Guest post by Professor Susan B. Hyatt:
On Monday, August 8th, the City-County Council of Indianapolis and Mayor Joe Hogsett approved a resolution, in which they honored the work of Paul Mullins, Chancellor’s Professor of Anthropology at IUPUI. Professor Mullins was recognized for his many contributions to our understanding of the critical roles that race and the color line have played in shaping the development of the Circle City. In addition to an impressive corpus of scholarly publications, Dr. Mullins has also made his research available to the broader public through two widely read blog sites that he maintains: Invisible Indianapolis and Archaeology and Material Culture.
Several members of the IUPUI campus community attended the event, including Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Office Kathy Johnson; Khaula Murtadha, Associate Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement; and Tamela Eitle, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts. They were joined by several Anthropology Department students and faculty, along with a delegation of community residents. Council Vice President Zach Adamson presented the resolution and Professor of Anthropology Susan Hyatt, and journalist and writer A’Lelia Bundles, spoke on behalf of the resolution. Ms. Bundles is also the adoptive great, great granddaughter of entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker.
In addition to having been named a Chancellor’s Professor, the most distinguished appointment that an individual faculty member can attain at IUPUI, Dr. Mullins has also been the recipient of the Chancellor’s Faculty Award for Civic Engagement; the Joseph T. Taylor Excellence in Diversity Award; and the Charles R. Bantz Community Fellowship. In 2020, the Indiana Historical Society honored him with the Dorothy Riker Hoosier Historian Award.
The following is Prof. Hyatt’s remarks that she read in support of the Resolution Honoring Paul Mullins for his contributions to Indianapolis history:
“Our great writer, James Baldwin, once wrote: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ Through his scholarship, and through his commitment to the public dissemination of his work, Paul Mullins has helped us face difficult parts of our past as a city; and, in so doing, he has helped us to imagine new futures for Indianapolis and for our IUPUI campus.
For more than two decades, Dr. Mullins has worked on a range of archaeological and oral history projects in Indianapolis that have brought to light the history of the vibrant Westside African- American residential community that once inhabited the space now occupied by our university and medical center. It was largely due to Dr. Mullins’ work in uncovering that history and reconnecting the campus with the displaced families and their descendants that there are now historical markers commemorating the location of former structures once central to that community; the names of university buildings now honor notable families who were once community leaders. Restoring that history to public consciousness has altered the perspectives of many administrators, faculty, and students, who now understand that there was someone here before we were, and that the vast stretches of parking lots and the undistinguished buildings that characterize our campus actually constitute a highly racialized landscape concealing a history of community displacement that needed to be revealed.
In addition to his publications on the near-Westside, Dr. Mullins has also documented other dimensions of African American and neighborhood life in Indianapolis. On his blog sites, Archaeology and Material Culture, and Invisible Indianapolis, Dr. Mullins has provided thoroughly researched and well-documented posts on a range of topics including: the erasure of some of the city’s oldest and most illustrious Black churches; the enduring legacy of segregated waterways and swimming pools in Indianapolis; the impact of highway construction and urban renewal on neighborhood destruction; and the environmental consequences of industry on the westside.
Paul has shared with all of us many of the stories he has uncovered, such as the account of the racial violence that greeted Black dentist Lucien Meriwether, when he moved into a house on the 2200 block of North Capitol in May 1920; the tragedy of Black chiropractor George Chester Watkins who, with his wife, was displaced from his home of 46 years on the 400 block of California Street by the expansion of IUPUI, and who ultimately committed suicide in despair over the loss of his old community; and the poignant tale of Ira Johnson, one of the last hold-outs who resisted selling his home to IUPUI. Mr. Johnson’s house, located on what was then Bright Street, was gradually surrounded by IUPUI’s vast sea of parking lots. His obituary in the Indianapolis Recorder, following his death in 1974, states that in the 1960s the elderly Johnson realized that ‘there was no longer the need to hustle and bustle around so he spent hours sitting on his porch at 311 Bright. This too had to come to an end. So many strange things began to happen. He didn’t like what he heard and saw. His family understood that all the activity was necessary for the building of the new Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) Law School. He did not … The house offered him security and comfort, so his last days were spent in his home, his last hours in his chair. As he sat there, he entered into eternal sleep.’
These and many other personal accounts shared by Paul Mullins have greatly enriched our understanding of not just the ways in which the color line and the policies that enforced segregation shaped the African American experience in Indianapolis, but also of the ways in which members of the African American community have actively contributed to producing the present-day contours of our city. Dr. Mullins has published on such luminous figures as, among others, entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker, musician Les Montgomery, world champion cyclist Major Taylor, and Dr. Clarence Augustus Lucas, the first African American doctor trained in our city, who was a member of IU Medical School’s first graduating class in 1908.
Through this work, Paul Mullins has achieved something that many of us only aspire to: that is, he has used his scholarship in the service of helping to create social change, of advancing agendas aimed at redressing some of the deep festering wounds created by racism in our city. It is therefore fitting that he be honored tonight in this particular forum, as an extraordinary member of our Indianapolis community and as someone whose commitment to racial justice is always at the heart of the research projects he undertakes. His contributions have been integral to such recent endeavors as he creation of the newly revived Madam Walker Legacy Center and the Urban Legacy Lands Initiative, formed in order to protect, promote, and inform the community about Black history in the city.
I am pleased to be part of this event at which we honor Paul Mullins for helping us to face our past, and in so doing, he has provided us with invaluable signposts for the road ahead, signposts that will help us forge a new trajectory as we strive to move toward greater racial justice for our city, our county and for our IUPUI campus.”
Readers can watch the resolution in full by clicking here.