Indiana University officials are considering whether to keep the name of a longtime school trustee on a gymnasium following a student newspaper article about 1940s letters in which he advocated racial segregation.
IU President Adam Herbert says he had been not aware of the views expressed by Ora Wildermuth, who was the school’s Board of Trustees president during 1938-1949 and for whom the Wildermuth Intramural Center was named in 1971.
Wildermuth wrote in a 1945 letter to an IU administrator that while he had no objections to giving Blacks educational opportunities, “I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to social intermingling of the colored race with the White.”
In a 1948 letter to IU President Herman B Wells, he wrote: “The average of the (Black) race as to intelligence, economic status and industry is so far below the White average that it seems to me futile to build up hope for a great future. Their presence in the body politic definitely presents a problem.”
Wildermuth, who died in 1964, graduated from IU and was a teacher, librarian and judge during the city of Gary’s first years in the early 1900s. A Gary library branch was named for him in 1954.
Herbert called Tuesday for a discussion of Wildermuth’s views and their place in history as the school considers whether to keep his name on the 1920-era gymnasium.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that such views were promulgated by a leading Indiana citizen at that point in history,” Herbert said in a statement. “I take pride in the fact that Herman B. Wells set a tone for the university that helped it become a leader in matters of race and equal opportunity.”
The Indiana Daily Student reported the comments Tuesday in a front-page column that called for changing the intramural center’s name.
The letters also were quoted in Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball, a 2006 book by Tom Graham and his daughter, Rachel Graham Cody. Garrett was a Black man who played basketball for IU after being named the 1947 Mr. Basketball from Shelbyville High School.
Wildermuth’s letters were written when trustees were considering integrating university dorms or building housing for Black students.
IU junior Wes Alford says he thought school officials would have to seriously consider renaming the gymnasium.
“It’s an important issue, because for IU, they are practically endorsing racism by keeping the building as this name,” he says.
— Associated Press
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