January 27, 2021
Fellowships announced to study anti-Black racism in Indiana

Seeking to engage the power of the humanities to shed light on Americans’ understanding of and pursuit of racial justice, Indiana Humanities has awarded fellowships of $2,500 for four research projects examining pivotal moments in Indiana’s past. Shedding new light on redlining, free and fugitive Black women after the Civil War, the impact of an all-Black YWCA and the 1972 National Black Political Convention, the fellowship program strives to provoke and inform meaningful discussions about race and racism in Indiana.

The research will be conducted by independent scholars, an interdisciplinary research team based at IUPUI and an Indiana University student working on a Ph.D. dissertation.

The four research projects and the selected fellows are:

  • A Judgment Call: Indianapolis, Redlining, and Unjust Legacies | Fellow: Jordan Ryan
  • Borderline Freedom: Free and Fugitive Black Women in Rural East Central Indiana before the Civil War | Fellow: Jazma Sutton
  • “Tired of Going to Funerals”: Transforming Protest into Policy at the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana | Fellow: Nicole Poletika
  • Securing a More Abundant Life: The Indianapolis Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, 1910s–1959 | Fellows: Nancy Marie Robertson, Joseph L. Tucker Edmonds and Kim Williams-Pulfer

“We created this fellowship program to deepen our efforts to bring to light, analyze and discuss race-related issues in Indiana,” said Keira Amstutz, Indiana Humanities president and CEO. “We are deeply committed to using the tools of the humanities to better understand our world, especially the complexities of race, and supporting scholarly research is just one way we can help contribute to the conversation. In future years, we plan to continue the fellowship and see it attract a breadth of new research topics and even more diverse perspectives.”

The Wilma Gibbs Moore Fellowships, which Indiana Humanities announced last year as a greater commitment to dismantling systemic racism, were 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.

“We want to encourage more academic scholarship in issues of racial injustice and structural racism in Indiana,” said Dr. Rayvon Fouché, a Purdue University professor of American studies who also serves as an Indiana Humanities board member and served on the advisory panel. “The more we uncover, the more opportunities we have to learn from our past.”

As part of the fellowship, the scholars are required to present their research to the public in some format. For details about future fellowship deadlines and progress on these projects, go to https://indianahumanities.org/wgmfellowship.


Project details

A Judgment Call: Indianapolis, Redlining, and Unjust Legacies

Jordan Ryan, an independent scholar and archivist, will undertake a comprehensive survey of the Federal Housing Administration’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation redlining documentation for Indianapolis. This survey will provide detailed insight into population demographics, a visual analysis of residential architecture and a contextualization of changing land-use typologies. The resulting work will contribute to a better understanding of redlining and housing discrimination, disinvestment and later urban renewal and highway construction policies, while informing conversations about urban development and policy in the city today. Ryan plans to share the dataset through an open-access repository for future research use.

Jordan Ryan is an architectural historian, archivist and activist-scholar. They most recently managed the Indianapolis Bicentennial Collecting Initiative and curated the Indianapolis bicentennial exhibition for the Indiana Historical Society. They have a master’s degree in public history from IUPUI and a bachelor’s degree in art history from Herron School of Art and Design. Their scholarship revolves around the built environment, urban planning, historic preservation, marginalized communities, hostile architecture and LGBTQ historic sites.

Borderline Freedom: Free and Fugitive Black Women in Rural East Central Indiana before the Civil War

Jazma Sutton, a Ph.D. student at Indiana University, is writing a dissertation on the lived experiences of Black women in rural farming communities in antebellum Indiana, with a particular focus on the free and fugitive Black women who came to and through the Greenville Black Settlement of Randolph County. Sutton also works through and around Indiana archival silences about Black women by articulating and using a descendent archival practice method to recover the experiences and remembrances of antebellum Black Hoosier women. Sutton’s work complicates and deepens scholarship on Black migration to the Midwest and on frontier and antebellum rural populations and experiences. It adds to the growing body of literature linking free Black communities in the Midwest to the Underground Railroad, especially the role of Black women residents and fugitives to practice antislavery resistance. Sutton will disseminate her findings in scholarly and popular publications, at conferences and at convenings, and she will continue her ongoing History Harvest work with descendants of Indiana’s free Black settlements. 

Jazma Sutton earned a bachelor’s degree in Africana studies and history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and a master’s degree in U.S. history at Indiana University Bloomington. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in U.S. history with a minor in gender studies at Indiana University Bloomington. Her dissertation explores the origins and development of Indiana’s rural free black communities, the gendered experiences of freedom, and free and self-liberated black women’s roles in the Underground Railroad. With sponsorships from the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society and from the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, Sutton recently led a History Harvest involving descendants of the Greenville community she studies in Randolph County, Indiana, and Darke County, Ohio, and has transformed their historical artifacts and oral histories into a digital archive called “Remembering Freedom.”

“Tired of Going to Funerals”: Transforming Protest into Policy at the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana

Nicole Poletika, an independent scholar, will document and analyze the impact of hosting the 1972 National Black Political Convention on the city of Gary and its residents. She seeks to understand the degree to which hosting and interacting with convention attendees shaped the long-term political views and actions of Gary residents. Poletika will also examine whether the conference increased local political parity for minorities and resulted in the election of more African Americans into public office. Her work will result in the publication of one or more scholarly articles, a podcast episode for Talking Hoosier History, conference presentations and potentially an essay for a new anthology on Midwestern liberalism. 

Nicole Poletika is an Indianapolis-based historian who specializes in social justice and minority history, as well as history relevance. She earned her master’s degree in public history from Indiana University, along with a professional editing certificate, which serves her well in her role as editor of a popular history blog. Additionally, she is a member of Indiana Landmarks’ LGBTQ+ committee, advises on women’s suffrage centennial projects and serves on the steering committee of the forthcoming Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Belt Publishing has featured her work in The Gary AnthologyThe Indianapolis Anthology and Dispatches from the Rust Belt, Vol. II: The Best of Belt Magazine 2019.

Securing a More Abundant Life: The Indianapolis Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, 1910s–1959

An interdisciplinary research team based at IUPUI will highlight the vital activities of the Phyllis Wheatley Young Women’s Christian Association of Indianapolis, which have been overlooked in the historical scholarship and neglected in Indianapolis’s public memory. The researchers hope that by recounting the history of the institution and the women and girls active in it, they can center Black women’s leadership and experiences at the heart of the civil rights movement in Indianapolis. The research team includes Dr. Nancy Marie Robertson (history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies), Dr. Joseph L. Tucker Edmonds (religious studies and Africana studies) and Dr. Kim Williams-Pulfer (Lilly Family School of Philanthropy).

Nancy Marie Robertson is an associate professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Indiana University’s School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI; she also holds affiliate status with Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Robertson earned her Ph.D. in history from New York University. Her research interests include the interracial struggles and activism of black and white women, women and the history of capitalism (especially in banking) and women’s activities in voluntary associations. Robertson’s book, Christian Sisterhood, Race Relations, and the YWCA, 1906-1946 (2007) was the 2008 winner of the Richard L. Wentworth Illinois Award in American History.

Joseph L. Tucker Edmonds is an assistant professor of religious studies and Africana studies at Indiana University’s School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI and the associate director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. He earned his bachelor’s degree in religious studies and economics from Brown University, his Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and his Ph.D. in religious studies from Duke University. Tucker Edmonds’s research interests are black and womanist theologies, alternative Christianities in the black Atlantic and the role of scripture in African and African American religious traditions. He has received grants from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, the Fund for Theological Education and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Tucker Edmonds’s most recent book, The Other Black Church: Alternative Christian Movements and the Struggle for Black Freedom, was published in December 2020.

Kim Williams-Pulfer serves as the postdoctoral research appointee for the Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Taylor University and a master’s degree in English from Butler University. She earned a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI and a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies, with a minor in Caribbean studies, from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Williams-Pulfer was honored to have been able to consult with Wilma Gibbs Moore when she conducted research for a project titled, “‘Navigating the Streams’: The Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the Indianapolis YWCA, 1923–1933.”

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