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A Black History Moment in The Arc, Dr. Joseph Taylor

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During this important month honoring black history I thought of the many black leaders in The Arc movement.  And there is one in particular, Dr. Joseph Taylor of Indianapolis, whose story I am proud to share with you.

I met Dr.Taylor, who told me to call him Joe, in the 1970’s when he was involved with Noble, The Arc of Greater Indianapolis.  He was one of the smartest and kindest people I have ever known.

Joe and her wife Hertha were brought to The Arc by their daughter, Judy.  Now 65, Judy, who still lives at home with the help of the Medicaid Waiver program and supports through The Arc Master Trust, has an intellectual and developmental disability.  Joe and Hertha sought out other families and found Noble, then known as the Marion County Arc – a young organization seeking to build community for children and adults with disabilities.  There they found support and families just like them.

Joe was someone who always talked about others, not himself.  He wanted to work on the really important problems rather than talk about his past.  I knew of the key role he played in The Arc of course, as well as Indiana University where he was the first Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and later the Dean of the new Indiana University Purdue University of Indianapolis, IUPUI.

It was one day when we had the opportunity to spend some time together driving that we had the most amazing conversation. When he learned about my growing up on a reservation in South Dakota, he became very interested in what it was like. He compared that to growing up black in Mississippi. Born in 1913 he experienced segregation until he went to college at Wiley College, in Marshall, Texas.  An amazing athlete, he shared stories of his life in athletics, including meeting and playing baseball with some of the greatest in the Negro Leagues – Josh Gibson, Luke Easter and Satchel Page to name just a few. He could have had a career in baseball, pro scouts were watching him when he tore up his knee sliding into second base.

But it was education that called him and he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s from the University of Illinois in 1937.  He then went to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.  Like many others he fought in WWII in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge.  Incredibly, he told me of his writing that he did during the war.  Ever the teacher, he wrote of the horrors of war as well as the institutionalized racism he faced within his own ranks.

When he was discharged he married his wife Hertha in 1944 and they had three children, Judy, Hussain and Meshack.

He received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in 1952 and went on to become the founding Dean of the IU School of Liberal Arts.  In 2008, IUPUI renamed the building housing University College and Multicultural Center Joseph T. Taylor Hall. On Thursday, February 25th, IUPUI will host the 27th Annual Joseph T. Taylor Symposium and his legacy will continue with a study of the topic of mass incarceration and the destruction of community.

It was not only The Arc that received his help.  He was instrumental in the development of Flanner House and one of the key voices fighting to end segregation in Indianapolis, including that of our public schools.

Joe shared with me how he often was the first black man to attend a professional meeting – the first to be part of something that most took for granted. And how also, even as a Ph.D., he could not stay in the same hotels as others in his profession.  He saw the direct relationship to that of his daughter Judy, her struggle for civil rights and a future as bright as it could be. In his quiet yet powerful way, he made her a part of everything he did.

Joe died in 2000, and sadly his son Meshack died in 2014.  He is survived by his wife Hertha, daughter Judy, and son Hussain who all live in Indianapolis.

John Dickerson is retired as The Arc’s long time executive director and continues to serve The Arc as a special consultant. 

One response to “A Black History Moment in The Arc, Dr. Joseph Taylor”

  1. Christine Dahlberg says:

    I remember Dr. Taylor very well as he was a member of the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities for many years. He was a great story teller and I recall his description of traveling in the south over the summer for a job collecting information related to the civil rights movement while he was in college. I wish I could remember all the details but he spoke of traveling in pairs by bus and the discrimination and even violence the members of the project faced. He was a great man. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to reflect on his legacy

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