Aging apartment buildings and small, single-family homes throughout the heart of Indianapolis appear inconsequential to many on the outside looking in – strangers who seldom calculate the intrusion of interstate highways, urban renewal and gentrification that displaced not only people but their culture and lifestyles.
“Invisible Indianapolis: Race, Heritage and Community Memory in the Circle City,” is the fascinating theme of a project launched by Drs. Paul Mullins and Susan Hyatt to research and link compelling stories of past neighborhood histories of class, culture, religion, and racial inequity.
This intriguing quest to preserve and recall neighborhood history has earned the anthropology professors from the School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI the 2016 Charles R. Bantz Chancellor’s Community Fellowship Award. “Their project will examine the history and material culture of local neighborhoods that currently are effaced, ignored or misrepresented in public discourse,” says Mullins. Both Mullins and Hyatt have also received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Civic Engagement, an award presented annually to IUPUI faculty who exemplify the highest standards of civic engagement.
Invisible Indianapolis builds on a foundation of ethnographic, archival, and archaeological field work conducted by Mullins and Hyatt over the past 16 years. In fact, they represent a veritable ‘dream team’ for such work. Both Mullins and Hyatt have longstanding research and teaching partnerships with community organizations – including the Concord Neighborhood Center, Ransom Place, Etz Chaim Sephardic Congregation, the Lockefield and Grandview Civic organizations, and the Babe Denny Neighborhood Organization. They will synthesize their research – scattered among several neighborhoods – into a single narrative of community change.
Mullins moved to Indianapolis from Virginia 16 years ago and began exploring the transition of the Indiana Avenue community where IUPUI now exists. He enjoys putting the area in context, “telling my students where churches, and businesses and homes once stood near here.”
One of the richest moments of urban research for Mullins came when he was told the story of how once-segregated Riverside Amusement Park was opened to Blacks one day a year in what was insensitively called “Colored Frolic Day.”
One of the most memorable research moments for Hyatt came in 2008 when she was introduced to what became her first, “Neighborhood of Saturdays” event, a community picnic for former south side residents to reunite with neighbors who had been displaced by the construction of I-70. This unusual amalgam of African Americans and Jewish Americans cultures coalescing, and neighbors reminiscing, became an extraordinary opportunity to launch an oral history collection of heartfelt and detailed remembrances.
Invisible Indianapolis provides an opportunity to restore and share lost histories and to tell people how neighborhoods changed for many reasons – including the plight of those forced to flee as the result of decisions made by people who had no stake in the future of the community and did not acknowledge the concerns of long-time residents.
“For example, the building of interstates was truly disastrous for residents. Policies set by officials erased so much of the landscape,” Hyatt lamented. Because of eminent domain laws and policies, residents received far less than their homes were worth when land was taken, and some had to move more than once, neighbors and cultures were scattered.
Fortunately for the IUPUI researchers, there are still people around who lived through those changes. Mullins and Hyatt will compile some of their stories in a blog that will be publicly shared as part of the Invisible Indianapolis project.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Charles R. Bantz Chancellor’s Community Fellowship embodies the spirit of engagement espoused by its namesake throughout his 12 years of IUPUI leadership. The award is designed to support community-engaged research and scholarly activities that reinforce and deepen campus community engagement and research partnerships; leverage the knowledge, skills and innovative talents of faculty, students, and community partners, and result in meaningful community impact. For more information click here.