Interview with Black History Underground Railroad Historian Brother Sage of So. Bend, Ind.—Part two of two

| May 17, 2016
Eric Hackley

Eric Hackley

By Eric D. Hackley

Editor’s note: Last week, Brother Eric Hackley presented the first in a two part interview with historian Brother Sage of South Bend. In part one of that interview, Brother Sage discussed his only personal family history going all the way back to Africa and discussed the role of black people in the U.S. Civil War—including the role of his family. The following is a continuation of Brother Hackley’s interview with the venerable Brother Sage:

I then asked Brother Sage to elaborate on what caused the mindset of early Indiana political leaders and immigrating citizens that made them so anti-Black.  Brother Sage replied that even today, we find a lot of people, even though they say they’re not racist or prejudiced, they are.

BROTHER SAGE: If we go back and take a look at the history of America, the only reason why 750,000 to 1.5 million people came to the United States was to be slaves. Ninety percent of the people were brown-skinned like you and I.  Our ancestries came from Africa through that peculiar institution known as the Middle Passageway or as slavery. And, people back in that period saw us on a class/race basis, where we weren’t as good as they were.

Brother Sage (right) takes a break from an interview to take a photo with Eric Hackley.

Brother Sage (right) takes a break from an interview to take a photo with Eric Hackley.

We could work the property so they could go to the bank. However, we weren’t as good as they were. We weren’t as bright as they were. We came from Africa [and there was] that stigma that the people in Africa don’t know any better. So a lot of the history of prejudice and racism that plagues this country comes as a result of us not trying to share with people from another culture as to how we all got set-up to be the way we are. And, that kind of dialogue needs to take place.

My wife used to do a program at IUSB (Indiana University, South Bend) called “Conversations on Race,” where we could talk about why we act the way we do and why some people are more prejudiced than others. When I had my radio program on WSVT, I even had KKK members call up and say that they couldn’t talk to me because I was a nigger.  I would ask them, “If you can’t talk to me, why are you calling my radio program?” Well, they called because they wanted to put in their 10 cents worth. And naturally, I invited them on the program. They could even come with their outfits on if they had to. I just wanted to have honest dialog and communication with them. So, you know, we have got a lot of work to do, and since you and I are just turning 21, we might as well get at it.

I remarked that it was interesting that Brother Sage would mention the Ku Klux Klan. Many years ago I spoke with the late Jeff Barry, who was out of somewhere around Auburn, Ind., and was, I believe, the Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK frequently had rallies in downtown Fort Wayne, rallies that I attended of course.  Imperial Wizard Jeff Berry agreed to meet with me, the Fort Wayne Nation of Islam representative Jeffery Mann, NAACP President the late Elizabeth Dobynes, and Urban League leaders. I mean, the whole crew would have been invited to be there.  Berry said he had no problem in conversing with black leaders. He even said he “liked black people but, he didn’t like niggers.” Nevertheless, the forum didn’t happen because I could not find a safe place to host this event. My last resort was the mayor’s office, and Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke’s office said no.

BROTHER SAGE: I don’t like niggers either. I like black people, though. I mean, we can get into the whole naming thing, African American, Afro-American, black, colored, Negro, nigger, you know.  We don’t know what we are. Most of us don’t know we’re African American. I took it one step further. I’m not African American; I’m a proud Diasporan African American. What is a proud Diasporan African American? My people had been dispersed from Africa, and I was born in America. That’s the label I’ve given myself because everybody else seems to provide us with names. You know, we need to talk about that because a lot of our black youngsters don’t know why they use that word nigger. We need to make it clear. They need to understand what that word represents and from where it comes. There’s a lot that needs to happen. We got a lot of work to do.

ERIC HACKLEY: Through my short travels across Indiana, I’ve noticed that generally speaking, people in Fort Wayne don’t know the history of South Bend.  The people of Gary, Ind., don’t know about Fort Wayne history. And very few of us in northern Indiana know about the history of West Lafayette, Vincennes, Terre Haute, Evansville, Indianapolis and Muncie. It seems that we have an Indiana History illiteracy problem that we can fix ourselves, but there is no mechanism or incentive to share folklore and histories across our state. However, your outlook is different because you seem to want to share your story across the State of Indiana.

BROTHER SAGE: Well, not only across Indiana, I want to share my story across the United States. You know, I’m a member of the National Park Services. There are over 40,000 routes for the Underground Railroad in the United States and Canada, in the Caribbean and Mexico. When you start linking all these trails together, you begin to realize what a remarkable people we are.

Now, not everybody wants to hear that, but you do, I do, others do. And we have to do what we can do in telling that story. I want to commend you for what you do.  I’m excited to be able to do this for you, but at the same time, I want to see where you go with this and see if I can help you. Because the more help we have from each other, the more it becomes easier for us to tell our story. So keep doing what you’re doing, and I don’t care if you do wear a red, white and blue tie.  You keep doing it, don’t stop! But, organize it in such a way, come up with a clear-cut plan, and let’s network and go on and put this bad boy together so we can show people what a remarkable people we are.

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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Features, History, People

About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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