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Sunday, February 5, 2023

Guardians of our heritage

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Who are you? What are you? Where is your family from and how did it get where it is now?

Wilma Moore and Kisha Tandy recognize that history holds the key to finding answers. That is why they have dedicated their careers to preserving it.

“We all look for affirmation in some kind of way, and history provides answers to all those questions,” said Moore senior archivist of African-American history at the Indiana Historical Society (IHS). “We all have a story, and we’re all historically significant.”

Moore and Tandy, assistant curator at the Indiana State Museum, work in positions that enable them to play a leading role in presenting, researching and safeguarding local African-American history.

“It’s an important task to have our finger on the pulse of information that’s gathered, and then once it comes here, making sure it’s presented in such a way that is accessible to people who need it,” said Moore.

Tandy also enjoys researching history because it can inspire people to do better in life.

“I think of the people who came before us,” Tandy said. “For example, being a woman, I appreciate people like Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the writings of Mari Evans as well as all of the individuals who fought for freedom. It’s all very inspiring.”

Moore and Tandy, although from different generations, share a common love for history. With degrees in library science, they both are careful to describe themselves not as historians, but as researchers.

Moore has been with the IHS for over 26 years. Her primary task, which she describes as “an awesome responsibility,” is to gather historic materials and make them available for those conducting research. Information is also presented in printed IHS publications such as Black History News and Notes, and Traces history magazine.

“Whenever I’m working on a collection or processing it, I always consider what kind of reference questions I received and how I can best arrange the material so that it is easily accessible for people who are looking for information.”

At the Indiana State Museum, where Tandy joined the staff after interning at IHS and several local historic venues, she conducts research on materials used in the museum’s displays, exhibits, programs and publications.

Tandy said she appreciates the convenience of digital collections, but still enjoys actually holding and reading historical paperwork that is usually in a historical figure’s own handwriting. She also likes helping the museum collect objects that tell a unique story from history.

“History is all about telling good stories,” said Tandy. “When you have items like Wes Montgomery’s Grammy Award, his gold album and his brother Buddy’s vibraphone, it’s exciting because you have objects that actually tell the story and offer people another element of what history is about and why it is so important.”

Moore and Tandy graciously accept any praise they might receive for their excellence in research. However, they are quick to humbly note there are also other individuals that have been very active in keeping the history of Indiana’s African-Americans alive. Among them are noted academic instructors such as Gwen Crenshaw, Modupe Labode and Monroe Little at IUPUI, and Jamal Ratford at the University of Indianapolis, as well as Robert Chester, curator of the Crispus Attucks Museum and community activist and organizer Donna Stokes Lucas.

Both Moore and Tandy developed an interest in history early in life, thanks to their love of reading. They share a special bond because Tandy assisted Moore on various projects as an intern while in college.

“She (Moore) is a mentor, a friend and a guide,” Tandy said. “Even now, the majority of things I do I seek input from her because of her knowledge and experience.”

Moore, however, says Tandy has developed into a quality researcher in her own right.

“Kisha’s no longer my student, she’s my colleague,” Moore said. “She’s a person who has just grown so much over the years, and is like a daughter to me.”

Moore and Tandy still interact as members of the African-American committee of Indiana Landmarks, which is chaired by Moore.

Moore and Tandy both have calm, professional personalities punctuated with warmth and clever humor. However, their passion quickly erupts, when they discuss the importance of history and people they’ve encountered who don’t take it seriously.

They encourage those who want to start research into events that impacted their own family, and the state, to visit institutions such as the IHS or the State Museum.

“Your history is who you are, and when you get to a point where you somehow discount it or not think it’s important, you really diminish yourself,” said Moore. “History is all about context, and once you are able to get everything in context, it will explain a lot.”

Tandy agreed, adding, “When you find out that your forebear fought in the Civil War, or make another connection between a historical event and your family, it’s really great.”

For more information about exciting upcoming events and interactive exhibits hosted by the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana State Museum, view this article online at indianapolisrecorder.com.

Special events

 * Indiana Historical Society

You Are There

– Physically step back in time with African-American physician Dr. Harvey Middleton on June 24, 1939, in his office at 2101 Boulevard Place for an open house to introduce family, friends, colleagues and the community to the latest in electrocardiographic technology. For more information about Indiana Historical Society exhibits and events, call (317) 232-1882 or visit indianahistory.org.

* Indiana State Museum

Emancipation Proclamation & 13th Amendment

– Until this Sunday, March you can see a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln, one of only a handful known to survive, and a copy of the 13th Amendment, which officially abolished slavery and involuntary servitude.

– The Lincolns: Five Generations of an American Family is now open at the museum. This exhibit explores the lives of Abraham Lincoln’s kin, from his mother and father’s struggle in early 19th century Kentucky and Indiana through the death of his last direct descendent in 1985. Artifacts from the museum’s Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection will form the core of this exhibition, but priceless objects on loan from several of America’s leading historical institutions will provide context for this rich and compelling family story. For more information about Indiana State Museum exhibits, call (317) 232-1637 or visit indianamuseum.org.

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