A German designer Bruno Schmitz and German sculptor Rudolph Schwarz, imbued with the mores and sensibilities of the 1890s, created the sculpture and artwork you see on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Circle downtown. The scenes and designs represent American sensibility as the nation changed centuries.
Including the only African-American figure on the monument, a newly freed slave, barefoot and bare-chested, which was how those German immigrants portrayed him, based upon how the whites in their new country depicted men of color. Also, the two Germans’ views of Blacks were influenced by the fact that at the time Germany had African colonies.
I begin this week’s column with this history of the downtown monument, because how Blacks were depicted when it was completed in 1902 is building into a 21st century controversy.
An African-American conceptual artist, Fred Wilson, is planning to replicate that barefoot, bare-chested 19th century vision of a Black man as part of the public art planned for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, the multi-million dollar boondoggle being built downtown.
Recently, former IPS board member and educator Leroy Robinson blasted Wilson’s design in an Indianapolis Recorder letter to the editor. Robinson’s criticism of Wilson’s design for the trail, which involves having the Black figure stand partially upright holding a flag with the colors of “the African Diaspora” has evoked a firestorm; with e-mails blazing across cyberspace and the grand poobahs behind the cultural trail playing damage control.
Wilson isn’t talking with Black media until mid-October. (Artist Wilson did talk to the Indianapolis Recorder, and his interview was part of a story about the sculpture that was published on Sept. 3.)
Brian Payne, head of the Central Indiana Community Foundation which spearheaded the trail and Mindy Taylor Ross, art projects curator, did talk about the controversy on Monday’s “Afternoons with Amos” on WTLC-AM (1310). And it was clear that the subject is emotional among many in our community.
Payne confirmed that some $20 million in federal funds went to the cultural trail, which makes our community a stakeholder in the project.
Payne and Ross did acknowledge that perhaps the 2010 community debate about the proper image of Blacks in downtown public art is the discussion that should have occurred in the 1890s.
In one exchange, a listener heatedly charged that the cultural trail told Wilson to create a demeaning Black image; a charge heatedly denied by Ross.
Payne and Ross feel the Black community is unfairly attacking them. But, Payne and Ross don’t understand the raw emotions that any public image of slavery evokes among Blacks.
Wilson’s proposed artwork isn’t like the TV series “Roots,” which portrayed negative images connected with slavery along with the positive strengths and imagery of a Black family.
I’ve yet to see any positive imagery in this project. Payne, Ross and their supporters need to create that positive imagery – quickly – before their project is viewed by our community as hostile to our community’s progress.
What I’m hearing
in the streets
You would expect the leader of the dominant political party in Indiana’s fourth largest county and a decade-long member of the council of Indiana’s eighth largest community should know and understand election laws? Right?
Wrong. As demonstrated by the bizarre behavior of Charlie White, the chairman of the Republican Party in GOP-dominanted Hamilton County and a member of the Fishers Town Board.
It was revealed last week that when White said he lived on one side of Fishers, in his Town Council district, in reality he actually lived miles away. White used to live near Allisonville Road and 106th Street. Now he lives close to Verizon Wireless Music Center, seven miles as the crow flies.
White claims the press of events occurring in his life this year caused him to forget the boundaries of a district he’s represented for years.
The insult is White claims his error was because of his hectic campaign for Indiana secretary of state – the office that administers and enforces Indiana’s election laws.
So here’s another case of Republicans saying don’t do as we do, do as we say. White violates election laws by continuing to represent a council district where he doesn’t live. As county party chair, White understood the rules and should’ve known better. Worse, running for office to enforce election laws, White claiming ignorance is no excuse.
Charlie White wants to succeed Todd Rokita, who always railed against voter fraud (but produced no evidence). Rokita also charged that Democrats and grass roots’ progressive groups were the ones breaking election laws. But Rokita and other Republicans have been strangely silent about White’s transgressions.
Indiana doesn’t need another secretary of state with a one-sided view that the election laws apply to others – not to them.
Vop Osili, the Democrat running for secretary of state, said after White’s electoral sins became known, “Too many times we are seeing politicians in our state and in Washington who think they are above the law and not responsible to their constituents – and this must be changed.”
And Osili added, “If these charges are true, this is not only alarming and troubling, but it also raises questions as to whether this individual should be given the public’s trust to oversee elections and the voting process.”
Charlie White has no business being elected secretary of state. Vop Osili does and deserves your vote and hard work to get him elected Nov. 2.
Did Democratic Senate candidate Brad Ellsworth take a page from the discredited Evan Bayh campaign playbook? Friday, Bayh and Ellsworth traveled the state campaigning together and holding press conferences. But, the Ellsworth campaign and state Democratic Party failed to send any advisories alerting Black media in Indiana’s largest Black community.
Ellsworth’s campaign has been somewhat open to Black media; though the campaign has still refused to market the candidate to Black voters in crucial, vote rich Marion County.
The Ellsworth campaign claimed the fault was my e-mail. To his credit, however, Ellsworth has begun courting the Black community and is beginning to make inroads.
Black voters still don’t know a whole lot about Ellsworth, just as many Hoosiers don’t, despite his qualities which could appeal to our community. Granted, Ellsworth is short of money and time. But his campaign needs to stop playing like the Oakland Raiders and start playing like the Colts; to have a chance Nov. 2.
See ‘ya at the Classic and here next week.
You can e-mail comments to Amos Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.