Topic: Diversity and Inclusion
April 28, 2016
To senior Joshua Terry, the Freedom Bus is more than just a mobile museum.
“It’s a traveling narrative that will educate and inspire future leaders,” said Terry, a Fort Wayne native who was one of more than 80 students to work on the project during the past two years.
Completed this April, the Freedom Bus—a retired Muncie city bus that’s been given a second life thanks to the project—tells the stories of east central Indiana residents who worked to advance civil rights in their communities. It will now make stops at summer events including Muncie’s Black Expo, with plans to tour elementary schools, libraries, community centers and other regional destinations in the fall.
“This has been a lengthy project, but an incredibly exciting one as well, so I’m grateful to all my students for the hard work they’ve poured into it,” said Beth Messner, an associate professor of communication studies who spearheaded Ball State’s efforts to finish the bus.
Freedom Bus was a dream 10 years in the making
The Freedom Bus began as the dream of late Muncie activist and newspaper publisher Bea Moten-Foster. It was around the time of Rosa Parks’ death in 2005 that Moten-Foster and other members of the city’s Martin Luther King Dream Team wanted to pay homage to the legendary civil rights activist.
“It’s a traveling narrative that will educate and inspire future leaders.”
— Joshua Terry
Ball State senior
Turning a bus into a history lesson on wheels seemed like a fitting—albeit ambitious—way to do it. They were joined by the Muncie Indiana Transit System (MITS), which provided a retired city bus for the project to the Dream Team, a local nonprofit focused on promoting community initiatives that align with King’s dream of racial equality.
“My mom loved Ball State. She felt it was the kind of creative place where leaders are born, and she would have loved every one of you,” Moten-Foster’s daughter, Pamela Emmanuel, told the students during an April 21 reception at Minnetrista to mark the bus’s community debut.
Moten-Foster died in 2011, several years after work on the bus stalled because its engine blew up and the Dream Team didn’t have funds to fix it. The project was rejuvenated in 2011 when Messner adopted a student-centered approach to getting the bus rolling again.
After working for several years with Ball State’s Cardinal Communications to raise funds to replace the bus’s engine, Messner turned her attention to the interior, enlisting a group of students from various majors in a fall 2014 Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry seminar. The 14 students researched, designed, developed and installed prototype exhibits inside the bus.
Work continued over three subsequent semesters, with more interdisciplinary teams coming on board to tackle tasks including creating lesson plans and educational materials for teachers, developing a companion website and designing graphics for the interior exhibits.
This spring’s students planned the April 21 reception in addition to finishing work on the website and interactive media packages. The bus exhibits were professionally fabricated by two Indianapolis firms, Expo Design and Miles Printing.
Oral interviews with local leaders key to exhibit
For Casey Marrero, a 2015 alumnus who was part of the fall 2014 Ball Center seminar, stepping inside the finished bus at its unveiling was a surreal experience. “It turned out a thousand times better than I could have ever imagined it.”
Visitors who climb aboard the Freedom Bus are guided through a series of displays ranging from the early history of oppression and slavery to an overview of the educational and public accommodation challenges faced by African-Americans in the 20th century.
Visitors to the bus can explore a range of issues—from education to employment—faced by black east central Indiana residents.
Recorded interviews with area civil rights leaders are part of an interactive exhibit located near the front of the bus.
“I was honored when they asked me to be included,” said Anderson native John E. Wilson, a star athlete who experienced discrimination during a sports career that included playing baseball in the Negro Leagues and basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters. Asked his impression of the bus, Wilson said: “It’s really something.”
Community rallies to support project
Much of the content of the Freedom Bus’s exhibits is geared toward fourth-graders, whose social studies curriculum centers on Indiana history. Messner reached out to Dorshell Stewart, an assistant professor of history, to help create it.
“This was my first immersive learning experience, and it changed my and my students’ lives,” said Stewart, who teaches social studies method courses. “They stopped seeing social studies as a subject matter they had to teach and instead as a way for them to get involved with their community as teachers.”
Messner said the ongoing support Ball State received from its Muncie partners made completing the Freedom Bus possible. Early local sponsors included the city of Muncie, the city transit system, Community Foundation of Muncie-Delaware County, Minnetrista, MLK Dream Team and Muncie Transit Supply.
During the unveiling of the bus, Mayor Dennis Tyler said, “I think we need freedom buses all over the United States.”
Terry was one of the students who took to the podium after the mayor. He spoke about the importance of teamwork to the project. “I had to fight back tears up there because this is one of the best things I’ve ever done as a student at Ball State.”
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