Racist remarks by one of Gary’s most influential early residents published in the Indiana University campus newspaper this week have shocked students and administrators at the Bloomington campus.
Ora L. Wildermuth, for whom a gymnasium on the Bloomington campus and a branch of the Gary Public Library are named, apparently vehemently opposed attempts at racial integration at IU during the 1940s and 1950s.
An article on Wildermuth published in the Indiana Daily Student contains excerpts from a letter Wildermuth, who then was president of the IU Board of Trustees, wrote to his treasurer voicing in opposition to racially integrated dormitories.
“I am and shall always remain absolutely and utterly opposed to the social intermingling of the colored race with the white,” Wildermuth wrote. “The further we go . . . the nearer we approach intermarriage and just as soon as colored blood is introduced, the product becomes black.”
The remarks were stunning to those who knew Wildermuth as a figure from Gary history books, who served as the city’s first school teacher, librarian and city judge during the early 1900s. Wildermuth went on to serve 27 years on the IU Board of Trustees.
Current IU Trustee Dr. Clarence Boone, who grew up in Gary and attended IU during the final years of Wildermuth’s board term, is far less surprised.
Wildermuth was one of the founders of the IU Foundation, a fund-raising institution that helped generate funds for new libraries and a field house, which was named after him in 1971. University President Herman Wells, who led the move to integrate the school and clashed with Wildermuth, was on the committee that opted to name the building for Wildermuth.
Boone said trustees will discuss renaming the building at their next meeting. University spokesman Larry MacIntyre said that IU President Adam Herbert wants a campus-wide dialogue to take place before a decision is reached.
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.
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 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 politics definitely presents a problem.”
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.