Looking back at Black History Month 2016

By Diane Brown, IU Communications Specialist

Another Black History Month has ended, and it’s time for me to take inventory of speeches attended, movies viewed and books read as part of my personal celebration of the occasion.

Mind you, I don’t limit my study of and musings over African-American contributions, achievements, struggles, etc. to the month of February. But I do use the month as an opportunity to tackle something out of the ordinary.

Folks back home would say that my attending the IUPUI Steward Speakers Series with Common as the guest speaker should rank No. 1 among experiences for Black History Month 2016.

It would be tempting to give top billing to a speech Common opened with a two-and-a-half-minute freestyle filled with local references:

” . . . I am always giving love to my people in the Nap . . . This time they say get some food from Kountry Kitchen . . . It’s all real, you can go chill, somewhere in Haughville. . . I am keeping the pace like my man Paul George. . . so you all can tape this, I came to Indianapolis to talk about greatness.”

Common headlines IUPUI Steward Speakers Series event.

Common headlines IUPUI Steward Speakers Series event.

It was refreshing to hear someone tell the truth about how he really felt about being nominated for five Grammys, striking out in the first four categories and being so sure of getting the last one that he was almost out of his seat before realizing his name wasn’t called.

But listening to Common inspire the youth in the audience with his admonition to find your passion, believe in your passion and live out your passion takes a back seat to the inspirational life stories of Robert Sadler and Vertus Hardiman. (How did I miss these two stories when they were news three years ago?)

“The Emancipation of Robert Sadler,” first printed in 1975 and then republished in 2012, is the story of the liberation of an African-American man who as a child was sold into slavery on a South Carolina plantation.

It’s the 20th-century setting that is the twist in the story, which I heard via radio.

“I want to remind the reader that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed in 1863, and Robert Sadler was born in 1911. The story begins in 1966, when he was 5 years old,” said Marie Chapian, Hardiman’s co-author.

Sadler was 5 or 6 when he and two sisters were sold to a white plantation owner for $85. He would be tortured and beaten for years before he — unaware slavery was not the norm — mustered up the courage to walk off of the plantation at age 14.

Hardiman’s nightmare also began when he was 5 or 6 years old. The Hoosier native’s trauma would leave him with a hole in the head, literally.

Hardiman, who died in Pasadena, Calif., in 2007, was one of the group known as the Lyles Station Ten. Lyles Station was founded 1849 as Indiana’s first all-black frontier town. A restored community schoolhouse now serves as the town museum.

Vertus Hardiman: As a child in 1927, Hardiman - and 9 other African American children in Lyles Station, Ind., - was subjected to medical experiments involving exposure to massive amounts of radiation which left him with a severe physical deformity. Hardiman's story is told in the documentary "Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed."  Photo Courtesy Smith Leonard Productions.

Vertus Hardiman: As a child in 1927, Hardiman – and 9 other African American children in Lyles Station, Ind., – was subjected to medical experiments involving exposure to massive amounts of radiation which left him with a severe physical deformity. Hardiman’s story is told in the documentary “Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed.” Photo Courtesy Smith Leonard Productions.

Hardiman and nine other Lyles Station children (eight male, one female) were severally irradiated in 1927 during a government medical experiment. Their parents had signed permission slips, having been led to think the children would be given a newly developed cure for a scalp fungus.

The “treatment” left Hardiman with a grotesquely deformed head, which he hid for decades under caps and wigs. He would finally share his secret with a fellow member of his church choir in Pasadena. His friend would produce a documentary about Hardiman and the others.

Narrated by actor Dennis Haysbert, the award-winning documentary “A Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed” http://www.holeinthehead.com/ was the subject of screenings on three Vincennes University campuses in 2012.

Both Hardiman and Sadler could have lived out their adult lives in a raging bitterness that anyone would understand. But neither did. Instead, each left the legacy of a man who survived and overcame undeserved hardships with the incredible strength of character they both attributed to a God who allowed them to live, and to forgive.

Great stories for Black History Month.

 

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