These interview were recorded on February 21, and March 3, 2020, in the Special Collections and Archives conference room at IUPUI.Learn more about Guy Russell
Scarpino: As I said when the recorders were off, I’m going to start by reading a statement.
Today is February 21, 2020. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History and Co-Primary Investigator with Stephen Towne for the IUPUI Oral History project funded by the campus administration. I also serve as Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence at IUPUI.
Also in the room is Haley Brinker, a first-year Masters’ student in the IUPUI Public History Program. Ms. Brinker is a graduate, public history intern assigned to the IUPUI oral history project and she will be participating in the interview from time to time.
Today I have the privilege of interviewing Mr. Guy Russell in a conference room located in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives.
This interview is sponsored and funded by the IUPUI Administration.
I’m going to begin by putting a brief biographical sketch of you in the record so people will know who they are when they run a search on this.
Mr. Russell was born December 17, 1941, in what was then City Hospital, later renamed Wishard in 1977, and now replaced by a new facility, the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, which opened in 2013.
After he was born, his parents were living in Lockefield Gardens, located just north of where the IUPUI campus presently exists. Lockefield Gardens was built between 1935 and 1938 by the federal government, and intended to provide low-income housing for African-Americans. It closed in 1976. In
1949, Mr. Russell’s parents moved their family to a house on 40th Street near Crown Hill Cemetery and, thereafter, he grew up in that house.
Mr. Russell was raised and educated through high school in Indianapolis. Although he lived on 40th Street with IPS School 43 nearby, he was bused to IPS School 87, named after George Washington Carver. He did attend School 43 during his last year of grade school, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954. Following elementary school, he attended and graduated from Shortridge High School, graduating with the class of 1959. Mr. Russell attended Purdue University and majored in electrical engineering. He graduated in 1964.
After graduation, he worked at Allison Division of General Motors. He was at the facility located on Tibbs Avenue. He remained at Allison until the mid-1970s, when he left to become actively involved in the civil rights movement. He worked with the Indianapolis Urban League and its well-known leader, Sam Jones. And, I put in here a note for users of this interview that Sam H. Jones, Sr., became head of the Urban League in Indianapolis in 1966 and retired at the end of 2020.
Mr. Russell was selected to be on the minority advisory council of Indianapolis television Channel 6. He remains active and dedicated to grassroots political action, including voter registration, candidate support, and fair and adequate representation under our system of Unigov. Mr. Russell worked in real estate and as a secret shopper to provide income to support his civil rights work.
I’ll add that Mr. Russell was interviewed by Stephen Towne with the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives on January 30, 2020. That interview is
available through the IUPUI Archives and Special Collections, and so I am going to try not to duplicate too much of what you talked about with Stephen Towne.
Before we begin, I want to ask your permission to do the following things: I want to ask your permission to record this interview, to prepare a verbatim transcript of the interview, to deposit the interview and verbatim transcript in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives where it may be used by patrons and may be posted all or in part to the internet. So, can I have your permission to do those things?
Scarpino: Alright. Now let’s actually get started. Looking at your career and so on, I want to start with some big picture questions, and the question I have is: do you think of yourself as a leader?
Russell: As a leader?
Russell: Well, I don’t really think of myself as a leader, but looking over my past, even through elementary school, I seem to have been in positions of leadership, such as President Student Council in elementary school, and various organizations thereafter. Don’t really know how that happened, but it just seemed to happen. So, I don’t know. It’s for others to say, I guess, whether or not I was a leader. I tried to put my ideas over and try to see them through, so if that’s a definition of leader, I guess you could say it to that extent.
Scarpino: As you think about your career, how do you go about putting your ideas over and persuading people to follow you?
Russell: Well, you know, it’s something that is not necessarily you’re born with, I don’t think. It’s something at least I had to learn over the years through experience and working with people and whatnot. You mentioned that I was living in Lockefield in my early, early years, and that’s true, and this was like after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in ‘41, that’s when I was born. So, I kind of grew up with that environment, so to speak. We that lived in the Lockefield Gardens projects, even though we were children, we still had kind of an adult outlook, so to speak, maybe because of that, I don’t know, in terms of the war. The war did have an effect to the extent that we would form I guess what could be called gangs of kids. You know, everybody with a particular persuasion one way or the other, and we had different kind of like mock. I mean, it wasn’t to the extent of gangs today where you’re using firearms and that kind of thing, but we did have rocks and sticks and so forth. And, we did have, as I say, group effort from the playground activities. So, I guess to that extent, maybe. This is where, I guess, looking back you might say it helped develop leadership qualities. I wasn’t always the sweet, innocent young man you see before you today. I lived in the Lockefield Gardens from birth to basically age eight years. And, you know, with children, there’s a lot of things that happen in a child’s life from bullying to getting along with other children and that kind of thing, and it was like a microcosm, and as I said, with the war going on, we had that environment. We would come up with terms like “on guard,” you know, you had to be ready at all times for anything that happened, so to speak. There was an elementary school, 24, which was right at the corner of
North Street, but it was in the Lockefield Gardens complex – you may be familiar with that. There was a kindergarten in the Lockefield Gardens projects on the corner of Blake Street and Indiana Avenue, which we attended. I always jokingly say these were probably the best years of my life because we had crackers and milk, and we had rest time on the mats. I really enjoyed that as a child. But in going to first grade and second grade at the School 24, sometimes when leaving the school, you had to kind of establish your position, so to speak, socially. There were times when I would be engaged in fisticuffs, or tried to be, and sometimes I was given detention after school and that kind of thing.
Scarpino: So, for that time period, you were a normal young man. (laughing)
Russell: (laughing) I suppose. You’d probably have to ask my parents, who are no longer on the earth.
Scarpino: Well, I’m roughly your age and I know what you’re talking about.
Russell: But at any rate, I guess, looking back, you kind of determine what buttons to push and what not to push, so to that extent, it kind of follows, I guess.
Scarpino: When you were growing up and developing your career, were there any leaders that you admired or inspired you?
Russell: Oh, yeah. Definitely.
Scarpino: Who comes to mind?
Russell: There were quite a few actually. Any adult in the area was inspirational for the most part. You had, of course, policemen that were assigned to the area for
protection and to serve and that kind of thing. There was a gentleman, by the name of Bruiser Gaines, James Bruiser Gaines, who was one of the persons that developed what was later to be called the Dust Bowl basketball games. So, he would be a person that everybody kind of looked up to as children and adults actually, but there were others. On a national level, you had athletes, boxers such as Joe Lewis, who I looked up to. Whenever he was fighting, I’ve often remarked, that just about every radio – there were no TVs at the time – every radio in the complex would pretty much tuned to that fight. And, when he was successful, you could hear the roars, the cheers and whatnot around the complex. I later got a chance to actually meet him. He was a golfer and my grandfather was a golfer. They were at Coffin Golf Course on 30th, Riverside area, and I was maybe about knee-high at the time, a little bit higher maybe, but Joe Lewis happened to be playing on the course and I was introduced to him, which was very interesting. I got his autograph and that kind of thing.
Scarpino: That was the golf course in Indianapolis where African-Americans could play golf.
Russell: Well, everybody actually.
Scarpino: Everybody did, okay, okay.
Russell: African-Americans might not have been able to play at other courses, but they were able to play at Coffin. But, those were some of them. And of course, some of the soldiers -- some of my father’s friends were in the war. We had one of his friends that was a tank commander actually. I think he was a tank commander under General Patton, but when they would come home, they
would come by the house. At that time, Lockefield had what they called apartments on the west side of the complex, and then they had group houses on that same side of town, but usually would be just north of North Street. Some were like townhouses, what you call townhouses today, but whenever they would come to town, they would come to visit. And, my family had people we looked up to. My father’s family was in Indianapolis and one of his uncles was Dr. Guy Grant, who was one of the founders of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity in Bloomington in 1911, and he actually majored in chemistry and became a dentist. He went to the IU Dental School and became a dentist. And then, we had his brother, one of his brothers was -- well, actually, three of his brothers were attorneys, but one brother became -- his name was Wilbur Grant, and he became state legislator with the General Assembly. And, he also, later in life, became, well he was a juvenile court judge and then he became Marion County Superior Court Judge. All of my father’s side of the family, they weren’t all necessarily professionals, but they were all people that you would look to for various situations, shall we say? They came from New Albany, Indiana.
Scarpino: Down on the Ohio River.
Russell: Yes, and you may have heard of, there was a tornado that struck back in Indiana history that was a few years ago. It was denoted at the State House with pictures and the damage it did and that kind of thing, but they were in elementary school down there at the time, and they were in that tornado which did damage. My father wasn’t really old enough to go to school, but he would go to school with his uncles and aunts, and he happened to be at school that day and fortunately, you know, nobody got killed in the family.
Scarpino: So, that was in New Albany?
Russell: New Albany, Indiana, yes. I don’t have the exact dates, but I’m sure that’s in record with the State Library or whatever. Then, one of my father’s cousins from Louisville, Kentucky, his name was Harvey Russell. They called him H.C., Harvey C. Russell. He had been in the Coast Guard, and had trained at Lake Michigan facilities. At the time, they had what they called Joe Lewis Punch, it was like a soda pop, and he was one of the salesmen for that. He later became the first black vice president of Pepsi Cola under Joan Crawford, the actress. She was the Chairman of the Board, I guess. So, these are the kind of people that the kids in our family could look up to.
Scarpino: Do you think you did them proud?
Russell: I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder because they did so much with so little in many cases. We also looked up to Lionel F. Artis, who was the manager of Lockefield Gardens. He also was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. Then you had people like the DeFrantz’s. There was a facility, the Senate Avenue YMCA, you might have heard about. They used to have what they called Monster Meetings and they would bring in some of the black celebrities to speak and it was very popular. So, we had a chance to kind of see...
Scarpino: So, you attended some of those Monster Meetings?
Russell: I did not; I was much too young, but my father and that generation did. It was quite the thing of the day back then. Also, let’s see, other people, in terms of looking up to – then my mother’s family, she was from Gary, Indiana. She was from a family of seven – two boys and five girls – and she would travel to
Gary every summer with us. We had to ride the train from Union Station. That was always a big deal. You’d have a big trunk and she’d have to pack the clothes and everything, and we’d have to get that loaded on the train, the Monon, and ride up to Hammond, Indiana, which was the station then, and some of the relatives up there would come pick us up. Anyway, her father was Charles Evans and he worked at Inland Steel, and he actually became the first black foreman at Inland Steel, as I understand it. Her mother was Babie Love Evans, B-a-b-i-e, and she was very outstanding as a leader, even though she didn’t necessarily work. Like, back in that day, the women usually didn’t work; they stayed at home and raised the children. It probably was a better situation than we have today, where both parents work and then the children are left to their own devices. Anyway, she was an outstanding person and very involved spiritually with the Baptist Church, as was my mother. She was kind of a fountain of wisdom. My mother attended Mount Zion Baptist Church, which was, at that time, at 12th and Fayette, right near Crispus Attucks High School. They’ve changed that, of course, but anyway, there was a Sunday School bus. We had to get up every Sunday and ride the bus and go to Sunday School. Looking back on it, I said wow, but that was where you found other leaders. There was a pastor, Reverend Archie Andrews, you may have heard of, who was an outstanding pastor of the time. He basically had been a businessman in Texas in I think either Houston or Dallas, I’m not sure, but he had a business background and utilized that. He could get loans when other folks couldn’t, because of his business background I guess. Ultimately, he had a philosophy, a cradle-to-grave philosophy, where he eventually put that into effect. We moved our church to 35th and Graceland, between Graceland Avenue and Boulevard Place. As I said, he had a cradle-to-grave
philosophy and he was able to get financing to build two apartment buildings on Boulevard Place, and also sort of a nursing home, I guess you could say, in that area. So, he was quite a leader in the community. And others, he had, of course, the deacons and elders. You may have heard of B.J. Jackson, who ran People’s Funeral Home, which was located just south of Indiana Avenue on West Street. There were quite a few leaders, not all. You had people like Cleo Blackburn, who was of the Flanner House.
Scarpino: But you had people that you looked up to while you were growing up, that were role models.
Russell: Oh, definitely. There were people that you definitely looked up to, there’s no question about that, and I’m leaving out quite a few, but, you know...
Scarpino: That’s okay. We’re going to talk for a while. We’ll work on that later. Do you have anything you want to say before we...
Scarpino: What I’m going to do is just sort of work my way chronologically through your life and career, and I’ll start with a softball question. Do you have brothers and sisters?
Russell: I have two sisters. We had a sister that passed away at the age of six months, before I was born. Basically, in our immediate family was two sisters.
Scarpino: Are they older or younger than you?
Scarpino: Okay. I want to talk a little bit about your father, who you mentioned. Your father was born in Indianapolis you said and grew up in the Butler-Tarkington area?
Russell: Well, actually, he was born in New Albany because, as I said, he followed his uncles to school. So, he was actually born in New Albany.
Scarpino: Did he move up here as a child?
Russell: Yeah, they all moved up here, for the most part, from New Albany.
Scarpino: And they did live in the Butler-Tarkington area?
Russell: My grandmother did and some of her brothers did also. My grandmother lived at 4126 Cornelius Avenue. We still have the property, although we’re having issues with the city. That’s an area which is very lucrative in terms of these investors or flippers, as they say, and they’re kind of going through the neighborhood now trying to purchase these properties. She lived there from at least the ‘20s. Some of her brothers lived in the Butler-Tarkington area, I guess, two that I’m aware of, but then she had brothers that lived, if you’re familiar with Dr. Guy Grant, he lived on Cold Spring Road right across, if you’re familiar with Birch Vas, who was...
Scarpino: I know who he was, yeah.
Russell: … yeah. He was quite prominent, and became a member of the City Council and bought Curtis Publishing Company, which Saturday Evening Post was of their main magazines. But anyway, they lived right across the street from each other, and then another brother lived on Fall Creek Parkway, if you’re
familiar with where the Lutheran Church is – is it Our Savior Lutheran Church? – in the general vicinity, between Fall Creek Parkway, Burdsal Parkway, that area ...?
Scarpino: Yes, I know where that is.
Russell: And then, their mother, Lucy Grant, lived in the 2900 block of Paris Avenue. So, she was like the godmother.
Scarpino: So, when you talk about “their” mother, who were you referring to?
Russell: The uncles.
Russell: Like Guy Grant’s mother and my grandmother, Carrie Parker, their mother.
Scarpino: So, your dad moved to Indianapolis as a relatively young person?
Scarpino: Did he ever talk to you about what it was like to grow up here?
Russell: Here in Indianapolis?
Russell: Yes, quite a bit. You mentioned IPS School 43, which we weren’t allowed to attend until the ‘54 Board decision, but he actually attended from the time he came here to school. It was no big issue.
Scarpino: Do you know approximately when he moved to Indianapolis?
Russell: I would say, -- let’s see, he was born in 1912 -- probably around 1917, 1918 perhaps.
Scarpino: As you know, things, in terms of race relations, got a lot worse in the 1920s than they were before.
Russell: They did, because of the influence of various ideologies.
Scarpino: Like the Klan.
Scarpino: People who are listening to this probably wouldn’t know that that’s what we’re talking about.
Russell: Yes, but he would mention that. Then, my grandfather was a handyman and he worked for the Hare family, which was a prominent family. They lived on North Meridian Street near Booth Tarkington, you know, that whole Meridian Street area. My father would speak of some of his childhood friends, one of which was Clifford Wilson, who you may have been aware of, but he had worked at Eli Lilly and Company as a janitor, but he actually invented a manufacturing process there, but they were friends...
Scarpino: Did he get credit for it?
Russell: Did he what?
Scarpino: Did he get credit for it?
Russell: Oh, yeah. He got credit for it. I don’t know if he got the proper credit for it, but he did get some credit for it eventually. But, he was one of my father’s friends.
Then, my father, actually Clifford was a little older and he attended Arsenal Technical High School. He was quite an athlete. He was a pole vaulter, which is, you know, you don’t hear these days a lot about pole vaulters in high school, but he was a pole vaulter and very talented. Then, my father also attended Arsenal Technical High School in that regard. They mentioned they would -- the Butler-Tarkington area had been an orchard; that whole area had been an orchard. So, there were all types of fruit trees, and he would mention when they would go cherry picking and that kind of thing.
Scarpino: It’s hard to imagine that now, isn’t it, when you drive around that area?
Russell: It is because a lot of those trees are gone. Even when we moved out there, we had cherry trees in our yard, grapevines, but they’re not there anymore. We had persimmon trees; it was quite different, which is, kind of looking back on it, you wonder where they went. But anyway, back to that time, that’s what they did. They would do those kind of things.
Scarpino: A lot of people ate that stuff and they canned it and so on.
Russell: Yeah, my grandmother and my mother would can, which was great. There was one particular incident. The White River was just west of that area and my grandmother forbade my father to go swimming there, because one of her brothers had been a swimmer and would swim across the Ohio River between New Albany and Kentucky regularly, but he caught a cramp in the middle one day and he drowned. So, she would forbid my father to go swimming in the river. Naturally, he went swimming and he got caught sometimes. But actually, one of the times they went swimming, there was young boy that was drowning, and he actually saved him from drowning. So, I guess there’s
always a reason for things. But anyway, they had quite a childhood from what he told me.
Scarpino: Much different than childhood today.
Russell: Little bit different, yeah, little bit different.
Scarpino: So, your father attended Indiana University at Bloomington...
Russell: He did.
Scarpino: … he majored in education.
Russell: But before that, I mentioned he went to Arsenal Tech, but then, with the influence of the various ideologies, for one reason or another, the main reason was you had a lot of the parents of the black students, when they would get their education degrees and come back, they couldn’t teach in the other schools. So, they made an agreement to build Crispus Attucks High School in 1927, and so all of the black students, regardless of where they were attending high school, they had to go to Crispus Attucks. My father was actually in the first graduating class in 1928, along with some of his younger aunts.
Scarpino: If I go over there, they used to have pictures of all their graduating classes...
Russell: They still do.
Scarpino: … will I find him over there?
Russell: You would find him over there. Yep, definitely. There was, I guess, things change and administrations come in and then they have ideas, and they
actually tried to get rid of those pictures, but there was such an uproar about not doing it, they had to keep them, fortunately.
Scarpino: I’m glad.
Scarpino: So, your dad went to Bloomington, majored in education, according to...
Russell: He actually majored in education and history. He was a history buff.
Scarpino: Oh, alright! I understand he kind of took a break from college, worked for a federal New Deal Program in the 1930s, and then went back to college to finish his degree where he met your mother, and then they married and lived in Indianapolis. So, your dad worked for the Postal Service?
Russell: At one time, yeah, but before that, I’d like to point out this. At IU, they actually became members with Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which was the only black - they actually made it an interracial fraternity, but it was the black students, basically, that pledged there, and so they had an active black Greek life at IU. He had actually graduated from Attucks at the age of 16.
Scarpino: Oh, wow.
Russell: So, when he went to college, so my grandmother used to tell us, he was quite the playboy. In the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper, she would read about Guy Russell being in the various - Terre Haute or different cities around Noblesville, and she’d say, “My goodness, he’s supposed to be in school.” But anyway, that had consequences, of course. So, being so young and impressionable, he didn’t do that well in terms of the classroom, but he was
doing great social-wise. He had to leave school, and that was during the time of the Great Depression and the Great whatever they called it...
Scarpino: Oh, the New Deal.
Russell: … the New Deal, yeah, under Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt. So, he was a member of the CC, what they called the Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA and the different organizations that Roosevelt had set up to keep folks with at least some semblance of employment. But anyway, after that, he did go back to IU and became a serious student. As a matter of fact, the fraternity, he became what they called polemarch of the fraternity, which is like the president. Under his leadership, they did achieve the top academic rating of all the fraternities.
Scarpino: You said it was the pole mark?
Russell: Polemarch, p-o-l-e-m-a-r-c-h, yes. But, it’s like the president, you know. He would tell me about that type of involvement and trying to make sure that everybody studied and got their grades.
Scarpino: So, when he went back, he was a good student?
Russell: He was a good student, yeah.
Scarpino: He got his degree in history and education?
Scarpino: Did he ever teach?
Russell: Not to my knowledge because, well, again, the market was tight as far as minorities teaching. There were some that did; there should have been more, but there weren’t, I guess. So, he did work at the Post Office, and he worked as a probation officer with the juvenile court. His uncle was the judge and I’ve got photos of that and the court. He worked at Allison Division of General Motors.
Scarpino: And what did he do there?
Russell: He was a janitor because that’s all the jobs they could do. They would actually be janitors or parts washers, but actually they would train the white employees that would come through there, and then the white employees would get promoted, you know; none of the black employees would be promoted.
Scarpino: You dad worked for the Postal Service...
Scarpino: … for a number of years...
Scarpino: … what did he do there?
Russell: Throw mail.
Scarpino: So, it’s like sorting before they had sorting machines?
Russell: Yes, they all had to do that.
Scarpino: Your dad had a college degree, right...
Scarpino: … and when he went back and buckled down, he did well, and yet when he went to work for the Postal Service or later when he went to work for Allison, he was limited in what he could do.
Russell: Yeah, they all were.
Scarpino: Did it ever make him angry?
Russell: I’m sure it did. You know, it’s hard not to, but it was sink or swim. You either had to – like other minority groups, as I understand it, that come through the United States, some were low on the totem pole and they had to take indignities. The thing about black people that a lot of people don’t understand is you’re readily identifiable as a minority, whereas other groups could kind of more assimilate. There is a difference. So, a lot of people don’t understand that, and then they say, well, the Irish or whatever, “we moved up,” or the Jewish people, “we moved up,” but when you’re readily identifiable, it’s a little harder to move up. But anyway, yeah, they had that problem in terms of being relegated to various positions, lower positions.
Scarpino: But he worked hard to take care of his family?
Russell: He definitely worked hard to take care of the family, yes.
Scarpino: So, your mom, and I’m going to state, for the benefit of anybody who uses this interview, that your mother was featured in an article in the Indianapolis Star on Sunday, May 9, 1993, and then she was, again,, featured in the Star on
October 26, 2000. So, if somebody wants to look that up and see, if they can; they’re very interesting articles. Your mother was the daughter of a man who had been a country school teacher in Louisiana, is that right?
Russell: Her mother, yeah.
Scarpino: Her mother was the country school teacher?
Russell: Yeah, yeah.
Scarpino: And, do you know what her father did?
Russell: He worked on the plantation. They grew up on the plantation. The plantation was owned by French settlers. If you’ve ever seen the TV series “Finding Your Roots”...
Scarpino: Yes, I have.
Russell: … with Henry Louis Gates. Well, they had a segment which ran last week, as a matter of fact, that kind of dealt with Louisiana and the islands, like Haiti. They had insurgencies of the slaves in Haiti, I guess, and the other islands, and some of the French settlers had to leave that island and go to Louisiana. But, I don’t know if that was our ancestors or not, but there was a plantation. It was just off the Mississippi River, around Vicksburg area, Ferriday, Louisiana, that area. It was an area called Horseshoe Lake.
Scarpino: They were growing cotton?
Russell: They grew cotton. They grew staples as well. But anyway, that’s what my grandfather did.
Scarpino: And your grandmother was a teacher.
Russell: She taught school and was in church.
Scarpino: They moved from Louisiana.
Russell: They moved from Louisiana. You’ve heard, even today, how the Mississippi floods...
Scarpino: I have.
Russell: … and it would flood in that area, so my grandfather decided to leave because of that, basically.
Scarpino: Do you happen to know when they left?
Russell: I don’t have the exact dates, no. It might be in one of those Star articles, I don’t know. But my grandmother, Babie Love, her father, his name was Solomon Love. He had been in what they called the United States Colored Troops. He was in artillery in the Civil War in that area, yeah. They had quite a background. When they left Louisiana, they moved to Arkansas.
Scarpino: Your grandmother’s father was in the Civil War?
Russell: Yes, artillery for the U.S. Colored Troops.
Scarpino: And so, then they moved from Louisiana to Arkansas.
Russell: Yeah, yes.
Scarpino: And then, from Arkansas to Gary?
Russell: To what they called the Harbor, which is actually East Chicago.
Scarpino: It’s Burns Harbor now, right?
Russell: Probably, but it’s in East Chicago. They called it the Harbor area, where Inland Steel was located.
Scarpino: Yes. And did they go there because of jobs in steel?
Russell: Yes, definitely. Because, you know, this was attracting even Europeans to come to the U.S.
Scarpino: Sure. Lots of European immigrants and African-Americans out of the South came to work in those mills.
Russell: Exactly. In fact, as I understand it, you know the slang term “honky?”
Scarpino: I do, yes.
Russell: That was actually named for Hungarians that came to the mills, as I understand it.
Scarpino: Oh, I didn’t know that, but I’ve heard the word. So, they moved to Gary, your grandfather worked in the steel mill...
Russell: Charles Evans, yes.
Scarpino: … and your mom was born there...
Scarpino: Okay, she grew up in Gary and, from what I’ve heard, she was a (INAUDIBLE), she was one of the few black students to attend Froebel...
Scarpino: … F-r-o-e-b-e-l, High School in Gary.
Scarpino: Did she ever talk about what it was like to attend the high school, a mostly white high school?
Russell: Yeah, they talked about it. She was a good student, and, actually, when she graduated, she graduated salutatorian, and there was some question whether she should have been valedictorian, as I understand it, back in the day. But yeah, they talked about it. In fact, one of her younger sisters actually did become valedictorian in later years. But, my mother, she talked about the fact that she used to work in ice cream parlors and stuff like that. You would hear snatches of information from time to time.
Scarpino: You came from a really smart family.
Russell: They were very intelligent, yeah, definitely. They were. I don’t know what happened to me, but they were. In fact, one of her brothers eventually became a Tuskegee Airman.
Scarpino: One of your mother’s brothers...
Russell: Yes, Earl Evans.
Scarpino: … flew with the Tuskegee Airmen.
Russell: Yes. Well, he actually got in in ‘45, just as the war was ending, but he did, he was a member.
Scarpino: That must have been quite an experience.
Russell: So, he didn’t go overseas, but yeah, he was in the chute to go, I guess, if the war had continued.
Scarpino: Then your mother went from high school in Gary, where she did very well, to University at Bloomington, right?
Scarpino: Did she ever talk to you about why Bloomington?
Russell: Well, as you know, back then, it was IU and Purdue...
Scarpino: Right, in Indiana, yes.
Russell: … Those were the glittering lights, I guess, and so that’s where she decided to go. There was some controversy about, at that time, you know, women students, they weren’t so liberated as they are today, or independent as they are today, and a lot of families didn’t want their daughters going to college, because they’d say, “well, they just going to get married and that’s going to be the end of it.” And then, the opportunities weren’t there for women because, as we said earlier, most of the women stayed home in the family and took care of the children and the domestic duties and that kind of thing. So, but she was able to go to IU, yes.
Scarpino: And she met your dad there...?
Scarpino: … when he came back to be a serious student?
Scarpino: … and they got married...
Russell: They did.
Scarpino: … and she didn’t finish...
Scarpino: … now, if I did the math right, you mother must have started college in Bloomington in about 1936. Does that sound right?
Russell: It’s about right. It might have been ‘35, I don’t know. It might have been ‘37, but it was around that general time.
Scarpino: Did she ever talk to you about what campus life was like for a young African-American woman in the 1930s?
Russell: She did. As a matter of fact, at that time, they had at least one sorority called Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. I don’t know if the other black sororities were there then, but she became a member of that. She became a cook in the sorority houses...
Scarpino: The white sororities?
Russell: Yeah, the white sororities. The black students didn’t have houses, although they did have folks that kind of let them reside.
Scarpino: IU did not allow African-American students to live in the dorms then, did they?
Russell: Correct. In fact, they weren’t allowed to do a lot of the - you know, they could hardly go to the Student Union. They would tell us how they would have Duke Ellington play for events in the Union, but they couldn’t go in and hear him. They had to listen from the banks of the Jordan River outside. They would have a social life and whatever they could do, they did. But yeah, they would talk about that. She became a very good cook with that experience in the sorority houses.
Scarpino: That must have worked well for you when you were growing up. (laughing)
Russell: (laughing) It worked great. It was great for us.
Scarpino: My memory is that teenage boys don’t always have a discriminating palate. (laughing)
Russell: Well, she could cook it all. We grew up with oxtails, pigtails, neck bones, you name it. She could cook just about anything, and so I really miss it now. With these young ladies now, the women’s liberation movement kind of did a disservice to them, I think.
Scarpino: Well, I don’t think you’re going to find a man or a woman who can cook oxtails now. My mother did.
Russell: She could cook it all. Pig feet, you name it.
Scarpino: Your mom did finish her college education. She graduated from Butler University in May 1993, when she was 74 years old. What did it say about
your mother that she went back to college after all those years and finished up?
Russell: Even though she didn’t have a college degree, she was very active in the community. At one time, she was a precinct committee person or a vice precinct committee person, as I remember. She was a Sunday School teacher at the Mount Zion Baptist Church, so they had that kind of an outlet. She was very active in the community. She later became what they called a reading tutor. It was like a federal program, I guess, with IPS, but she became a reading tutor, and that was kind of her forte. She could teach folks to read.
Scarpino: She was volunteering in the schools, teaching people to read?
Russell: Well, it wasn’t volunteering at that time. She actually became what they called a unit secretary at Methodist Hospital. She did that. And also, my grandmother, Carrie Parker, they worked for a catering service called Stacey Catering Service, which the Stacey’s lived on Rookwood Avenue in the 4100 block, which is one block west of Cornelius, where my grandmother lived. They had a thriving business. As a matter of fact, they would work all of the major parties in town. They worked for the 500-mile race and all of that. So, they were all making money in that way. Eventually, as the years went by, when this federal program came for IPS, that was her main thing, was as a reading tutor.
Scarpino: We talked about your father and we talked about your mother, and now I have a question about both of them. As you look back on your life, how do you think about the influence that your parents had on the adult you became?
Russell: Oh, tremendous, tremendous, because they knew the ropes and they weren’t about to let us stray too far from those ropes, at least in terms of discipline is concerned. We couldn’t go off the beaten path too much. As I remember, I think I only got two whippings from my father. One was in Lockefield, when I had tarried on the way home from kindergarten. There was like a crab apple tree on the way home, and somehow I got enthralled with that when I should have been coming. So, yeah, he came looking for me, and that was the first whipping I ever really got from him. So, I remember that. So, yeah, they knew what to do and what not to do, and they weren’t about to let us stray too far from that.
Scarpino: As you were attending elementary school - and we’re going to talk about high school in a minute - but as you were attending elementary school and high school, were there adults in the community, other than your parents, who had an impact on the person you became?
Russell: Oh, absolutely, on all of the children in the neighborhood, because, at that time, that neighborhood was changing. When we first moved on 40th Street, we had pretty much all Caucasian neighbors, but then they slowly started moving out, which I could never understand, you know, it was kind of puzzling, and still don’t really understand today. But, they would move out and then the folks from the black community would move in. So, we had basically professionals living in the neighborhood. You had teachers, you had attorneys, you had doctors, and everybody kind of lived in that area. You might have heard of Graham Martin, who was a football coach at Crispus Attucks...
Russell: … he lived on 40th Street also in the block just east of us. Have you heard of Crispus Attucks, the Crazy Song, when they would...
Russell: You haven’t heard that Crazy Song?
Russell: Well, the Crazy Song would be, you know - Crispus Attucks had a very good basketball team...
Scarpino: I know that.
Russell: … and when they would win, they would sing the Crazy Song for the crowd and the opposing team, and basically it went like “you can beat everybody but you can’t beat us, that’s the Crazy Song.” But anyway, one of the folks that, as I understand it, helped put that together lived just east of us also. Her name was Oglesby, Mrs. Oglesby. Her husband had been very active in the Civil Air Patrol also. But, you had those type of neighbors. And, at that time, we were actually bused to IPS School 87. You had mentioned earlier, George Washington Carver, but they were on all of those routes. You had, as I said, doctors and physicians and whatnot. A lot of the teachers lived there. So, you couldn’t get away with a whole lot, in terms of disciplinary type things. Have you ever heard of Osma Spurlock...?
Russell: … and Al Spurlock? Osma Spurlock was one of the first heads of the state Civil Rights Commission and then became head of the EEO Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, later. But anyway, they lived in the neighborhood. Her husband, Al, was the track coach and assistant basketball coach to Coach Ray Crowe at Crispus Attucks. You had, I had mentioned Dr. Paul Batiste, they lived in that area. There were quite a few physicians. When we moved to that area, for some strange reason, I decided to become a delivery carrier for the Indianapolis Times – this is at the age of nine years old. I guess I kind of always was looking at the economic piece of the action, so to speak. I got a chance to meet a lot of these people as my customers. So, that was quite an experience.
Scarpino: When you were growing up and living in an area that was inhabited by all these interesting folks you just mentioned, did you believe that you could be like them when you grew up?
Russell: Yeah because, you know, as I mentioned, my family - it was like the whole environment, it was kind of ingrained in you to try to succeed in life. I can remember, when we lived in Lockefield Gardens, for instance, we lived in the apartment area, which is off of Lock Street, which is now I guess University...
Scarpino: University, yeah.
Russell: … but anyway, as a young child, you had some of my contemporaries – you might have heard of State Representative Bill Crawford, he was a little bit older than me, but he lived in the same apartment complex. You had Henry Cookie Woods, who later became a basketball star at Tech High School. His father was a musician, played on Indiana Avenue a lot at the clubs. You had
that background. And then, you moved to the Butler-Tarkington area where we lived, you had, as I said, the different influences there. So, it was kind of hard not to want to succeed in life.
Scarpino: When you lived in Lockefield Gardens, is the building that you lived in still there?
Russell: In Lockefield Gardens? No, but there was a young lady by the name of Glory June, you might have heard of...
Scarpino: I’m going to talk to you about her later. I know her.
Russell: … but she was like an angel because she saved what is left of Lockefield Gardens now. You know, they were going to tear the whole complex down, but she just was adamant about at least saving the units that are still there now. Those are the only buildings still left. Lockefield Gardens, there is a museum at Crispus Attucks High School, I don’t know if you’re familiar...
Scarpino: I am.
Russell: … but if anybody that goes over there, they will see the whole layout of the Lockefield Gardens area, and the buildings and so forth.
Scarpino: When we first started talking, and I think when I talked to you on the phone as well and in the interview you did with Steve Towne, you mentioned Joe Lewis, heavyweight champion. For anybody who might not know, he was the heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949, and his professional record was 66 wins and three losses, which is amazing. So, what did he mean to you, as a young African-American, growing up?
Russell: Well, you know, you have to have heroes or people that you look up to, at least you should, and he was a good one to have. You had others too. You’ve heard of Jesse Owens, I'm sure...
Scarpino: I certainly have.
Russell: … out of Ohio, and he was another hero. He’s the one that kind of ruined Adolf Hitler’s Olympic sessions...
Scarpino: He did, didn’t he?
Russell: … and then, it’s interesting because I later met him in later life. There was a country club that developed in the early ‘70s in Indianapolis called Sportsman’s Country Club, which was initially started by some of the black professional football players. Jim Todd was one of the main drivers of that, who actually had come out of Richmond, I guess, and he had actually been in the orphanage there in Richmond, if you’ve ever heard of that orphanage. But anyway, he became a professional football player and it was his idea to have a country club, which was designed to be interracial because the policies of most country clubs at the time especially, they had discriminatory clauses, but they decided to form this country club. Well, that lasted maybe a couple of years, and then it wasn’t financially successful. So, it reorganized under what they called the Scenic View Country Club, and so I was a part of that. But anyway, we actually would have people like Jesse Owens, whenever he was in town, he would come through. One of his teammates, I think his name was Lang was his last name. I can’t remember his first name, but he had actually been on the winning relay team in the...
Scarpino: He was another track star in 1936.
Russell: … yeah, ‘36 Olympics. He had been on the relay team and he was a member too, of the Club. So, Sammy Davis, Jr., came through.
Scarpino: Gee, did you meet him?
Russell: I did. There was a group, some of the contemporaries might remember, called the O’Jays, a singing group out of Cleveland, Ohio, Eddie Levert, they came through. There was a film called “Super Fly” back in the ‘70s, I think...
Scarpino: I remember that.
Russell: … that was one of the popular films, and the female lead came through. I forget her name now, but she came through to visit at the Club. So, there were different celebrities that would come through from time to time.
Scarpino: So, speaking of track, I’m going to pass the baton to my associate here. She’s going to ask you a few questions.
Russell: Are you a track athlete?
Brinker: I am not, but there’s always tomorrow, right? So, in 1949, you moved to the Butler-Tarkington area of the city and your parents bought a house on 40th Street, east of Crown Hill Cemetery. What was life in the 40th Street neighborhood like for the Russell family, when you were a child and a teenager?
Russell: It was great. When you’re a child, as long as you can do certain things, life is fabulous. (laughing) You don’t have any bills to pay. It’s great. You just eat,
sleep, do your homework, and it’s great. It was nice, and then the fact that when we first moved, as I said earlier, it was mostly Caucasian neighbors, and we all played together as kids, no big deal. Then slowly they would move away, one-by-one family, and then other families would move in and you would make new friends, and do the things that kids do, children do. So, it was very nice, and then the fact that I was a newspaper carrier, I was a little bit able to see a big picture, so to speak. That was when - I don’t know if you remember the Schwinn bicycles. They came out with a Super Sport model, which was classy. So, I was able to purchase a Super Sport bicycle with my earnings as a newspaper delivery man. I had gotten a bicycle earlier at Christmastime, which was very nice, but when the Super Sport came out, that was like today’s cars, like a BMW or a Rolls-Royce or a whatever. It’s like the difference between a Chevrolet and one of those top models. Then, other kids that were delivery kids, they would buy them too. Also, at that time, like at 40th and Boulevard Place, that was like the shopping area. We had two drugstores at that intersection, Miller’s was one of them and it was a Rexall Drugs and then we had another right across the street from that. We had a hardware store on the other corner. We had a grocery store, which was operated by another of my father’s friends, James Smith, who had actually been a partner of the grocery store in Lockefield at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Blake Street. But anyway, his store was located there and actually, Mr. Miller, who owned the Rexall store, he and my father had actually been classmates as youngsters at the time, as was - you’ve heard of Hook’s Drugs, but Hook’s - he was also a classmate at the time. Vic Carter Relly was the owner of the other drugstore at the time. You had Tarkington Park, which was at 39th and Illinois. You had little league baseball, and you had Boy
Scout troops. Kenny Gardner, who lived in the neighborhood, was a Scoutmaster. Before that, you had Mrs. Birdsong, which was the Cub Scout leader. You had Vivian Benedict, who was a Cub Scout leader. So, you had those kind of activities. I mean, it was like great. You couldn’t really ask for more. As a matter of fact, Scout-wise, we once had a 10-mile hike from the neighborhood to Belzer, Camp Belzer on 56th in the Lawrence area, and that was quite an adventure. But, you had those kinds of things. The corner of 40th and Boulevard became sort of like, I guess you could say Castleton or Glendale or Lafayette Square areas are today, in terms of shopping. Everybody went there and were patrons. Particularly for our delivery carriers, we’d spend a lot of time, before going on our routes, drinking non-phosphates and cherry Cokes and strawberry Cokes. It was quite a life. If you’re familiar with like the “Archie” comic strips, it was sort of like that in a way and, of course, comic books were big at the time. Before television became big, everybody more or less listened to the radio, and you had the radio dramas. It was the kind of thing where you made up your own situation, in terms of what the hero at the time was going through. You had the “Shadow,” you had “Duffy’s Tavern,” who, I’ve got that on my caller-ID. Some people don’t know what that’s all about, you know, when you’re calling. But anyway, the opening of it, the telephone would ring and somebody would answer the phone, and the person that answered the phone would say “Duffy’s Tavern, Duffy’s not here.” So, I kind of adapted that to my caller-ID. Some people don’t know what that’s all about, but that’s what it was about. Anyway, those are the kinds of things that went on. Around the corner from my grandmother’s house on Cornelius, we had another Miller that had like a variety shop above his garage. He would have the popsicles, the candy, and stuff that children loved,
but they shouldn’t be taking so much of. Then at the corner of 42nd and Boulevard Place, just up the street from 40th and Boulevard, you had another shopping corner, and you had a drugstore there. The big thing with my parents and my grandmother at the time was getting hand-packed ice cream. When they would send you to the store to get ice cream, “make sure it’s handpacked,” and you’d have a carton of hand-packed ice cream you had to bring back. You couldn’t ask for more, really.
Brinker: Oh, yeah. So, it sounds like you had a lot of fun and then you said you were delivering newspapers – did you do any other jobs like that as a kid growing up?
Russell: I used to cut grass for people and do some chores. My parents and grandmother would make sure I did chores. I can remember having, at that time, you had the boards around the wall; I forget what they call them. But anyway, I had to clean those boards around the walls. I had to clean the various items my grandmother had. She had quite a collection. She had the old Victrola, they played the long-play records, 78, I think. You probably don’t remember them, but Phil might remember. There was a singer called Nellie Lutcher that was very popular at the time. She had a lot of her records. It was the kind of Victrola you had to crank to make it operate. And also, my grandparents, they were hockey fans. You had a big championship hockey team in Indianapolis that their games were at the Coliseum in the Fairgrounds. We would go there on a regular basis whenever I stayed with my grandmother. I mean, it was just great.
Brinker: When your parents bought the house on 40th Street, you were living in a house for the first time, what was that like?
Russell: Well, as I say, it was great because, as a child, all you wanted to do is be able to play and participate, and the neighbor children were the same way basically. I had mentioned how some of the Caucasians would leave. We had a rental house next door to us, and I remember one of the families moved away. Later in life, he was found murdered. He moved out to the Castleton area and he was found murdered outside his home. So, you never know. Generally speaking, it was great. We had one family, the Burke family, which lived across the street from us. Just as an aside, one of the children was Karen Burke and she became a teacher at North Central High School, and her brother became - they were very good at music - and her younger brother became music director for the Spinners, a singing group out of Motown, if you’ve ever heard of them. It was quite a life, you know, definitely.
Brinker: Did your parents ever talk about how African-Americans living in Indianapolis in the late ‘40s and ‘50s financed a home purchase?
Russell: They bought our house on contract. If you’re familiar, the seller gives you a contract to buy the house.
Russell: I’m not sure how other families, what their arrangements were, but it probably was similar.
Brinker: Okay, and then you mentioned that your mom did Sunday School teaching and you guys were fairly active in the church. Were there any other big activities that you guys participated in with that?
Russell: With the church...?
Russell: … or just in general?
Brinker: With the church.
Russell: Well, that was what, the different activities that churches do. Basically, the children were usually given like at Easter and Christmastime, they would have what they called parts, and they would have like parts of different Scriptures that the children would have to get up in front of the other students and say their part. Each particular class would have to do that, which is good training for public speaking later. We would participate with that. We would have the Easter egg hunts and things like that. We would have - I became, working with one of the teachers to collect the money collected from - we all would all have to pay a deposit to the Sunday School fund and then we would tally, total up what that fund was every Sunday. When the church was at 12th and Fayette, there was a drugstore on the corner and, of course, we would hit that drugstore after Sunday School was over, and they would have various things that variety stores would have, sweets. And, we would have skits maybe, as youngsters. Of course, if you were smart, you would get baptized. You would have those ceremonies, even as children. At that time, with the Indianapolis Public School system, they had what they called Weekday Religious
Education, and each school, the students would go to the church in the vicinity for weekday religious activities and learn about the Bible and how to be moral, so to speak. And really, I think that made a big difference. It’s a lot different than what happens today when they don’t do that, as you can see through the media and the newspapers today with the things that children are involved with. Just the other day, you had four students that were found dead, murdered, by other students. To me, it’s just ridiculous because you can’t take something like that away and expect good results when they take – a lot of people say, “take prayer out of the schools,” but it was more than that. It was the whole community was, you had a moral code, so to speak, and when you take that away, it’s just ridiculous. Looking back on it, what has happened, they have substituted that moral code for anything goes; and when anything goes, nothing goes well. It’s just ridiculous. My father used to have a saying about things like that, he would say “how stupid can you be?” You know, you look at things and it’s just ridiculous, but it is what it is.
Brinker: Oh, yeah, it is what it is. You mentioned going to school and having that religious time when you were there. So, School 43 was near your new home, but African-Americans weren’t allowed to attend School 43...
Russell: In my generation, but my father and his uncles had attended with no problem. That was before the influence of the reactionaries, as I call them.
Brinker: The reactionaries. So, you were bused to School 87, which was the George Washington Carver School through grade seven...
Russell: There were three buses. One was like the Byram bus, which is Byram Avenue from 38th Street, then the Rookwood bus, which was a block away,
and then the Cornelius bus, which was a block away. So, those buses would come up and down those streets to 42nd Street, and all the students would ride the various buses that were near to them in that way.
Brinker: So, is School 87 located at 42nd Street?
Russell: No, it was at 24th and Indianapolis, which back then it was quite a distance. It’s not really that far, but it is - you know, you don’t want to walk it, you know what I mean? The principal of that school and the teachers of that school, they were just fantastic. The principal was Vivian Marbury at the time, who had been one of the founders of another sorority at Butler University, called Sigma Gamma Rho, and so she knew her stuff. Then you had - just every teacher would try to almost pour good information into the students that were smart enough to take advantage of it. We would have all different types of activities. We would have the Christmas pageants, which I always enjoyed the Christmas carols. At that time, I guess they said I could sing a little bit. I always enjoyed the Christmas songs, definitely, but you would have various activities. You would have what they called May Day, which would be every first of May and each class would have different outfits they would dress up in and they would have a May Day festival, so to speak. As a matter of fact, we had a music teacher, Phil, you might have heard of, Larry Leggett.
Scarpino: No, I haven’t.
Russell: Larry Leggett, he had been a professional musician. And, you had a lot of professional musicians that, if they had decided to leave Indianapolis to live, they would have been big time, but they decided to stay in Indianapolis. But anyway, he was one of the music teachers, my first music teacher at School
- I played clarinet. He was a great clarinetist. I guess he was from Terre Haute, Indiana, originally, but he was our first music teacher. You had a great art teacher; you had great music teachers; you had a great cafeteria. I mean, a lot of people complain about the food, but food wasn’t bad, really. The teachers were sticklers; they wouldn’t let people slide or get away with different things. As a matter of fact, when I decided to go to School 43, after the Brown vs. Board of Education, when that came down from the Supreme Court in ‘54, there wasn’t too much that I had to change in terms of studies. I guess I did pretty well on the standardized tests, as they call them. When you look back on things like that, it just seems so ridiculous; how could that happen? It’s just crazy.
Brinker: Following the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, you switched from School 88 to School 43, but did you have an understanding of what was going on, in terms of the Brown decision?
Russell: Oh, yeah, definitely. Because, you know, you see the Caucasian students walking to class and you see us riding buses which, as a child, really, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was just an adventure, but still, you knew the difference. The parents, of course, it became political to them, so they, finally, were heard to an extent, because even before the ‘54 decision, they had started integrating School 43, one grade at a time. Like my middle sister, she started in the first grade at 43, and they would move up to second, and then the next first grade class would be integrated, and on up. So, they had prevailed upon the IPS School Board to at least start that process, even before the ‘54 decision.
Brinker: I understand that moving from School 87 to School 43 wasn’t mandatory, and some parents elected not to move their children. Do you have an idea why some parents decided to keep their children at School 87?
Russell: Well, I think it was more with what the students wanted to do, at least in my generation. I had some friends that stayed, but I had some friend that wanted to walk to school, too. It just depended upon the - I think the students probably had more influence than the parents, I think, but I don’t know for sure. Now, when we attended School 87, of course, you get that experience. One of my classmates, his name was Richard Ransom, and he had lived like a block away from School 87. But, one tragic thing that happened, back in that day, you had party telephone lines – it’s sort of like the internet today, but with the party line, different families could use the same line to make calls. So, it had to be like a courtesy thing. If you wanted to make a call, you had to ask the person that was on the line for permission to do it. So, one of the tragic things that happened, unfortunately, this fellow, Richard Ransom, his younger brother had become seriously ill, and his mother was trying to call the doctor or the hospital, but the person on the party line refused to get off the line, so they couldn’t, and unfortunately his brother passed away. But that was very traumatic, as far as our classmates were concerned. That was one thing that stands out. But, generally speaking, it was a great experience. We had sticklers for math and sticklers for grammar and English. John Morton Finney, who the IPS Education Building has been named for, his wife was one of our teachers in the seventh grade, and they were French enthusiasts. They loved France, so they started a class in French for some of the students in my seventh grade, and that was great.
Brinker: Did you take that class?
Russell: Beg your pardon?
Brinker: Did you take that class?
Russell: I did, yes. In other words, you got a good education, definitely. The big thing I see, as far as this whole school integration thing, is even though a lot of the pundits, when it came to desegregating the schools and that kind of thing, they would say well - and it was even a factor in the case that Judge Hugh Dillin presided over a few years ago in Indianapolis area, when they called for busing, two-way busing, it ended up one-way busing basically, to the outer suburbs. But, what that does is the children get to know each other, and they find out each one is human with human pluses and negatives. So, it’s like when you have situations now, where you have heads of universities and other prominent people make remarks when they see an outstanding black person, and they kind of marvel over it and act like it’s so rare, but it’s not rare; you just don’t know about it. So, that’s the thing that really is one of the tragedies of this whole racial situation, as I see it. People - it’s just ignorance. When you have students sitting next to each other, well the media would say, “Well, that doesn’t make either one any smarter or dumber;” no, that’s not the point; you just get to know each other and you find out that they’re basically alike, except for their skin color, and that’s the way it should be. You had that reluctance, and it’s held the country back, definitely.
Scarpino: In that next question, I got the date wrong. You see where it says “If I calculated correctly, you finished the 8th grade...,” it’s 1955. You might want to change that before you say it out loud.
Brinker: That’s fair. So, your sister was already at School 43...
Brinker: … when you started there, and that was under the “step-by-step” plan, and what exactly was the step-by-step plan?
Russell: Well, as I said, they started the first grade integrating and then moved up to the second and then the next first grade was integrated.
Brinker: Oh, okay. You attended School 43 for eighth grade?
Brinker: So, in your last year of elementary school, you moved from an all black, or nearly all black, school at IPS School 87 to what had been a nearly all white school at School 43...
Russell: Predominantly, yeah.
Brinker: … so you finished the eighth grade in 1955, is that right?
Brinker: So, what was it like to be attending what had been largely an all white, or nearly all white, elementary school?
Russell: Again, you find out that people are basically human, you know; they’re alike in many ways and maybe not so alike in other ways. You find out the teachers are like teachers are, you know what I mean? It’s just a different location, basically. You had the same Christmas pageants. I got to sing, which is
good, good for me. You had the sports and so basically, the same, just different people.
Brinker: Well, I’ll hand it back you, Dr. Scarpino.
Scarpino: So, you finished eighth grade in 1955, and started at School 43, and then you went to Shortridge...
Scarpino: … High School, which was basically your neighborhood school, you could walk there.
Russell: It was; we could walk. I can’t walk there so well now, but at that time, you know, it was okay.
Scarpino: What do you remember about the education you got at Shortridge?
Russell: At that time, Shortridge was recognized as one of the top schools in the country. I don’t know if you’re familiar, but there’s a book that’s been written about Shortridge High School, 1864 to 1981. It really tells a lot about education in Indianapolis, period, but it was a great school. As I mentioned in other conversations, my mother attended Froebel High School in Gary and their mascot name was the Blue Devils and the Shortridge mascot name was the Blue Devils. Coincidence? I don’t know. But anyway, we had the only radio station in a high school. We had the only daily newspaper in a high school.
Scarpino: Did you work on the radio station?
Russell: I did not, I did not, but I was in the band.
Scarpino: Well, I want to ask you about that. So, what instrument did you play in the band?
Russell: Clarinet, played clarinet, under James Calvert, another fantastic music...
Scarpino: Music teacher at Shortridge?
Scarpino: So, what inspired you to pick the clarinet?
Russell: I don’t know. It was just something about the clarinet that - well, I loved the sound of it, the tone of it. It would have either been that or the French horn. I love both of those sounds, so I decided to go with the woodwind, the clarinet. And, I was fascinated by a clarinet’s keys and what you have to learn about it, and it’s kind of complicated looking and playing. I guess that was one of the main things that I liked about it.
Scarpino: I understand that the band at Shortridge played at the First Indianapolis 500 Festival.
Russell: We did, parade.
Scarpino: … parade, Festival parade, yeah, so what was that like for a young person?
Russell: It was great, it was great. You got a chance to strut your stuff, so to speak.
Scarpino: A marching band is a lot of work. You’ve got practice and...
Russell: Yeah, but it’s good; it’s good exercise and it’s good discipline. That’s the thing about music. There’s a great Brazilian trumpeter called Rafael Mendez - I don't know if you’ve heard of him - but he was one of the greatest in the world. He would come to Shortridge, and we actually made a recording with him, like the “Flight of the Bumblebee” and stuff like that. It was great. And then, we would travel to different cities like where the football team would be playing, like Fort Wayne or Evansville or New Albany. You’ve heard of Frank Anderson, who became Marion County Sheriff after being an outstanding U.S. Marshal?
Russell: He actually played in the band at one time. He was a little bit ahead of me, but it was just a great experience.
Scarpino: Academically, what were you interested in in high school? What was your favorite subject?
Russell: Well, I always liked math and science, but more so math, and what they called history and social studies, and English, of course. For some reason, and to this day I don’t know how this happened, but I was always fascinated with China and Russia and their relationship to the United States. I mean, even as at that age, I was always fascinated with that, and even would write papers on it. We were led to read like The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and other things like that. So, current events always did interest me.
Scarpino: How would you rate the education that you got at Shortridge?
Russell: Excellent education. As a matter of fact, when I went to Purdue, I was ahead of a lot of students from the surrounding area because we had had like college level courses essentially. Like English, for instance, advanced composition, literature; definitely in math and science. So, the education was top rated.
Scarpino: So, you graduated from Shortridge in 1959, sometime in the spring or early summer...
Russell: And we, just to cut you off, but we had students like Richard Lugar that was ahead of us...
Scarpino: Ahead of you, yeah.
Russell: … Andy Jacobs, in Congress, Frank ...
Scarpino: Richard Lugar graduated in 1950 and Andy Jacobs graduated in 1949, so they were a little ahead of you.
Russell: Well, but their flavor, kind of...
Russell: … there was a chewing gum commercial; as long as the flavor lasts or something like that, so their presence lasted, you know what I mean?
Scarpino: Yeah, it’s a good place to be from.
Russell: Richard Lugar’s sister was there. So, it was kind of a family tradition type thing. And, you had like Frank Anderson, who became, you know...
Russell: … law enforcement. He was there. You just had that kind of atmosphere.
Scarpino: So, in 1959, you graduated from high school, you were going to go to Purdue, but, as a young man graduating from high school in 1959, where did you hope your life was headed?
Russell: Well, at 43, we had a career session where everybody had to pick a career that they wanted to go into in the future, okay? So, one of my good friends that I was telling you about, Paul Batiste, his father was a doctor, so he was going to be in medicine. I said, well, what am I going to do? But I was always good in math and science and trying to figure out how things work, so I said well, okay. And then, we had a film in class at an auditorium session once, where it showed the future, in terms of electronics, and you would see things like stuff that’s old hat now, like how you would have bedroom monitors for children...
Russell: … remote control and a lot of things that are in effect now. So, I said well, that’s interesting, so I decided to become an engineer, okay, electrical engineer. My father, at the time, was a counselor for the state Vocational Rehabilitation, and he came in contact with a lot of folks in the educational arena. He set up an interview with me and a professional engineer, retired professional engineer, I guess at the time, who lived, as I remember, near 32nd and Meridian, in that area. He made arrangements for me to visit him at his home, and he kind of told me what it was all about. He said, “This is difficult,” because he felt that it wasn’t something to take lightly, and I was all ears. I guess that kind of guided me in that direction at the time.
Scarpino: So, in the summer between when you graduated from Shortridge before you started at Purdue, you took an IU Extension class?
Russell: Yeah, they had offered a class for students going to college that showed you the ins and outs on the best study habits and techniques.
Scarpino: Where did you have to go to take that class?
Russell: That was at IU Extension at the time, which was located at 9th and Meridian.
Russell: What had happened at Shortridge, we had a trigonometry professor, his name was Millikan.
Russell: Millikan. He was the terror of trigonometry teachers everywhere. He had this reputation. So, I had to kind of buckle down in his class and I guess history kind of repeats itself, because I kind of played around the first. At that time, the semester was divided into three parts. The first part, I didn’t really take it that seriously. So, that was a no-no with Millikan. But then...
Scarpino: He caught you at it.
Russell: He caught me, but it was a good outcome because I came back, and he said, he made a special announcement to the class, as an example, he said, “Now this young man, he didn’t really take things seriously, but he buckled down and he became a good student.” But that was quite an achievement at the time, but I think it kind of peaked me out in a way because I kind of, like you
can peak, you know, when you peak, then it’s like not the same later. So, I had to go through kind of a lulling period, so I said I better take this study class, and that’s why I took it. But you know, it didn’t make any difference because I kind of went through the motions, you know what I mean.
Scarpino: I do, yes.
Russell: You know what happens when you get burned out?
Russell: You just get burned out.
Scarpino: Did you start at Purdue in 1960?
Scarpino: ‘59, okay. And, we talked about the fact that you picked electrical engineering as a major, so you lived in a dorm, Tarkington Hall.
Russell: I did. Tarkington Hall, which I didn’t get the connection at the time.
Scarpino: So, what was the experience of leaving home and living in a dorm at a university like for a young man?
Russell: Tarkington Hall, they called them H Halls at the time. There were three of them: H-1, H-2 and H-3. They were the newest dormitories on campus. I was assigned to H-2, which was Tarkington, and it was great because it had a soda shop; it had a cafeteria. You see the soda shop thing kind of through my life. Yeah, they had a soda shop, where you can get malts and milkshakes and whatever you wanted, hamburgers. As a freshman, they had this ritual,
some might call it hazing today. It wasn’t as bad as some things get, but it was kind of like hazing and everyone had to wear a green beanie, as a freshman. I hated that green beanie, but we had to wear them.
Scarpino: I had to wear a red one.
Russell: But, kind of a saving grace to me was they had a stereo in the lounge, and I definitely was a music buff. So, I had a chance to bring my 45s and LPs. It’s kind of funny looking back because the Caucasian students, they would be playing things like Montovani - which is good music - the Kingston Trio, Beach Boys, which I liked them too, but I had things like the Temptations and the Motown stars and the Four Tops. At that time, most of the black students were like athletes. They were like from Ohio and Illinois and the East, West Virginia, because these are like football states. So, we would have like sessions in the lounge and play the music when we could get on the turntable. Incidentally, they had a radio station in the hall too, in the residents’ hall too. So, that kind of made life bearable.
Scarpino: And you played in the band at Purdue.
Russell: Played in the band at Purdue.
Scarpino: I understand that the students had a choice, at least male students: ROTC or the band.
Russell: Yeah, because the band qualified as a military band, so that was nice because this was like the Second World War had ended, but you had like the Korean Conflict; you had the Vietnam Conflict; things were still up in the air, in terms of that.
Scarpino: I understand that when you played in the band at Purdue, you switched from clarinet to drum?
Russell: No, I didn’t switch, but you have a marching season and you have a concert season...
Russell: … so the marching season is for the football games basically. When it gets into like the months of November and late October, it gets kind of cold, so playing clarinet, you know.
Scarpino: You can’t play it with gloves, can you?
Russell: It’s kind of hard when it gets cold, so I made a decision that maybe I should try for the World’s Largest man crew, and that’s what I did.
Scarpino: Are you talking about the so-called World’s Largest Bass Drum?
Russell: It is the world’s largest bass drum, as a matter of fact. The University of Houston, they claimed they had the World’s Largest. So, they actually had taken the Purdue drum down to Houston and showed that we had the World’s Largest Bass Drum.
Scarpino: Did you play the World’s Largest Bass Drum?
Russell: I was more or less on the crew. I didn’t play. It wasn’t really a whole lot of playing done really. It’s just more or less for show.
Scarpino: Did you travel with the band?
Russell: I did, yes. We went to the other Big 10 schools from time to time, like Ohio State. As a matter of fact, when I went to Ohio State, one of my grandmother’s other brothers had moved there, to Columbus, Ohio. He was one of the attorneys I had mentioned earlier. I had never been to Columbus before, and so that was a great opportunity to visit them. I had never been to the 500-Mile Race before, as a customer. I had mentioned the fact that my grandmother and my family members here had been in the catering service out there. They would tell us these experiences that they had doing catering and whatnot. The race was usually held on Memorial Day, and we would decorate our family graves like at Crown Hill and Floral Park and the other cemeteries. We would always have the race on the car radio, but I had never been to the race until I was in the Purdue band. When I went, I said, now, what’s so big about cars riding around in a circle? But when you get there, when they say it’s the greatest spectacle in racing, it really is because you get caught up into the crowd and the things going on and so it kind of got me hooked, in a way.
Scarpino: Did you keep going back to the 500?
Russell: I’ve been back, not every year, but a few years, yeah. In fact, I was there the year that - I forget his name now - Dan something, he won the race even after spinning around 180 degrees – you remember that race? I forget his name, but he actually spun around...
Scarpino: I’ve lived in Indianapolis since 1986, but I remember seeing a race where the guy won - spun out in turn four and still won, yeah.
Russell: Yeah, yeah. I was at that race. That was great.
Scarpino: So, you’re at Purdue, what was campus life like for a young man at Purdue?
Russell: Well, campus life, I had mentioned the freshman period scene. That was like the guiding phenomena at the time. Had basically been involved with the classes. I had been accepted to the freshman Honors Program because I guess the test at the time - that was another thing we did at IU Extension. We had to take the ACT, I think, one of the standardized tests. We took that there, too. But at any rate, I had been selected to be in the freshman engineering Honors Program. What I didn’t know was the normal student carries something like 15 hours average, or 13 to 15 hours. We had to take like 23 credit-hours, and these were like calculus, physics, drafting. But at any rate, that was a big eye-opener because I was still in this period of having peaked out. So, I just was kind of like an average student, instead of being what I thought I should have been, was a better student. But at any rate, that was consuming in terms of anything else, was the academics and the soda shop, getting used to your roommate and their various picadilloes or whatever you want to call it.
Scarpino: Was your roommate white or black?
Scarpino: Did they mix races in roommates in those days?
Russell: Not at that time, I don’t think; not at that time. The dorm halls were integrated, with the exception of no women students at that time, like it is now.
Scarpino: No, absolutely. I’m a little younger than you, but there were no women in my dorm, at least they weren’t supposed to be.
Russell: Not that we didn’t want them there, but no, they weren’t there. You got a chance to meet folks from different areas, different states, and different cities around the state and different experiences. It was like a little bit different social-wise. Another saving grace as far as Purdue was concerned, they had this fabulous sports facility called the Co-Recreational Gym. This was kind of like a brand new facility, where you had all types of intramural sport activities from - you name it – basketball, racquetball, anything you could name, swimming. So, that was great too. You had a chance to kind of relax, to that extent. And then, they had the regular games, like the basketball games, football games, track...
Scarpino: Because you were in the band, you got to go to all that.
Russell: A lot of it, but not all of it. Of course, the band would have to march to the football games, up to the rooms, and you know how gung ho that could possibly be, so it was gung ho. It was a great experience for me personally. Now, some students it wasn’t because, like I say, it wasn’t as cosmopolitan as college campuses have become. I always thought Purdue was the most conservative, probably, school of the Big 10 colleges because when you would go to IU, it was a whole different social atmosphere. Number one, they had women students – when I first went to Purdue, you didn’t have that many women students.
Scarpino: Because they weren’t taking them in the engineering programs.
Russell: Even agriculture, it was like those were the two biggest curricula. But then, I think my sophomore or junior year, they brought in nurses from St. Elizabeth Hospital.
Scarpino: But almost all of the students in your engineering classes would have been men.
Russell: Oh, absolutely.
Scarpino: Yeah, yeah.
Scarpino: There was active discrimination against females in engineering schools in those days.
Russell: Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but there weren’t that many.
Scarpino: So, when you were at Purdue, were you involved in any way in civil rights?
Russell: The civil rights movement was heating up. Particularly in like ‘62 I’d say, it really started to heat up, and you had things like the civil rights marches, the bus riders...
Scarpino: Freedom Riders.
Russell: … Freedom Riders. You had things like the Emmett Till situation.
Russell: You had things like Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner that got murdered. Viola Liuzzo had come down from Detroit, had been murdered in Georgia. It was just a hot time in the country. And so, yeah, you couldn’t help, but if you had any kind of heart at all, you had to become involved and I did become involved. We had people like James Forman would come to campus...
Scarpino: James Farmer or Forman?
Russell: He was also a civil rights leader, as was Farmer. We had people like Dick Gregory. You may remember, he was a top comedian, but he was also a civil rights activist. At that time, he hadn’t gone through his regimen of losing weight and all that. He was...
Scarpino: He was a large man.
Russell: Yeah, he was large, and he had large habits, you know what I mean? He came to campus once. But, another fact, we would have things at the Hall of Music at Purdue. You would have entertainers like Johnny Mathis, who was very popular on campus; Leslie Uggams, before she really hit it big, you know, with her TV show, and that was also very nice. Yeah, we had folks that were interesting. I can remember when Goldwater ran for President, and they had Goldwater...
Russell: … they had groups that were backing him.
Scarpino: I assume you did not back Barry Goldwater.
Russell: Strangely enough, I did go to some of his campus meetings, because I didn’t really understand his full philosophy, but some of the things that he espoused,
I could agree with, but not all, as it turned out. He wasn’t as bad as some of the leaders we have today, you know what I mean? (laughing)
Scarpino: (laughing) That was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t want to lead the witness.
Russell: You know, because basically he believed in being honest, and whatever his philosophies were, he believed in them. So, to that extent, at least he was an honest person.
Scarpino: So, was it like a civil rights organization on campus that you belonged to?
Russell: Well, yeah, they had organized – you probably have heard of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee...
Scarpino: I have.
Russell: … SNCC, and there was an organization called Friends of SNCC that were in the northern colleges. In the south, it was SNCC and the Freedom Riders and all of that. Yeah, I was involved with them to a certain extent. As I say, this was a hotbed area. These were things that were happening you couldn’t avoid. If you were any kind of a caring person at all, you just couldn’t avoid it. I should’ve avoided them, but I didn’t.
Scarpino: Well, you could’ve done worse things with your time at college.
Russell: Yeah, yeah. You like to think you made a positive difference in some way.
Scarpino: Did you?
Russell: I think so. We also had, on the campus at the time, one black fraternity, which was Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, which most of the athletes were members of, but my background, of course, was Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which was actually founded in Bloomington. My uncle was one of the founders. My father was entrenched, you know, he was named for him. I was named for my father, so quite naturally, I was not going to be Omega Psi Phi member. So, I went to the Dean and said, we need to have Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity on campus. Well, the Dean says, “Well, you know, we have one black fraternity and that’s probably all we need right now.” Well, being a person that doesn’t necessarily take no for an answer, I contacted the national headquarters, which was in Philadelphia, and got a lot of literature sent to the Dean, and pointing out people like Oscar Robinson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, these kind of people were members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Scarpino: And Oscar Robinson was also a graduate of Crispus Attucks.
Russell: Absolutely, absolutely. So, I guess it started sinking in. And then, we had a gentleman from Gary, Indiana, who was also a big supporter of a need for having the Kappas on Purdue’s campus, so he was also a person that pushed it. Long story short, we eventually were able to get a chapter up there of the Kappas after I left, but we actually had started what they call an interest club, and we had quite a few people that were in that. That’s something you had to do as a requirement before you actually...
Scarpino: And you graduated from Purdue in 1964.
Russell: I did, yes, yes.
Scarpino: I’m looking at the counter on this thing here and we’ve been talking for more than two hours.
Russell: We have? Wow.
Scarpino: See how time flies when you’re having fun? So, I’m going to propose that we stop because they’re keeping the Archives open for us and we’ll schedule another session with you in a couple of weeks.
Scarpino: I’m going to turn this off before I say anything else. Ah! I have one more thing to say. I want to thank you very much...
Russell: Oh, no problem.
Scarpino: … on behalf of myself and Steve Towne and Haley Brinker here, who has done a lot of background work getting ready for this. Thank you for your time and we’ll look forward to talking to you one more time, if you’re willing to do it.
Russell: I am and, as you can tell, I don’t mind talking.
(END OF RECORDING)
Scarpino: I will say that this is the second session with Mr. Guy Russell. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History at IUPUI and with me in the room is Haley Brinker, who is a first year Master’s student in the Public History Program, and she will also be participating in this interview.
You signed forms last time, but in order to make this all legal, I’m going to ask your permission to record the interview, to have the interview transcribed, to put the transcription and the audio in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives and with the Tobias Center, which is co-sponsoring this, and where they will be used by the patrons of those organizations.
Russell: Very good.
Scarpino: Okay, so we’re okay with that?
Scarpino: Alright. When we ended last time, I had asked you when you graduated from Purdue, where did you imagine your life was headed, and we talked about that. So, where I want to start is that after you graduated from Purdue in 1964, you went to work for Allison Division of General Motors. You were at their facility located on Tibbs Avenue, and you stayed there until the mid-1970s. What were you doing at Allison?
Russell: Well, I’d like to maybe just back up a little bit...
Russell: … because it kind of might have an effect in terms of the answer, in terms of future plans and so forth, because when I was at Purdue, they had an
elaborate placement operation for graduates and whatnot. So, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, in terms of when I graduated, but before I graduated, I took some courses, some post-graduate courses and I was kind of interested in the healthcare field. I got interested in that, strangely enough, because they had speed reading classes that everybody took, you know.
Scarpino: I remember those.
Russell: I always had a problem with speed reading because, like I said, I’m missing something. But anyway, one of the books that I read in this course was on medicine, the history of medicine. Surprisingly, I became really interested in that. One of the post-graduate courses that I took - it was kind of a self-directed course - in biological electronics, that kind of thing. It kind of preceded a lot of things that are happening today. My interest in it was in terms of being of benefit to the medical profession, things that have subsequently come on the market – electrocardiograms, pacemakers, a lot of things of this nature. So, anyway, that was one of the efforts that I was involved with under the Dean of Electrical Engineering.
Scarpino: The Dean of Electrical Engineering at Purdue was sponsoring you to do this research?
Russell: Yes, yes. Because, as I said, I was kind of undecided about which direction, whether or not I was going to try to go into medical electronics or bioelectronics at that time. But anyway, as it turned out, the realities of economics sets in, and I had interviewed with folks from Inland Steel, which I think I mentioned earlier that my grandfather had worked there.
Scarpino: Up in the Gary area.
Russell: Yeah, and the call it the Harbor, Indiana Harbor, which is not too far from Gary. But anyway, so that was one of the companies that I was thinking seriously about and I went up for an interview and whatnot. The fact that my grandfather had worked there, they were interested, quite interested. Then also, Allison Division of General Motors here, and then there was an atomic energy plant in the State of Washington, Pendleton, and I was seriously thinking about going out there.
Scarpino: Was that in Hanford?
Russell: Hanford, yeah. Hanford, Washington, yeah. I seriously was going to consider that because I was kind of interested in that part of the technical field, I guess you could say. As it turned out, I decided to come back to Indianapolis. And, even though I was interested in working for General Motors because that was one of the unique companies at the time - and I guess it still is - but probably I thought seriously about going to Detroit, where their headquarters is with the automobile, you know. As I said, reality kind of set in and then the fact that the family was here, and I had two younger sisters that were interested in going to college. So, I came up with the idea of maybe coming back to Indianapolis, living at home and paying rent, and that would help them as they would go to college or whatever. Ultimately, that’s what I decided to do. So, at Allison, they had what they called the Accelerated Experience Program and all new-hires would go into that program, which is like you would get a chance to participate in the different departments, engineering departments, around the company, and probably try to decide which one you wanted to work in.
So, that’s what I was in also. Well, with that program, part of that, as it turned out, was we took a trip up to the General Motors Headquarters in Detroit. So, I did get to go to Detroit and we went to the proving grounds, so that was kind of nice. After leaving the accelerated experience program and going into the full-time electrical systems group, we got involved with such things as – as we were saying on the way over, the Vietnam War was going on - and so the group that I was in was involved with designing and working with what they called the T63 engine, which was used for the Bell Jet Ranger helicopters. Then, also, they had a program called Gas Pumpers and Gas Generators, which had used turbine engines as emergency power, and I think some of them are still in use, and I think Methodist Hospital here had one. I don’t know if they still have it, but they used the T56 gas turbine engine to help generate emergency power, like for when the...
Scarpino: For backup electricity?
Russell: Exactly. They had these natural gas pumpers, which were located like in Oklahoma and the west, that would pump natural gas across the country. So, I was involved with a lot of that mostly, at the time.
Scarpino: While you were at Allison, you were also involved in something called the Youth Task Force? It was a program of Vice President Hubert Humphrey?
Russell: Yeah, Task Force for Youth Motivation.
Russell: It was under the Plans for Progress Program that, unbeknownst to me at the time, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and President Lyndon Johnson had
come up with this program to help interest the students at historically black colleges and universities, who mostly were going into education and related fields, to emphasize the fact that companies and corporations were looking for graduates in various fields. You know, engineering or whatever. So, that was what that program was all about, and it was a national program.
Scarpino: So, they were looking for basically adult role models working in the fields that they were trying to encourage the students at these historically black colleges to go into.
Russell: Yes, exactly.
Scarpino: You were an engineer and okay…
Russell: I got tapped. But at any rate, that was quite an experience. We all headed to Washington, DC, and met at the State Department. And, you had a lot of the corporate bigwigs, like from Standard Oil and Secretary of Labor and, I guess, the corporate elite in the country. They gave us an orientation program and we were there maybe a couple of days; I think. So, we got to rub shoulders with the Washington elite, as they call them today. But anyway, basically, that was what that program was all about. We were to go across the country to these historically black colleges and universities, and participate in seminars and that type of thing.
Scarpino: Did it work?
Russell: It did. As a matter of fact, today, I had mentioned in an earlier interview I had taken, that we’ve come full circle, because this was like in the middle and late
‘60s, and now they’re trying to get more folks in the education field for teachers. So, you know, it’s funny how life works sometimes.
Scarpino: So, it maybe worked a little too well then?
Russell: It did work, definitely. And, quite naturally, teachers are underpaid and overworked, so most people would go into these other fields for the economic benefit.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you some questions about things that were going on in the country when you were at Allison, but because I’m imagining that people who might listen to this might not have much of a background in history, I’m going to put some information in the record for context. I know you know these things, but the listeners probably won’t.
In the early ‘60s and through the early ‘70s was a period of both expanding opportunity and turmoil over racial issues in the United States. On the federal level, Civil Right Act approved in 1964, Voting Rights Act 1965. Also, a time of tension. John Kennedy was assassinated November 1963, Malcolm X assassinated February 1965, Martin Luther King assassinated April 1968, and Robert Kennedy in June of 1968. Following Dr. King’s assassination, there were riots in about 60 American cities. On top of that, the war in Vietnam was going on and it’s likely that young African-American men were more likely to get drafted and end up in Vietnam than young white men.
So, that’s sort of the context for some of the questions I want to ask you. For most of this period, from the time you graduated from Purdue until the early 1970s, when you were working at Allison, did those kinds of national and
international events that I just mentioned have an influence in your thinking and on your life?
Russell: Absolutely, because at that time the Vietnam War was the elephant in the room. I mentioned earlier, when guys went to college, at least at Purdue, you had to either be in the ROTC program or the military band, which was an equivalent, at least on the same level type program, and so we were able to get draft deferments if you were in those programs. This was on everybody’s mind. When we left school, by working in the defense industry – which at Allison, that’s what we were doing, as I mentioned – we also got deferments, defense deferments to do that. As you may remember, there was a big push by folks because of the draft, the military draft, students would do all kinds of things to avoid being drafted. You know, this whole area – you remember the Kent State University situation?
Scarpino: I certainly do. Yes, I do.
Russell: Well, when I was at Allison, it’s really interesting because the group that I was in, the electric group that I was in and in general that I worked with, were older guys, okay. And, a lot of them had been in either the Korean War or World War II, and so they had that point of view. So, all of these things that were happening were new and unusual to them, to say the least. When Kent State happened, for instance, some of their children didn’t have the same perspective as they had. I can remember some of my coworkers. I mean, they were adamant about the fact that -- one even said, “If my son ever participated in something like that, he’s out of the family.” I mean, it was serious.
Scarpino: It was pretty divisive, wasn’t it?
Russell: Yeah, absolutely divisive in families. And, as I said, you had students that were going to Canada, doing various things, as I said, to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War, and what was happening generally. So, it was a hot time in the United States, definitely. Again, a lot of the things that are happening now, a lot of the points of view in terms of what you might call conservatism, these older workers were espousing them, because this was the time of Affirmative Action in industry. So, they weren’t altogether into that, but they had to go along with it because that was the federal government, and Allison was a federal contractor. We had workers from the military that would actually be in the plants. So, they had to go along with it, to that extent. What we’re seeing today across the national scene, a lot of those ideas are what these workers were talking about back then. And, ultimately, we have a president that has utilized these things to kind of get where he is today, because there is definitely a feeling that this is the right thing to do for the country. Does that make any sense?
Scarpino: Yeah. Were you active in the civil rights movement while you were at Allison?
Russell: I was active, but not as active as I became, but yeah. I was a member of the various civil rights groups – NAACP, I worked with Operation Breadbasket, the Urban League, and that kind of thing – but not to the same extent because after all, at that time, I had a full-time job at Allison, but I was also interested in the music, entertainment business. I think I mentioned earlier that when we were at Purdue and the residence hall, we had kind of introduced like the Motown sound and things, the music of the day. So, I definitely had that
interest also. So, anyway, in coming back to Indianapolis, I think I mentioned earlier, in an earlier interview that I also always felt that – well, Indianapolis is called India-no-place...
Scarpino: I remember that.
Russell: … or Naptown because people were taking naps and sleeping all the time – so, I always felt that Indianapolis deserved better, so that was one of the things that influenced me also to come back to Indianapolis. I had become a member of a group, a club, called Designated Few, and this was like we were interested in entertainment and that kind of thing. So, I was also involved with that, on a part-time basis.
Scarpino: So, what does the Designated Few do?
Russell: Well, at Purdue, I think I had mentioned earlier that there were very few young lady students...
Scarpino: You did mention that, yes.
Russell: … and so that was one of the things that was of interest to me, was to try to get more females interested in going to college and that kind of thing. At Purdue, you had quite an influx of students from the Gary, East Chicago, or what they call The Region area that came to Purdue, but there weren’t as many from Indianapolis, so I said well maybe we can help change that. One of the projects we came up with was a Miss Popularity Contest, which actually was a scholarship program, and we worked with female students at all the city high schools in this Miss Popularity Contest, so they sold sort of like raffle tickets, and whoever sold the most tickets would become Miss Popularity.
Scarpino: And they got a college scholarship along with that?
Russell: They would get a college scholarship. And, we felt that if the female students got interested, perhaps the male students would get interested, you know what I mean, because, obviously, that would follow and hopefully it did. So, that was one of the projects we were involved with. At any rate, that was a part-time effort that I was involved with too. So, I had the energy and the interest at that time to do these kinds of things. Now, one of the fellows in our design group, his name was Curly Coors, and I guess he was maybe in his mid- to late-30s at the time, but he was involved with a lot of activities, social type activities. He was a member of the Murat Shrine and that kind of thing. He was a great guy. But at any rate, one day - I don’t know if I had mentioned this earlier - but one day, came to work, and Curly had a heart attack at work.
Scarpino: In his 30s?
Russell: He might have been, or you know, because I was in my 20s, so I had a hard time determining what age exactly, but he was at least in his mid-30s or early-40s. But, he had a heart attack and they rolled him out of the plant. He never came back. So, a lot of my co-workers were saying, “Well, you know Guy, he was always involved with all these activities.” They were trying to point a finger at me being involved in a lot of activities, I guess. And it worked, because I didn’t want to be rolled out and never come back. But at any rate, that was one of the experiences that stands out in my mind at Allison.
Scarpino: When I set this up, one of the things I mentioned was the assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968, and...
Russell: When I was at Purdue is when Kennedy was assassinated. That was number one, but when...
Scarpino: Do you remember where you were when that happened?
Russell: Oh, absolutely. I was in my dorm room at the time.
Scarpino: So do I, so do I.
Russell: I mean, that was the first assassinated in modern times for a lot of us.
Scarpino: Where I wanted to go with the King assassination is that, as you know, there were riots in many American cities, but not Indianapolis, and you were at John Lands’ supermarket?
Russell: No, John Lands was the prime mover of what they called Iron Market, which was a supermarket in the Indiana Avenue area.
Scarpino: Located near the campus, where the campus is now.
Russell: Absolutely, absolutely, and this was a big push because it’s sort of like now. There was a food desert here in this area, what they call food deserts today, anyway. But, that was the big push behind Iron Market and so they definitely - this was a big deal. But anyway, when Martin Luther King was assassinated, there was activity on Indiana Avenue from, say, West Street further south to Capitol Avenue area, and young people were in an uproar. But, I just happened to be - decided to come down, and I was mainly at the Walker Building, where the Walker Building is now. We were with other guys that were concerned about trying keep peace as much as we could, so to speak.
Scarpino: So, what did you do?
Russell: Well, all you could do was put your view out across and try to calm the situation down. And, that’s basically what - talking to the guys. So, that’s basically all we could do, and I’m sure it had an effect in terms of maybe keeping some of the damage down. But, the major thing, in my mind, was the fact that you had folks like John Lands, Reggie Jones, fellows that had worked in the community with the young people anyway prior to that time, so they had what they called sway, so to speak. So, that helped quite a bit in the effort. Definitely.
Scarpino: I should say, for anybody listening to this, that we interviewed Mr. Lands and that interview is a part of this project so people could listen to his account.
Russell: And you know, he was a former football player with - what was it? The Indianapolis Capitals was it?
Scarpino: He played with the Colts.
Scarpino: And he played with another team that I should remember right now, and I don’t.
Russell: I remember the Capitals.
Scarpino: He played college football for the University of Montana, and he told me he was the only African-American student at that university when he played there. That was a long time ago.
Russell: But yeah, there had been a significant effort, grassroots effort in the Indiana Avenue area, and that played a big part in terms of that particular night.
Scarpino: This is a project sponsored by IUPUI, and I want to talk a little bit about IUPUI. As you know, where IUPUI is presently located, was formerly the heart of the African-American community here in Indianapolis, or part of it...
Scarpino: Indiana University spent a considerable number of years buying up land and relocating people out of here in order to put a university. I interviewed a man named Charles Hardy, who was the man who worked for Indiana University and did that. As you probably know, there was a fair amount of unhappiness with people as this process was going on. At the time this was going on, were you familiar with the fact that IUPUI was buying up this land and moving people out? Did you know that process was underway?
Russell: Yes, and I think I mentioned earlier that when we lived in Lockefield Gardens, at some point, the families were making “too much money” for the project, and most of the families had to leave Lockefield Gardens. So, when we left, the actual folks that were making less money moved in. But at any rate, sometimes the atmosphere or the level of interest or whatever you might call it changed. I don’t know whether it was something that folks felt - the fact that so many families had had to leave, I don’t know if they felt that this was an injustice or whatever. But at any rate, the conditions of the housing kind of went down or deteriorated.
Scarpino: You’re talking about Lockefield now?
Russell: Yes, Lockefield, which was the center of the area at the time. So, when the decision was made - you know, there’s always planning years ahead before things actually happen. So, I would imagine that this figured into the plans that this would be an area that would be suitable for an IUPUI to locate. When that happened, I was a member, I think I mentioned earlier, that I had been a member of an organization called Citizens for Progress.
Russell: A gentleman by the name of W. Fuller Jones was president of that organization, who also was involved with the buying up of property in the area for IUPUI. So, yeah, I definitely was familiar with what was going on to that extent. I had mixed emotions about this happening because you always have a certain fondness for where you were born and lived in your early years, and this was no different, but at the same time, you understand that progress has its own wheels, so to speak, and moves. I had mentioned that the city fathers had made plans earlier, probably years before, to do this. So, it was kind of like an attitude where it was inevitable, you know what I mean? This organization, Citizens for Progress, we were comprised of professionals around the city, guys that worked at Eli Lilly and Company, Allison, the banks. Because, what you had was an emergence of guys in the black community, a lot due to Affirmative Action and whatever, but anyway, the group was composed of these gentlemen and...
Scarpino: These African-American men?
Russell: Yes, yes. And, they chose the name Citizens for Progress and that was what the mantle was to be. But, we were concerned about such things as trying to
improve relations between the majority community and the so-called minority community. I brought this along - this is one of the projects we came up with. It was a pin that we sold that emphasized a white arm and hand and a black arm and hand together for the good of the country, so to speak.
Scarpino: And you were selling those?
Russell: Yeah, we sold those around the city.
Scarpino: That’s a lapel pin?
Russell: That’s a lapel pin, like to the Chamber of Commerce and other – it was an attempt to bridge the gap between the various communities.
Scarpino: Did it work?
Russell: Yeah, it was very popular, and a lot of members of the majority community really took it and ran with it. It kind of spurred an interest and kind of an education for them as well, in terms with what was happening in the minority community, so-called minority community.
Scarpino: What was the position that Citizens for Progress took on the creation of IUPUI?
Russell: We didn’t really take a formal position. But, as I said, it was kind of a mixed feeling among the members, but the president was in his position, so he had a lot of influence...
Scarpino: He was involved in buying land and relocating people, yeah.
Russell: But as I say, it was kind of like a feeling of inevitability that this was what was happening, and it was going to be hard to stop. The fact that a lot of the properties had kind of deteriorated, unfortunately -- used in terms of so-called urban renewal, eminent domain, that the government has powers that they use when they want to do something like that. This was kind of the atmosphere, if you will. So, I don’t know if that answers your question.
Scarpino: Well, I mean, there were a number of things that happened that displaced people who largely were in African-American areas of the city. One was IUPUI, and the other one was the pushing of the interstate through the city.
Scarpino: They sort of combined to remove a lot of housing that had been occupied by the city’s African-American population.
Russell: Absolutely, and that was another sore spot in the community. You had people like the folks at Holy Angels Parish and Church, which is on Dr. Martin Luther King now, which at the time was Northwestern Avenue all the way up – it’s since been renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Street – and Father Boniface Hardin, who ultimately was involved with Martin Center, which dealt with the sickle cell disease, and then the Martin University now. But he was adamant during that time about the interstate coming through the community. As I say, you have a certain air of inevitability, like fighting City Hall, so to speak, so that was kind of the atmosphere.
Scarpino: Well, speaking of City Hall, another big development in relatively the same time period was in 1970, as the result of an Act of the Indiana General
Assembly, the governments of Indianapolis and Marion County were combined into something called Unigov. The Mayor, who supported what became Unigov, was Republican Richard Lugar. One result of Unigov, by combining city government with township government, was to diminish the political influence of the people who lived in the city, who tended to be African-American. So, were you aware of what was going on at the time that Unigov was created?
Russell: Yes, because that was another sore spot, so to speak. There were basically two points of view – the one that you mentioned, and the one that was that by combining the city and county government, it would be more efficient and it would relieve the taxes on the residents to that extent. Yeah, it was definitely one of the sore spots, and that kind of happened at the same time that I had some interest in the political arena. That helped spark an organization we formed called the Urban Union, which was comprised of probably a cross-section of the black community, particularly, in terms of the Unigov coming into effect and the resulting City-County Council coming into effect and the various districts that would have to be represented throughout the area, and we got involved. I think I mentioned earlier that I had been involved at Allison – you know, Allison always had continuing education courses. And, one of the ones that I was interested in was what they called Action Course for Practical Politics. I did take that course and it was very interesting. It was sponsored by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. You may have heard of Tom King, I think he was one of the proponents of the course at that time. Mayor Lugar and Keith Bulan were big proponents. Of course, they were Republican and...
Scarpino: Keith Bulan was like the unofficial Republican Party boss of Indianapolis.
Russell: Absolutely. Like the Chief of Staff, so to speak, that kind of position. But any rate, they were big sponsors of this course. It was like a 12- or 14-week course, and each one of these classes dealt with a particular aspect of practical politics – how to organize from the precinct level, etcetera, etcetera. As I said, I did take the course and got very interested in it. Talked to people like Ward Chairman, that was one of the assignments in the course. It was a Ward Chairman by the name of Myles Lloyd, who was very interested on the north side, in the Butler-Tarkington area, right around the corner from where I lived. He was very interested in the political process. He was one of the standouts, I guess you would say. But at any rate, it happened concurrently at the time that this organization, this cross-section of the community, was coming together to make sure that we were represented in this Unigov situation...
Scarpino: So, that’s the Urban Union?
Russell: … yes, and it was composed of, as I said, a broad cross-section. You had Bill Crawford, who was subsequently to become a State Representative; you had Glenn Howard, who subsequently to become a City Councilman on the very same City-County Council, and then State Senator with the General Assembly. You had folks like Jerry Harkness, who was at the time – this was in the ‘70s; Unigov came into existence in 1970. But anyway, he was with the Indiana Pacers at the time, and he had come from Loyola University, which was the first time that a predominantly all-black team had won the NCAA Championship. And, he had come from New York, that whole New York
piece, and he had experienced various experiences throughout the civil rights...
Scarpino: What was his name again?
Russell: Jerry Harkness.
Scarpino: And you said he was a member of the first all-black team to win the National Championship?
Scarpino: University of Texas, El Paso?
Russell: No, it was Loyola University that won. They were predominantly -- the starting five was all black.
Russell: But anyway, he’s got a whole story himself and books and whatnot about it. And, the fact that they were supposed to play a championship with the University of Mississippi and the Governor of Mississippi refused to let them participate, because they were playing Loyola, which was a predominantly black team. And, the fact that the University of Mississippi players kind of snuck out of the state to participate in the championship tournament. So, he has his own story which he can elaborate on, and then also, they have at the NCAA headquarters here...
Scarpino: In town, yeah.
Russell: … in town, which is just south of where we are now. They’ve got a film or videotape of this situation, also. Anyway, he was a participant. You had other Pacers, (INAUDIBLE). Roger Brown, who became a candidate for the first Unigov Council; George McGinnis - a lot of the Pacers players were interested to that extent.
Scarpino: And you.
Russell: Yeah. I say concurrently, things kind of melded together because, at the time, they had asked me to actually conduct the Action Course at Allison, but all of this was happening. So, we decided to bring it to the Fall Creek YMCA, which was right just north of where we are now. And, we started the class there, and it concurrently came together with this whole Unigov effort, which was kind of interesting.
Scarpino: So, Urban Union was an attempt to try to work with Unigov so that it would not have unfavorable impacts on the African-American community?
Russell: Yes. The Urban League had an organization, which was called the Nonpartisan Black Coalition. Basically, it was sort of like the same mission as the NAACP, in that you would be interested in voter education, voter registration, the kind of nonpartisan activities, whereas the Urban Union was set up to be like a political arm where you could back candidates, support financially candidates.
Scarpino: So, it was not a 501c3, so you could advocate.
Russell: You definitely could advocate. That was the whole idea. I think I brought some of the things I could show you. We don’t have to do it here, but I brought some of the literature of the organization, if you’re interested.
Scarpino: Yeah, we might want to look at that when the recorders aren’t on, but that would be interesting, yeah.
Russell: But anyway, the Unigov Council, the way they ultimately got it passed through the Indiana General Assembly at all was the fact that they had to leave out the education piece. In other words, as you know, education is a key political subject, and you had the township education boards that didn’t want to be involved with a consolidation such as this. You also had the cities of Beech Grove, Speedway, and Lawrence that did not want to be so consolidated throughout the county. So, ultimately, there was a compromise made, where, as you probably know, the residents of Lawrence, Speedway and Beech Grove, they can vote for the Mayor of Indianapolis, but the citizens of Indianapolis can’t vote for their political structure, and also school board-wise. So, those parts were left out as a compromise, but there were 25 districts set up for the Unigov Council, which would be countywide, as well as four at-large. Skeptics might say that this was designed to keep the Republican Party in control of the city apparatus, which is the point you made earlier. But anyway, we wanted to make sure that we could get the most out of that and we, with the Urban Union, strove to make sure that we had adequate representation.
Scarpino: And, were you successful?
Russell: We were successful to an extent, because we worked with the city traffic engineer at the time, Arthur Wake, and we used census tracks to draw up our own district map, and, ultimately, we were able to get a more fair drawing of the districts, I’d say.
Scarpino: I’m going to slightly switch topics. Do you have anything you want to follow up with before I move on?
Scarpino: Okay. So, you’re working at Allison, we’ve been talking about, mostly up to this point, was you had a full-time job at Allison and you were doing a lot of things on the side...
Russell: I don’t know how I did it, looking back.
Scarpino: Well, you mentioned one of your colleagues who had a heart attack, but you made a decision sometime in the mid-1970s to leave Allison and...
Russell: That was one of the things we did with our entertainment piece.
Scarpino: Okay, so I’m looking at a poster here, and you mentioned you’re interested in entertainment, and this handbill or poster says Fall Festival, Southside Armory, Saturday, October 16, 1965, and you’re bringing in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and they look young in this picture. (laughing)
Russell: That was our first major event.
Scarpino: Did you pull in a crowd?
Russell: We did.
Russell: We did so well that the printer of our tickets for the event - we were green at it, as I said, this was our first event, so we didn’t number the tickets. So, the printer for our event had printed up extra tickets, which he was selling a block away from the event...
Scarpino: Oh, my.
Russell: … but we also, there were so many people interested, we still made a lot of money. So, everybody kind of benefited.
Scarpino: You learned something about putting on a music show.
Russell: We definitely learned, we definitely learned. As you can see, the band was the Jimmy Coe Trio. He was one of the famous black musicians in the Indiana Avenue era, and his son was one of our members, Jimmy Coe, Jr.
Russell: Of the Designated Few. The Designated Few was composed of fellows from the east side, west side, south side, and north side of Indianapolis – Rudy Smith, Fred Thompson, Charles Graves, and myself.
Scarpino: You were involved with the Designated Few. You were involved in the Urban Union. You were involved in a number of civil rights organizations – did you ever sleep? (laughing)
Russell: (laughing) I still have a problem getting enough sleep, unfortunately.
Scarpino: You got Jimmy Coe because his son was in your group? Or, did you know him anyhow?
Russell: I did know him. He was a graduate of Crispus Attucks High School. This is a picture of the group.
Scarpino: Alright. That’s you in the front?
Scarpino: Nice mustache. (laughing)
Russell: (laughing) At any rate, we all had the same goal, was to try to make Indianapolis the thriving center it has become, so to speak.
Scarpino: So, as long as we’ve got this, and this is listing the names of the Designated Few. So, it’s yourself, Guy Russell, Fred Thompson, Jimmy Coe, Jr., William Duff, Rudy Smith.
Russell: We can take a look at this stuff earlier, but this was like the Miss Popularity book that we had that I spoke of earlier with the...
Scarpino: I remember that style of advertising. Alright.
Russell: There’s a lot of things we can look at, if you’re interested, later.
Scarpino: What I want to talk about is that sometime in the mid-1970s, you decided to leave Allison and you went to work with the Urban League, is that right?
Russell: No. The decision to leave Allison was the fact that, you know, weighing these different things, I realized that despite all the energy and interest, I couldn’t do
it all. If we had had something like what is now in vogue, such as flextime, where folks could work in industry. If that was in effect at the time, I might not have left Allison, but it was so intense in terms of the atmosphere that - as I think I mentioned earlier, the fact that I didn’t have an immediate family, and I felt that this was an opportunity where I might be able to do some things and not be as constrained, so that’s why I made the decision to leave Allison at the time. Now the other part about Allison was that there was a class – as I said, they always had continuing education programs – there was a lot of big pushes, in terms of the corporate world. You had things like the zero defects philosophy, where no mistakes were allowed in the product and this kind of thing. You also had more influence from General Motors Headquarters in Detroit about the corporate philosophy or atmosphere or whatever. So, at any rate, they instituted classes and instructors from Headquarters in Detroit, and they started what might be construed as a public speaking course or class. I was selected to become one of those folks involved with that. One of my speeches was some things that I had seen on the job and whatever about that things weren’t so zero defective, if you can use that term, and I would point these out. So, I made this big speech in the class, and ultimately my design group section head decided that maybe the entire group should hear it. So, I spoke before the group of coworkers, and pointed out this piece about if certain things didn’t happen, Allison was going to be in trouble. At the time, the name of Allison had been changed to Detroit Diesel Allison. The short version of that was DDAD, Detroit Diesel Allison Division. So, in my presentation, ultimately, I said certain things would probably need to happen or we would have to change those four letters to DEAD. And, there’s no more Allison now, in terms of that operation. There’s an Allison Transmission that
was purchased by a German company, but General Motors ultimately decided to sell the plant we were located at, which was Aerospace Plant, to Rolls Royce out of Great Britain. And, there is a Rolls Royce that has taken over that effort now, as you probably know, in the city. It’s kind of ironic because there’s no more DDAD.
Scarpino: But you decided to leave, right?
Russell: I decided to leave.
Scarpino: And what prompted you to leave? Why did you make that decision?
Russell: Well, as I said, the fact that all of these things are happening, and I was interested in it, but I couldn’t do it all. And, the fact that they didn’t have the flextime piece, which I was advocating for, decided that it would be a good time to make the move, and so I did.
Scarpino: Do you remember when that was?
Russell: In the 1970s. The summer of 1973, I believe.
Scarpino: You left, and what did you do?
Russell: I became more involved in these other activities that I was involved with. And, kept looking for opportunities to support all of this, of course. So, I subsequently became involved in the real estate business, took real estate – in fact, my mother, I think I mentioned earlier, was a reading tutor in the city, and one of her coworkers was involved in trying to become a real estate agent. So, my mother, I guess, mentioned the fact that I was proficient in some areas of math and whatnot, so I became a tutor of this young lady in
math, because math was a portion of the real estate classes. So, I did tutor her, this lady, and in the process of tutoring her, I said, well, maybe I should think about real estate also as financial support. So, I did become a real estate broker. The other thing - I did such things as tutoring, and I became a secret shopper from some of the companies, big major companies around.
Scarpino: So, somebody who’s listening to this might not know what a secret shopper is. What does a secret shopper do?
Russell: A secret shopper - and really, there’s a big need for this even today, but not all companies want to support the effort. But you have companies where, say like a grocery store as an example, and you have competitors, and you might have a secret shopper that would go to the competitors and check their prices, their conduct of the business, that kind of thing. You would also have a secret shopper that would be employed by a corporation or a business of their own business to see how their employees are doing. There’s a popular TV series called “Undercover Boss,” you might be familiar with, where the boss disguises himself or herself and goes out to see how the employees are doing. Well, it’s kind of like that kind of philosophy, but you have so-called secret shoppers that might go to the company and buy a product, and make sure the employees are doing what they’re supposed to do.
Scarpino: So, you were earning money by being a secret shopper and so on, but you were actually devoting your time to issues related to civil rights and...
Russell: Well, things I thought were important. Not just civil rights, but, as you can see on the card, I call that an effort in problem solving and, I guess, lifestyle resolving, so to speak, and so that kind of is a good description of the things
that I was involved with. If I saw a problem in a particular area, I would try to deal with that problem to the extent that I could, and get other people involved if I could.
Scarpino: But at some point, you did go to work for the Urban League.
Russell: No, I never worked with the Urban League.
Scarpino: You never worked with the Urban League?
Russell: Only to the extent where, as a volunteer...
Russell: … okay, because, as I said, I did work with those various organizations as I could. And, I did participate in some of the annual meetings. They have an annual meeting every year. I was once one of the workshop chairmen. And, working with like the head of certain corporate - you know, because the Urban League is basically dealing with the corporate world - and you would work with some of the corporate leaders, in terms of workshops and that kind of thing. So, I did participate to that extent, yeah.
Scarpino: So, you taught workshops?
Russell: Well, I was the chairman.
Russell: I don’t know about taught, but...
Scarpino: Chairman of what?
Russell: Say one of the annual workshops.
Scarpino: For the Urban League?
Scarpino: And so...
Russell: Volunteer, though. One thing about it, and Indianapolis is famous for their volunteers, but it can go too far because people really need to be financially supported, but Indianapolis is famous for their volunteer effort.
Scarpino: Right, expecting people to work for free.
Scarpino: Alright, so you were a volunteer in charge of these workshops that the Urban League was putting on...
Russell: One, yeah.
Scarpino: … okay, what was the point or the focus of the workshop? Who came and what were you teaching?
Russell: Well, as I said, the workshops - the Urban League basically is, part of their mission is to not only seek fair and equitable employment, but also to involve people moving up, so to speak, in terms of their potential. So, the workshops were designed along those lines, in terms of things like employment, things like education in general, things like personal involvement, those kinds of things.
Scarpino: These workshops were intended to encourage companies to promote under-represented people, or were they to encourage people from under-represented groups, particularly African-Americans, to move through the corporate ranks?
Russell: Both, actually. But, more so to encourage. Basically, it’s trying to take notice of human potential and try to optimize that human potential. That’s what all of these things are basically designed to do. To me, this is the name of the game. This is what everybody should be about, but unfortunately everybody...
Scarpino: Optimizing human potential?
Scarpino: If somebody came to your workshop, let me come at this a different way. If you’re standing in front of a group and they’re your students for this workshop, who would be in there? What kind of people?
Russell: Well, it would be publicly advertised, and you would have people from the corporate world. Sort of like what’s happening now, where you would have a dinner or something where the companies would purchase tickets at a table or whatever. They would have that kind of an input. They would publicize their efforts, in terms of what they were all about in the company, what their mission was and that kind of thing. They would also provide access to folks as to possibly getting involved with those company efforts. Okay. I would say that, as I said, it basically boils down to optimizing human potential, and the fact that the minority community or the black community, in particular, was under-represented, especially at that time.
Scarpino: After you left Allison in 1973 or so, you really devoted yourself to optimizing human potential.
Russell: Basically, yes.
Scarpino: Besides these workshops, what else were you doing?
Russell: I was involved with, as I said, most of the efforts, any kind of an effort, so much of that I was involved with. If I had the time and energy, I got involved with it. You may remember a few years ago there was like a national effort, where you would have speakers of renown that would come into the community and put on workshops, like at the predecessor to the Lucas Oil Stadium, convention center, or what did they call it?
Scarpino: It was the Hoosier Dome for a while?
Russell: Hoosier Dome, in fact that was one of the names I submitted. Yeah, the Hoosier Dome. I can’t remember. Anyway, the Hoosier Dome would have national speakers come in; and I would kind of gravitate to those kinds of things to hear what they had to say and their techniques. This was pretty popular across the country a few years ago. So, I would always gravitate to those kinds of events to hear what folks had to say, and people that were kind of on the cutting edge, in terms of that. I would try to gravitate to those kinds of activities.
Scarpino: One of the things that was going on after the mid-’70s – Lockefield Gardens closed in 1976 – and there was a concerted effort to tear it down...
Scarpino: … in fact, IUPUI was involved in that, to facilitate the expansion of IUPUI. In fact, there was quite a bit of demolition. By 1983, the only units that were left were along Blake Street and Locke Street, mostly the west end...
Scarpino: … and then a lot of what was torn down was replaced with new construction, new apartments. So, were you involved at all in trying to deal with the effort to rip down Lockefield?
Russell: I was against it...
Russell: … because, as I say, when you’re born in a particular area, and you lived in a particular area, and you had good experiences in a particular area, it’s only natural to want to, I guess, save that area, if you can. But, I could only do so much. I think I mentioned earlier that there was a young lady by the name of Glory June, who was sort of like the angel. She was against the city demolishing Lockefield Gardens, and she was only able to save the buildings that are standing now, but she was able to save those. So, I have to give her a bouquet for that. I might mention that, on occasion, I would come through the area when they were demolishing these units, and they had a hard time. These units were so well-built that it took a considerable effort to demolish them, definitely.
Scarpino: And, I should probably say, in the interest of full disclosure, that Glory June was my Masters’ student.
Scarpino: Yeah. I’ve known her for years, but she did cut her teeth on that Lockefield mission.
Russell: She was fantastic. She actually had more verb, I guess you could say. She was more enthusiastic than a lot of people in the community that had lived in Lockefield. Because sometimes, you know, folks can get an attitude of it’s useless to try to stop things from happening, but she was like the Energizer Bunny, so to speak, in terms of keeping going and making it foremost to the city government.
Scarpino: That’s a good description – the Energizer Bunny. When you drive by there now and you see that somewhere around three-quarters of what was there is gone, and what’s left is really apartments for young professionals, do you think that that’s a victory? Is it a good thing that those buildings are still there?
Russell: Well, I am a history buff, to a certain extent, and the fact that you have at least evidence by those buildings that were conserved or saved, so there was that effort. And then, let’s face it, there is a thriving community of IUPUI here. You always had the Medical Center and the General Hospital at the time, which is now Eskenazi. And, you always had kind of a mixture in terms of the things that were happening in the area. So, I would have to say the fact that you have a combination of Indiana University and Purdue University – see my Purdue letter...?
Scarpino: I noticed you’re wearing a Purdue…
Russell: … but so that is good, that’s a good thing, because I was around when you had separate IU Extensions and Purdue Extensions and that kind. So, to that extent, I was pleased, I guess you would say, that there was this kind of an effort. I can’t say that the IUPUI effort, I think, has been a good effort, an effective effort, and it is what it is.
Scarpino: You were involved in something called City View...
Russell: Scenic View – s-c-e-n-i-c...
Scarpino: Scenic View Country Club...
Russell: Yeah, which had originally been named the Sportsman’s Country Club.
Scarpino: It was relatively short-lived, but how did you get involved in that? What was the point of Scenic View?
Russell: Well, again, you have these ideas of interest, I guess you would say, because this would go back to my interest in trying to have Indianapolis become more cosmopolitan. So, when I was asked to become a member, I couldn’t refuse it, to that extent, and so I saw that as being an advancement for Indianapolis, so to speak.
Scarpino: This was located at 6600 Grand Avenue...?
Russell: Grandview Avenue.
Scarpino: … Grandview Avenue. Who were some of the people that were involved in attempting to organize this?
Russell: Well, the original Sportsman’s Country Club had been the brainchild of a young man named Jim Todd, who had been an NFL football player. It was his baby, so to speak, and he was trying to get other professional athletes involved to this project, and which he did. Unfortunately, the community, for whatever reason, didn’t really participate to the extent it should have for whatever reason, and it had to close. But, some of the members of the Club still thought it was a good idea, so they reorganized and became Scenic View Country Club, and so I was a member of that. I guess, by the fact that I had participated in a lot of community things, I became a member of the Board. And, you had, as I mentioned in an earlier interview, some of the people that were Board members. So, we tried to make a go of it, but you did have opposition because, in any group, there are going to be pros and cons and people for and against, and you have thinking for and against. You had a lot of members of the community -- even though it was organized as an interracial country club, you had a lot of people that probably didn’t want to see it succeed.
Scarpino: Because it was largely African-American?
Russell: Possibly, but who knows what’s in people’s minds. But it ultimately didn’t last more than about two or three years, even under the reorganization effort; and it was a great effort made. We had even, in trying to get some of the powers that be in terms of city leaders, even to the extent of going to the State Legislature, to get support.
Scarpino: For a charter or for money?
Russell: For any kind of support – as membership, members, or whatever – but ultimately, it wasn’t successful.
Scarpino: I’m going to move toward wrapping this up, but I want to ask you some summary questions. Did you ever officially retire?
Russell: No. (laughing) I guess I’m semi-retired.
Scarpino: No party or...? Okay.
Russell: Politically you mean?
Scarpino: No, I mean, well, you left Allison, but I mean have you ever actually decided to retire from political activity and community engagement?
Russell: Not really, because the problems still exist, and I guess that’s one of my missions is to try to solve them, which is kind of like what an engineer does really. Supposedly an engineer is -- a lot of people have a misconception of what an engineering profession is all about, but we were always taught that engineering is using man, money, materials, machines to make society better essentially. I guess that’s what I do, to the extent I have the energy. But, I don’t have as much energy as I did, but to the extent I do, I still try to stay involved.
Scarpino: Do you think of yourself as a work in progress?
Russell: Yes, definitely. I would say, as something as live and learn, but you never really stop learning if you’re wise.
Scarpino: If you look back on your career, what are you proudest of?
Russell: I would say the most challenging thing that I've done is taking care of family members in their later years, which started with my mother’s mother, who became senile and was confined to a nursing home in the Gary-East Chicago area. Seeing that, you know, you hate to see it, but at the same time, it’s kind of inevitable. So, from her, one of my father’s, stepfather, other members, and then ultimately my mother, in her later years. She lived to be 96, but in her later years - dementia, she suffered from dementia. The hardest thing probably I had to do was to take care of her, because I didn’t want to see her in a nursing home. Even though we went to a nursing home initially, which she was featured in the “American Senior Communities,” I think it is. When they were first starting to publicize, she was one of the ones that was publicized. But, when this whole healthcare situation, under Medicare and Medicaid, the whole business - we had taken her to Wishard Hospital, which was the former General Hospital and now Eskenazi Hospital. We had taken her there when she had one of her episodes, and she ultimately was hospitalized. I can remember that they had these folks that their job is to look at the financial part of hospitalization or healthcare, whatever, and we had a gentleman that came in. I can remember he presented us with Medicaid forms because you’ve got to go on Medicaid with those, spend down assets and whole bit, but that kind of was a sore spot with me because we had always been under the impression not to go on welfare. And, it just struck me. So, I think he said, “You have to sign it or we’re not going to release her,” or something to that effect, so I think I wrote something down to satisfy him, but I
never wanted her to go on Medicaid. So, that was the hardest thing that I had to do and...
Scarpino: So, you took care of her?
Russell: Yes, basically. You have to rely on the higher power, the Creator, which I had to do, and he helped me do it.
Scarpino: But, basically, that’s the situation, where, in order to get assistance, a person has to divest everything they own and have no net worth.
Scarpino: I know. My mother was in that situation.
Russell: But the thing about it, we had neighbors across the street that happened to be a family of CNAs, Certified Nursing Assistants...
Scarpino: Oh, oh, alright, okay.
Russell: … and they were in a position where they could help out to that regard, at a little lower than the market rates for CNAs. Also, I ran into one of my old classmates from IPS 87, George Washington Carver School, and she was a nurse, and she agreed to help out also.
Scarpino: When you think about all the years that you spent working with the community and various activities, particularly after you left Allison, is there one thing that really stands out, one accomplishment...
Russell: In terms of those community activities?
Scarpino: … yeah, that you would say is your crown jewel or something that you’re the most proud of?
Russell: Well, I don’t know about most proud of. This was some of the things that we did, which you probably don’t have time for that, but we basically did voter registration, voter education. We went to the churches, the shopping centers, went to Lockefield Gardens before it was torn down, to register folks, and other public housing agencies. I'd like to think some of our efforts paid off into the fact that you definitely have black political representation to a substantial extent in the City of Indianapolis. So, I would have to say I’m proud of that.
Scarpino: Registering African-American people to vote?
Russell: Well, anybody, but yeah. We worked with the League of Women Voters and other similar organizations. You might be interested in this, we had a retrospective, where we had a program at the Monument Circle. We had a reenactment of Madam C.J. Walker, who came and spoke about the importance of voting.
Scarpino: And she did this on Monument Circle?
Russell: Yeah, we arranged for that. Eddie Rogers, who was an officer in the Fire Department, was a chauffeur...
Scarpino: Do you remember when this was? I was looking for a date on this...
Russell: Yeah, it’s on the front – 2004, I think.
Scarpino: Okay, 2004. There’s a woman here dressed up like Madam Walker...
Russell: She reenacts Madam Walker.
Scarpino: Vickie Daniel?
Russell: Right, yep.
Scarpino: Okay. She looks like Madam Walker.
Russell: Who actually is a registered nurse. In parts of my mother’s experience being hospitalized, she was the charge nurse at Westview Hospital, out here off of 38th Street. So, you know, all of these things kind of connected together.
Scarpino: In addition to voter registration, is there anything else that stands out about what you did in community work that you say, “I did good”?
Russell: I don’t know if I would say I did good, but I did the best I could....
Scarpino: Alright, let’s go with that.
Russell: … pretty much. We participated in - like the beginning of Indiana Black Expo, for instance, we were the political arm.
Scarpino: And who were we?
Russell: This is the Urban Union.
Scarpino: Did you help organize the first Black Expo?
Russell: Kind of, to that extent. The political effort, at any rate. This was an interest in the community because the first Black Expo was, of course, organized by Reverend Jesse Jackson in Chicago, okay. And so, we’d always go to that, attend that. You might remember Isaac Hayes, the singer...
Scarpino: I didn’t know him, but I remember his music.
Russell: … and he participated on one of the entertainment programs in the Chicago Black Expo, the Go Change and whatnot...
Scarpino: So, the first Black Expo in Indianapolis was when?
Russell: 1970, I think.
Scarpino: And you were involved in organizing that, you said, the political effort.
Russell: Another interesting piece, this sounds crazy, but the Designated Few were going to organize a Black Expo; the same basic idea. We were going to take it to the Fairgrounds, and we had different black enterprises participate. But then we found out that Jesse Jackson was doing it in Chicago -- and the fact that Bill Crawford, again, was one of the main organizers of the Black Expo in Indianapolis. So, we decided to kind of put our efforts on the shelf and just participate with that effort. But our major participation was the political arm, doing voter registration, voter education, this kind of thing. This was a community with some of the guys that were in the Citizens for Progress. We all had like a community, where everybody participated, in terms of discussions and things that were going on. You had Reverend Andrew Brown at the Operation Breadbasket, SCLC, Indiana Christian Leadership Conference, that piece. You had Sam Jones and the Urban League. You had Willard Ransom, who actually was the first chairman of the Urban Union. He was a merchant - you might know him, I don’t know - but he was a Merchant’s Bank or National City Bank, you know, they’ve had certain name changes, but he was one of the board members.
Scarpino: Did you know Willard Ransom?
Russell: Oh, absolutely, and he was the first chairman. I was supposed to be the first coordinator, but also you might remember the name Charles “Snooky” Hendricks, who had a kind of questionable participation in the community...
Scarpino: We probably ought to say who he was, just for the benefit...
Russell: He was an activist in the community, but he was another connection. I mentioned earlier that my father had been a probation officer in one of his careers, and Charles “Snooky” Hendricks was one of his clients, so to speak, as a youth. So, you know, you have all these connections. But, at any rate, you had a place called Foster Motor Lodge, which was located between 21st and 22nd, just east of...
Scarpino: Foster Motor Lodge?
Russell: … yeah, Bo Foster was the proprietor. You might have known him, I don’t know. He had built kind of an entertainment bar/lounge/auditorium complex, and a lot of the people in the community met there. Back in the day, it was quite a location. In fact, things like the Circle City Classic, the idea kind of prospered in that environment, started in that...
Scarpino: So, Circle City Classic is the football game between, usually two traditionally black colleges.
Scarpino: What did you have to do with that coming into existence?
Russell: Well, we all just talked about it.
Scarpino: Who are “we all”?
Russell: Different guys in the community – Charles Williams, Bill Crawford, Glenn Howard; others that would talk about different ideas and throw them around. I think Charles had been to the original Bayou Classic, which is between Southern University and Grambling University in the Louisiana area. That was the big game, so to speak, and the people said, “Well, maybe we can do it here in Indianapolis,” and that kind of was like the idea that kind of propagated the Circle City Classic. Charles Williams was, at the time, he was a member of Mayor Hudnut’s administration, and so he had connections to that extent. But basically, it’s sort of like, if you’re familiar with the Black Renaissance period in Harlem back in the day, and you have different people that are kind of coming together and talking about ideas. And, this all goes back to my interest in trying to make Indianapolis not Indianapolis no-place, I guess. The Designated Few morphed into Designated Productions, which is a production entertainment company, where we had bands and singers, local youth, similar to the Motown Experience in Detroit. So, all of this kind of piqued my interest in these different things, and so, as I say, for better or worse, I tried to explore those interests. We even had - you may have heard of a company called Sunshine Promotions back in the day. We had an office at Fairfield and College, where the bands rehearsed and all those kinds of things. I’m told that they even came up there sometimes to see what we were doing. You might remember the entertainer, Baby Face Edmonds, the singer...
Scarpino: I’ve heard of him, yeah.
Russell: … Kenny Babyface Edmonds. They say that he was about nine years old, he used to come up there too some. But anyway, this is kind of how these connections kind of intertwined to what Indianapolis is today, I guess. Another thing that IUPUI - you might be interested from that standpoint - they started a minority engineering advancement program...
Russell: … at the Engineering Building.
Scarpino: Were you involved in that?
Russell: And I was involved with that, yes.
Scarpino: To help create it?
Russell: I was a member of the first group, yeah.
Scarpino: Just a couple final questions. Is there anything I should have asked you that I didn’t?
Russell: Well, over the years there’s been so much water under the bridge. And, it’s probably good that we’re having this interview now because I don’t know, I’m probably forgetting a lot, but those are some of the highlights. The City of Indianapolis will be celebrating, I guess, their bicentennial coming up. When Mayor Lugar was in his administration, he would have things like Project Upswing, Project Get With It, and to try to get the youth of the community on a more positive path, so to speak. Our bands and singers would participate on the City-County Building Plaza downtown, and he would have concerts; he would bring in people from Motown, and so we’d participate in those kinds of
things. We participated in the State Fair Band Contest. If you think of something later, feel free to let me know and I’ll try to...
Scarpino: Do you feel like you made a difference?
Russell: I hope so, I hope so. It’s not because I didn’t try.
Scarpino: Is there anything that you would like to have said that I didn’t give you a chance to say?
Russell: Oh, man, you know, in a person’s life, there’s so many experiences. We could go on for days. So, as I said, if you have something that you think of, feel free to let me know, and I’ll try to elaborate, but that’s pretty much some of the basic highlights. As I say, you can’t do things alone. You have to have people with similar interests to do those things that you think are important. I guess one other thing that I didn’t mention was the fact that I’m an alumnus of Shortridge High School. You might be familiar with the history of Shortridge High School, which is the history of education in Indianapolis essentially. There’s a book I think I mentioned earlier called Shortridge High School 1864-1981 when the School Board in all its wisdom decided to make it a middle school, and then it came back as a high school. Well, the tradition is such that this always was something that I couldn’t let go. And, maybe you’ve heard of Dan Efroymson, the Efroymson family – they have a big foundation, I guess...
Russell: … but anyway, we were classmates in ’59. I ran into him at Butler University one day. He was coming into - I guess they call it the C-Club or whatever - he was going in and I was coming down, so I said, “Dan, we need to have a
reunion or something.” So, he said, “Well, we do, but I’m not going organize it.” I said, “Well, I'm not going to organize it either, but we need to have it.” But long story short, we did end up having what we called the Shortridge High School Always group. I've got some information on that, if you want to see it later. We got together with folks that were alumni of Shortridge that had similar interests. And, Shortridge was such a school that even if some of the black students, at one time in the ‘50s particularly, felt that they were not treated fairly and given the opportunities they should have been given, they still had a mystique, so to speak. And, you had various efforts, even before this particular effort, called Shortridge High School Always, that the students were trying to organize and bring back the sounds of the ‘50s and ‘60s, you know, back to the soul music and that kind of thing. So, you always had this kind of a push, I guess you would say. So, by the time we organized the Shortridge Always group, it was kind of like the interest and the effort by volunteers was kind of there, it came together, and we organized that. This was during the time when Shortridge had become a middle school, but we wanted to keep the basic idea alive. So, we organized to that extent. We had a big program with Mayor Lugar, Andy Jacobs, Frank Anderson, some others, Judge Terrain; and we had a big program. We kind of generated more interest, and it has ultimately become to revitalizing the Shortridge High School Alumni organization. So, that was another important piece, I guess you would say.
Scarpino: I’m going to turn the recorders off in a minute, but before I do that, I want to thank you very much for being gracious enough to share your time and your stories with us.
Russell: Well, as I said, it’s important to get the truth out, because these days it seems to be harder and harder to get the truth out, so I'm always interested in getting the truth out. It was my pleasure to do so, and, as I say, there’s so many other things, but if you think of something else, I'm always available to try to elaborate on some of those points.
Scarpino: Thank you.
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