This year marks Indiana’s 200th birthday and the celebration has been going on all year, leading up to the big day — Dec. 11. Among the hundreds of events and gatherings hosted by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission and its partners, Hoosiers have been given an opportunity to learn more about some of our state’s rich legacy and history.
Though there have been a number of offerings geared toward Black history, there is still much to be said about the African-American experience in Indiana. Elizabeth Watford-Mitchell, an educator and historian, set out to do so with her new theatrical production “Resilience: Indiana’s Untold Story.”
Mitchell, who produced the play in partnership with Dr. Gladys DeVane, said the project was, in her mind, a cultural necessity and an opportunity to bring to light that which has been cloaked for far too long.
“(African-Americans in Indiana) were left out of the history books, so very little of our stories were told,” she said. “To me, the history books are like a family photo album. How do you leave some of your kids out of the family photo album?”
Through a cohesive multimedia presentation of six vignettes (all based on real people and true events) directed by Danielle Bruce, “Resilience” will hit on highlights in Indiana’s Black history. The segments will cover topics from slavery all the way beyond civil rights. There is the oft-unexplored saga of Indiana’s Black settlements; at one time there were hundreds across all 92 counties. Today, just a few remain. The play also addresses segregation and discrimination in public school systems, applied not only to students, but also to Black teachers who, despite having advanced degrees, were unable to teach at the university level. Many of those learned men and women took their talent to the hallowed halls of Crispus Attucks, Theodore Roosevelt (Gary) and Lincoln (Evansville), all predominately Black high schools featured in the play. Other subject matter includes Indiana’s role in the Underground Railroad and a medical experiment, not unlike the one conducted in Tuskegee, which involved 10 Black children who lived in Lyles Station.
Mitchell shared that her overall goal is to make people more aware. Beyond the theatrical performance, which will incorporate spoken word and dance, attendees will be given a playbill that is chockfull of historical information to study afterward.
“It was put out there that we weren’t very smart and couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t fly airplanes or be quarterbacks … African-Americans are resilient. Look at where we came from, how we’ve been held down and what we’ve been able to accomplish,” she said. “We need to tell our story. Who knows our story better than us?”
“Resilience: Indiana’s Untold Story” opens Friday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. at the John Waldron Arts Center on the campus of Ivy Tech Bloomington. The play runs on Saturday, Oct. 15, also at 8 p.m., and on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for general adult admission; $15 for students, senior citizens and military; and $12 for children 12 and under.