The Crusader Newspaper Group

IU 50th Soul Revue conjures memories of “culture shock” for Black students on white campuses

By Vernon A. Williams

Coming through Gary public schools, I had all Black teachers at Garnett Elementary, along with Black principals, librarians, and coaches. Then my education in Gary, Indiana continued with Beckman Middle School. Except for a history teacher named Mr. Dakich, again, all of my instructors were African American. Finally, at my beloved Theodore Roosevelt High School. From freshman to senior year, I didn’t have a single white teacher, even though Mr. Weingart, the assistant principal was white.

In addition, all of my classmates for the extent of my matriculation were Black.

Understand me. None of this was a problem. I have to consider it a blessing. I will never know if white teachers would have been as concerned for my welfare and as caring, all I know is how the Black educators treated me – and all of the rest of my friends – like we were their own children and grandchildren.

I don’t know if having white friends would have impacted me growing up in Gary socially. For me, all I know is the segregation that forced Black residents to the center of town was a rich and rewarding experience I cherish.

The one white teacher of my latter school years was during my senior year but NOT at Roosevelt. When I read about the opening of the Gary Area Career Center in my senior year, I was happy as, in the words of singer Wilson Pickett, “… a baby boy on Christmas morning with a brand new toy….” I was in love with the prospect of spending my morning class time sitting behind a microphone and being introduced to the world of Broadcasting.

Ernie Nims was not only an energetic beginning teacher excited about his new position but was also an inspiration praising my baritone broadcast voice. So much so that during my last semester of high school, he pleaded for me to accompany him to Bloomington for a campus visit. Though the thought of going to college after graduation was a preconceived notion, I knew nothing about the campus environment.

Nims had to plead with me to make the trip because, frankly, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend precious weekend time in the company of a teacher. I was resistant. He was persistent. After running out of excuses, I agreed on the condition that my friend and future IU McNutt Quad roommate Mark Powers could ride along. I had to have someone to talk to for the four-hour drive (this was before I-65 was completed).

Nims took me to the Ernie Pyle Hall where Journalism courses were taught. There, I saw the Indiana Daily Student for the first time not knowing a few years later I would be a columnist, then a finalist for Editor.

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Pictured l-r: Vernon A. Williams. Judge Gonzales P. Curiel, and Bo Battle.

He took me a few blocks away to the radio and television school where I met the distinguished Dean Richard Yoakum who gave me a personal tour of the impressive facility. After that magical visit, I never considered going anywhere for college but I.U. in Bloomington.

Before stepping into my first class on this southern Indiana campus, my enthusiasm was tempered by the stark reality of racism that would be part of my learning experience for the next four years. Just say my first unofficial course was RACISM 101.

That first night Mark and I were dropped off by our parents in Bloomington, the dorm cafeteria was closed. We sought directions from an older white student to the closest eating place, McDonald’s. He sent us walking a route that carried us about six miles out of the way before circling back to the fast-food chain that was actually a little over a mile from our starting part.

That same night, a group of about a dozen Black students were walking to a ‘welcome to campus’ party thrown at the frat house of my eventual fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. Before we could reach it, a group of white boys in the back of a drop-top convertible rode past hollering the N-word as they shot at our group with water guns.

In the few days before class, Black upperclassmen warned of how – to paraphrase Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” – ‘…we weren’t in Kansas, anymore’.” Bloomington was a long way from predominantly Black Gary in more ways than miles. With over a hundred students in a huge auditorium classroom, there were usually only a handful of scattered Black faces. The average class day was such that we got excited whenever we even passed another brother or sister on campus. And the love we got from those Gary teachers was a distant memory compared to the indifference if not antipathy of some (not all) white professors.

It was a different world.

Some students were fortunate enough to become part of what was called the IU Group Program. It brought students with financial needs to campus months before the start of the fall semester, allowing them to complete courses and get an introduction to college life. Though many of my Roosevelt friends were in the Groups Program, my counselor never so much as mentioned it to me. The Black staff members in charge made the transition to higher learning more comfortable for that group.

IMG 1043So, I started creating my own comfort zone, immediately finding three other singers (Bill White, Angela McMillan, and Mike Exum) to form The Shades of Soul vocal group. With a band that included Kenny Ware, Eddie Daniels, and Michael “Pint” King, we smashed talent shows, performed all over campus, did clubs on Kirkwood, played a few places in Indianapolis, and opened up the Bloomington North performance of George Clinton and the Funkadelics.

Still working on defining my space, I pledged Kappa (with Mark), did a little campus radio, started my column for the campus newspaper, and then discovered this new project directed by Black music genius and professor Dr. Portia K. Maultsby called THE IU SOUL REVUE.

In 1971, that program brought students together not only to play instruments, sing and dance on stage but to handle all of the behind-the-scenes production responsibilities. It was started by legendary IU education leader Dr. Herman C. Hudson, founding chair of the African American and African Diaspora Studies Department.

The IU Soul Revue was the culmination of my Indiana University experience as I sang bass in a male quintet called The Love Men starting in 1972. Our tour bus traveled the Midwest wowing audiences with this well-orchestrated ensemble of youthful talent so professionally orchestrated by Dr. Maultsby and amazing executive director Lillian Dunlap.

The band’s vibrating beats of pulsating rhythm & blues, the colorfully coordinated costumes of 70s performers, precision eye-catching choreography, that sweet soulful sound of group harmony along with powerful solo vocals enthralled Soul Revue audience after audience for five decades…and counting! Success stories from the 50 years of the Soul Revue include the Grammy and American Music Awards nominated group After 7 and Gary’s own dynamic vocalist Crystal Taliaferro who toured for decades with rock stars Billy Joel and John Cougar Mellencamp.

Most of the students who participated in the IU Soul Revue over the past 50 years went on to excel in careers that had little or nothing to do with music – like my fraternity brother, Gonzales P. Curiel who left I.U. and became the federal court judge President Obama appointed that former impeached president “No. 45” claimed couldn’t give him a fair trial because of his Hispanic lineage.

Judge Curiel will leave the bench this weekend to get back behind drums and congas, joining other IU Soul Revue alumni as we celebrate the influence of Dr. Maultsby and the IU Soul Revue during the Golden Anniversary Concert at the historic Madam C.J. Walker Legacy Center in Indianapolis before a packed house that sold out two weeks before the show.

IMG 8508The music, camaraderie, and mirth will fill the air. But just as important will be the knowledge that having a place to belong to – like the IU Soul Revue – in the midst of a foreign, often hostile, college atmosphere helped students who felt out of their element realize a sense of inclusion and comfort.

In the midst of a desert of indifference and hostility that many Black students confronted in Bloomington, the ensemble was a soulful oasis of talent, identity, purpose, and validation of our unique culture.

For young performers involved 50 years later… it still is.


CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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