MXI Honors Pioneering African American Women

by Steve Charles

March 22, 2007

It was a night for the history books.

In the Korb Classroom on Wednesday night, the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies presented its first major award to a person outside of the Wabash community.

That award was named after Jasmine Robinson, the first African American employed at Wabash College.

And the Jasmine Robinson Pioneer Award was presented to Indiana Historical Society Senior Archivist Wilma Moore, a woman who, MXI Director Tim Lake pointed out, knows more than anyone about African American history in Indiana.

(Click here for photos of the celebration.)

MXI Associate Director Amina McIntyre welcomed guests to the ceremony, and Cushandra Andrews sang a beautiful solo of James Weldon Johnson’s "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Robinson, who is also the first African American woman to be employed by industry in the town of Crawfordsville, thanked Lake and the MXI for naming the Pioneer Award after her.

"To learn history from books is one thing, but being here with Jasmine Robinson is to be in the presence of history," Lake said, turning to Robinson, who has mentored generations of Wabash men at the MXI. "Thank you for all you’ve done for us."

"I can’t think of anyone who knows more about African American history in Indiana than Wilma Moore," said Lake, who consults the IHS African American archives in his own research into little-known African American villages and towns in the state.

Moore has been the senior archivist in African American History at the Indiana Historical Society since 1986, processing collections, doing reference work, and editing Black History News & Notes, a quarterly newsletter. In 1993 she edited Indiana's African-American Heritage: Essays from Black History News and Notes, and in 1999 she wrote the screenplay for Eyewitness to a Century, a documentary about the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper. In 2000 she contributed the introductory essay to Gone But Not Forgotten: Photo Poems by O. James Fox.

Her address Wednesday night focused on the collections of papers and images in the IHS archives, particularly the O. James Fox Collection. Fox photographed children, families, buildings, and street scenes in Indianapolis’ African American community between 1945 and 1960.

"He was a remarkable photographer who truly captured the essence of those he photographed," Moore said.

She noted that Wabash made its own contribution to the African American archives at IHS. The Wabash College Oral History project grew out of the school's sesquicentennial celebration planned during the 1980s. Under the leadership of librarian Eileen McGrath and supported by Jasmine Robinson, Wabash professor Jim Barnes, and the county historian, the project interviewed 22 townspeople covering "Crawfordsville and the Black Experience." Twenty seven interviews comprise "Wabash and the Black Experience." The project was completed under the leadership of history professor George Davis.

"So if you want to learn more about the history of Wabash, stop by the Indiana Historical Society archives," Moore said.

(Click here to visit the Wabash College Oral History Project at IHS.)

"I like the connections that history makes, and I have loved my work at the IHS for the last 20 years. Our history helps define our reality, and the archives of African American history offers us a place to go to capture the truth of the past,"

"To paraphrase Langston Hughes: If anyone is going to tell my story, it ought to be me."

The MXI’s first major award at this college for men was presented to a woman during Woman’s History Month, a fact not lost on MXI members Ryan Morris, Shayne Dube, and Brandon McKinney. In the emotional highlight of the evening, the trio performed a poetic "Tribute to a Black Woman," praising beauty, compassion, suffering, and nurturing so freely given.

"This is our first meeting, though our paths have crossed many times," Morris proclaimed. "You have raised me. I am a reflection of you."

In photos: (top) MXI Director Tim Lake looks on as Wilma Moore accepts the inaugural Jasmine Robinson Pioneer Award. (below) Jasmine Robinson thanks the MXI.

The Jasmine Robinson Pioneer Awards Ceremony was co-sponsored by Wal-Mart.

 

 


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