Betti VanEpps-Taylor is an independent scholar, writer, lecturer, and historian specializing in the multi-cultural history of the Northern Great Plains and the American West. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and an M.A. in history from the University of South Dakota. She taught history at Wayne State College, Wayne, Nebraska. An Idaho resident since 1998, she enjoys an active life of lecturing, study and working on a new book, entitled Shadow Walker: The Life of Joseph Brown Bear.
This presentation examines the worldwide influences of the early 20th century that created the illusion of a melting pot while encouraging us to build fences to protect us from diversity. The widespread myth of a melting pot society was not as strong as the need to retain group identity through de facto and de jure customs of segregation, especially when newcomers were perceived as just "too different". Tracing the confluence of the post-Civil War "reunion" efforts with the tide of immigrants and freed slaves, the emergence of Jim Crow customs, the effects of pseudo-science, the worldwide struggles of nation building, and the way history was taught, VanEpps-Taylor examines the forces that made reconciliation so difficult during the first half of the century. She then explores the changes that came with World War II through mass education, the civil rights struggle, foreign and domestic policy decisions, television and the media – and suggests some ways of coming to terms with an America that is becoming increasingly diverse, legally and illegally.
The new emphasis on diversity has broadened our understanding of the African American role in shaping our nation, especially in the American West. From the first black slaves in the lead mines of Louisiana territory to York, the mountain men, Buffalo Soldiers and fort workers, to the adventurers, service workers, farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, artists and professionals who came later, black history and culture remain alive and well west of the Rockies. This presentation highlights the black experience through the lens of one or more of these groups, or the lives of interesting and significant individuals, including York, the Buffalo Soldiers, early film maker and pioneer Oscar Micheaux, small agricultural colonies, Pullman porters, or an array of "strong sisters" who came west to make new lives. The presentation also can offer a window on present-day western diversity and consider how it has changed and will continue to change and enrich Western life.
From his birth in 1884, in southern Illinois, to his death in 1951 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Oscar Micheaux was an iconoclast who set about to prove that “a colored man could do anything a white man could do – and better.” This was not a popular idea in the post slavery era, but influenced by Booker T. Washington and Horatio Alger, Micheaux managed to carve a legacy for the American film industry and for black Americans by using the time-honored formula of “up by your bootstraps.” This presentation traces his life and his work, emphasizing especially his experience as a Pullman porter on the Pacific Northwest run and his nine years as a sod house homesteader in south central South Dakota. It explores the effect that his experiences in the west had on his 7 novels and more than 40 films, and the effect that his black-cast films had on African Americans and on the film industry. The presentation also provides a glimpse into post-slavery black America through the eyes of a man who lived it.