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Black Women in the Midwest: Kokomo Project Revisited

In the mid-1980s, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Black Women in the Middle West (BWMW) Project collected manuscripts and photographic records of black women in Illinois and Indiana. Kokomo was among a number of communities where volunteers sought out women to share their memories to develop a collective history of their lives and their culture.

On March 15, 35 years after this initiative was under way, the Howard County Historical Society will honor this work with “Black Women in the Middle West Kokomo Project Revisited,” a retrospective exhibit and reception to honor local participants.

The recognition effort is being planned by members of the Howard County Historical Society’s Oral History Committee, led by committee chair and HCHS president Sharon Reed.

“The BWMW Project was a significant effort, compiling historical essays, oral histories, biographical profiles, and document collections,” Sharon said. “Many Kokomo women were recognized in the book that shared the project’s results and we want to bring awareness to the project by collecting and sharing updated oral histories from some of the still-living participants.”

The committee felt a March event would be appropriate as part of the annual observance of National Women’s History Month. Documentation and photographs from the BWMW project will be on display in the Howard County Museum (Seiberling Mansion) from 2 to 4 p.m. on March 15 with a reception from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Elliott House.

An African American Artisan Fair, open without charge to the community, has also been scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 in the Elliott House as part of the February observance of Black History Month.

The purpose of the event is to highlight African American artisans and entrepreneurs, as well as the historical society, and to share information about the African American Bassett, Rush, and Freeman family cemeteries within Howard County.

Proceeds will support the March 15 event.

“The work of Purdue University history professor Darlene Clark Hine, who wrote the planning grant and coordinated the project, and Kokomo educator Ruth Temoney, who chaired the project here, deserves to be recognized,” Reed said. “We’re excited to be working with other local organizations, like the African American Cemeteries group and BlacKokomo: a Community Research Project, to share the important legacy of African Americans in Kokomo and Howard County.”

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