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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Prejudice in the North (3 of a 3-part series for Black History Month)

Saturday, February 7, 2004

(Photo)
By LINDA MESSMER

lindamessmer@yahoo.com

Robert Wickware graduated from Brazil High School in 1965. Jobs were hard to get in Brazil, back then, if you were black.

"If you wanted to get any decent work, if you were black, you had to leave Brazil. That's why most of the black families left, looking for jobs," Robert said.

"Oh, I had a couple jobs when I was a kid. I carried The Brazil Times for a few years. And Mr. Pitts, the Brazil High School Principal, helped me get a job in a grocery store. When he first became principal, I helped him move all of his things into his new office.

"One day, when I was a freshman, he called me in and said he heard they were needing a stock boy at the IGA grocery store. I'm sure Mr. Pitts helped me get that job.

"Bob Lancaster and Jerry Anderson both provided me with references that helped me get some jobs after I got out of college. But right out of high school, years before I went to college, getting a job that paid enough to live on was very difficult in Brazil."

"Even though I'd thought of college, wanted to go, I had no money. There was no way I could go. So after high school my dad got me on at the Arketex brick factory. He said, 'I'm going to show you what working's like.' And I joined the National Guard about that same time.

"It didn't take long for me to realize I did not want to spend the rest of my life working in a brick factory. And I was the only black in the Guard and had some serious racial problems. So I joined the regular Army for three years. I had no race problems there."

Robert got out of the Army in 1969. Dr. Robert Maurer hired him as a physical therapy assistant at the Clay County Health Center. But it didn't pay enough for him to support himself. He still had to live with his parents.

Maurer wanted Robert to go to college to study to be a physical therapist. Robert had never given up the idea of college but if he ever got the opportunity he wouldn't deny his secret passion of wanting to be a teacher and school counselor.

Finally, in 1970, the smoldering embers burst into flames. He had to go to college. Robert felt it was his only way out, the only way to improve his life. With money from the GI Bill, the spirit, courage, confidence and knowledge Ms. Liechty had instilled in him and with the blessings of his parents, Robert enrolled at Indiana State University.

"At first, at ISU, they told me I'd been out of school too long and if I took any science and math classes I probably couldn't pass," Robert said. "The first physics class I took I got a B+. I wanted to prove them wrong."

"I lived at home with my parents in Brazil," Robert continued. "I didn't have a car. I couldn't afford to pay for classes and transportation. The only way I had to get to the campus was on my bike. Occasionally a neighbor, Francis Kyle, gave me a ride in the winter when it was snowing or the weather was really bad. But for most of the first two years I rode that bike every day.

"I went up to U.S. 40 to 340 back to 40 right in to Terre Haute. It was 25 miles from our back door to the Book Store at ISU," Robert said. It took me 55 minutes. Sometimes I even came home for lunch. In the winter I just wore extra sweats."

During his Junior and senior year Robert was able to move on campus. He was elected Black Caucus Leader of Hulman Center. That position paid for his room and board.

Robert studied to get a teaching degree. His race almost prevented it. He'd completed the proper process to do his student teaching at Columbus, Ind. Having been told he'd been accepted he was just waiting for the paperwork to return. Robert was working on finding a place to stay when he was notified he'd been turned down.

The counselor at ISU asked him what he'd done. Robert said he'd done nothing except send a picture of himself as requested. He's convinced they turned him down when they saw that he was black.

Fortunately, a last minute calling in a favor by his counselor's friend of a friend placed Robert at New Castle, Ind., for his student teaching. He graduated from Indiana State University in 1974 with a degree in Art Education and Sports Medicine. His first career choice was to be a counselor in a junior high school.

Robert faced more rocks in the road throughout his career and still does. But now they are mostly pebbles.

He got a Master of Arts degree in Art Photography and Guidance. He has been a guidance counselor at Stony Brook Middle School, which feeds into Warren Central High School in Indianapolis, for 22 years. He is a professional photographer and sells real estate for Coldwell Banker Realty out of Indianapolis. He received a certificate of achievement as the top selling agent at Coldwell Banker for December, 2003.

Never married, Robert feels he has the time, with no limits, to accomplish all of his goals. Planning on retiring from guidance in several years, he wants to increase his involvement in photography and real estate.

"I don't feel that I did anything unusual," Robert said referring to his two years of cycling to the college campus. "I just wanted to go to school. As a matter of fact, David Stark, rode with me occasionally. He just did it for the exercise. But I guess I'm living proof that no matter what obstacles are in your path, if you really want to make it in life, you can. You just have to realize it's going to require some work."



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