW’s Emerging Scholars Award, a recipient of the Conference on College Composition and Communication’s Scholars for the Dream Travel Award and a NAFSA RISE (Representation, Inclusion, Support, and Empowerment) Fellow. Their research has been funded by grants from the Organization for Research on Women and Communication and from Butler University (a grant from the Equipment Fund as well as a Global Initiatives Grant). VanHester was the first Forum Editorial Fellow and has served as a peer reviewer for the journal Emerging Voices in Education. Their work has been featured in Race and Yoga; Rhetoric, Politics, and Culture; and Women’s Studies Quarterly. In addition to scholastic work, VanHester loves Beyonce, springtime golfing, AEW wrestling, the Chicago Blackhawks, Texas BBQ, spades and visiting as many of the world’s 50 best restaurants as possible.