By Brenda Nelson-Strauss, Head of Collections, Archives of African American Music and Culture, Indiana University
Black-oriented radio has long been one of the most popular topics of research at IU’s Archives of African American Music and Culture, but within the AAAMC’s black radio collections there were only a few brief mentions of activity within the state of Indiana. This all changed in 2014 when Nancy Chism, a retired IU professor and former Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at IUPUI, sought our advice about a collection of audiotape reels stored at Martin University in Indianapolis.
What Chism had discovered were the broadcast masters, and likely the only extant recordings, of the 1970s radio series, The Afro-American in Indiana. Since MDPI was scheduled to begin the following year, we discussed the possibility of prioritizing these tapes for digitization. Thrilled by this opportunity, Chism negotiated the donation of the entire collection to the AAAMC.
The catalyst behind Chism’s desire to preserve the radio series was her research into the life of Fr. Boniface Hardin (1933-2012), the first African American priest of Holy Angels Parish on the northwest side of Indianapolis, and founder of Martin University. Fr. Hardin and Sister Jane Schilling initiated, produced and hosted The Afro-American in Indiana from 1971 to 1983 as part of their mission to promote black history to a broad audience. The weekly half-hour radio program was broadcast over Indianapolis public school station WIAN-FM, and focused on the local experiences of African Americans, reaching back to the beginnings of statehood.
Only a few programs had previously been transferred to audiocassette, so the contents of the remaining 120 programs were something of a mystery. Descriptive metadata was limited to a very brief title on the tape box, such as “Civil War–Reconstruction” and “Noble Sissle, Indpls. Musician.” Names of hosts or special guests were seldom indicated, and several tapes bore the titles of different series, such as Reflections in Black and Black Heritage, which presumably were initiated or produced by Fr. Hardin. Tape labels also provided basic technical metadata and hinted at the broad scope of the subject matter: sports, music, education, historiography, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, WWI, WWII, segregation, the Indiana and U.S. Constitutions, religion, the NAACP, medicine, law, black businesses, prison, labor history, and more.
MDPI completed the digitization of the open reel tapes in the summer of 2017, and we’ve taken the initial steps towards describing the content and making the programs fully accessible. First, William Vanden Dries—the AAAMC’s Digital Archivist/Project Manager—uploaded the audio files to IU’s Media Collections Online for easy access. Chism, who remains an essential project collaborator, listens to each program and compiles a tape index. After she returns a batch of indexes, AAAMC graduate students use the metadata to create tracks within each program in MCO:
Next, graduate assistant Jamaal Baptiste condenses the tape index to a one paragraph abstract, which is added to the collection finding aid, along with a direct link to the audio file in MCO. During this process, many well-known guests have been revealed. For example, imagine our surprise when we learned the program on “Black Music” features Jerry Harkness, former basketball player for the Indianapolis Pacers, who seems quite knowledgeable on the subject:
The Afro-American in Indiana uniquely captures the role of community radio in broadcasting locally-relevant and culturally-specific programming during the Black Power era. The radio series is also a lasting testament to Fr. Boniface Hardin’s significant efforts to promote African American history to a diverse audience and educate the local populace.
We’re hoping to complete the indexing project and collection finding aid prior to the publication of Chism’s forthcoming book, Pickin’ Cotton on the Way to Church: The Life and Work of Father Boniface Hardin, to be published by the Indiana Historical Society Press. The Afro-American in Indiana series will also be added to the Radio Preservation Task Force’s online inventory of extant American radio archival collections. Meanwhile, all of the programs uploaded to IU’s Media Collections Online streaming site are publicly available for the first time since they aired forty years ago.
To learn more about Chism’s research and the life of Fr. Hardin, see Liner Notes Vol. 21 (the AAAMC’s annual newsletter).