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There are no "Hoosier values" or "average Hoosiers."


   This is a riposte to comments made in response to a blog my friend Paul Ogden was kind enough to run on his website, "Ogden on Politics." In his response, one David Ditton suggested that if I "disagree with so many values of the average Hoosier" perhaps I should relocated to Massachusetts, New York, Washington, or California. This "love it or leave it" attitude was not new when I heard it expressed in the 1960s.

   "Values" are more complex than to be boiled down and labeled as a set. Also, as I will show, that person’s position was flawed. .

If "Hoosier values" exist, they are not what tea baggers claim them to be.

   The Hoosier values" I gleaned from the response were rather simple: anti-choice, anti-EPA, anti-immigrant. I did not see a whole bunch of positives in there. That said, there are over six million people who live in Indiana, according to the United States census. It is silly to say that one set of values is so widespread as to be common to these six million.

   Even if there could be such a set of values, of what would it consist? Our Hoosier history is of such complexity as not to as simple as implied in the response.      


A Hoosier is a person who was born in Indiana or who moved here and stayed.

   There is great disagreement about the origins of the word "Hoosier." Whatever the word’s etymology, of significance to this discussion is what makes a person a Hoosier? First, a "real" Hoosier is a person who was born in Indiana. This keeps with the spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment. Also, place of birth frequently is the lynchpin in conversations about famous Hoosiers. Thus, Phil Harris (Linton, Indiana) was a Hoosier. Contrary to popular myth, Chuck Manson (Cincinnati, Ohio) was not, although he attended high school and was incarcerated in Indiana. Of course, if a person whose values are not genuinely "Hoosier" was born here but left Indiana, Mr. Dutton’s love-it-or-leave-it attitude is fed. Sorry, but place of birth is important.

   In many instances, the departure from the State can be explained by economics. New York and Hollywood were natural destinations for artists and writers who sought to appeal to a broad base of patrons and readers.   

   A person can immigrate to, and become an important part of the culture of, Indiana. Robert Owen and Alfred Kinsey were not born here, but became a vital part of Hoosier culture.

The word "values" can be defined, but values held by Hoosiers are a different matter. 

   "Value" in this context means "the things of social life (ideals, customs, institutions, etc.) toward which the people of the group have an affective regard. These values may be positive, as cleanliness, freedom, education, etc., or negative, as cruelty, crime, or blasphemy." The American College Dictionary, 1962 ed., p. 1342. Values are operant in that definition. For example, I am not the only person who views "blasphemy" ("impious utterance or action concerning [g]od or sacred things." Id. at 127) as positive. As a societal force religion has been largely negative in the course of history. Impiety toward a deity is a poke in the eye of one of the fictional entities that have caused so much negative.

   The matter becomes how we determine whether there is such a body of "Hoosier values." Mr. Ditton refers to the "average Hoosier." I am not sure there is such a creature. But let us look at famous Hoosiers and see if there are values commonly held by them.

If iconic figures represent Hoosier values, gay people are solidly there.

   If you get no kick from champagne (originally cocaine) and mere alcohol doesn’t thrill you at all, you might be humming the tune to "I Get a Kick Out of You." That song, and many other fine works, were from Cole Porter. A product of Peru, Indiana, Porter is perhaps the greatest writer of—if you are a homophobe, becareful about what you are about to read—Broadway musicals. Porter also was gay. He graduated from Yale—so we have that East coast intellectual snob thing going, too. But Porter maintained his family estate in Miami County (maybe so that, like Harry Potter, he could venture back on a regular basis for the protection of old magic).

   James Dean (Born in Marion, Indiana) was known to swing both ways. Dean has become the modern apotheosis of "cool."

   Robert Indiana (creator of the "LOVE" sculpture and other famous pieces) is a little light in the loafers, as the more upper-brow amongst the tea bag set might say.

Musical Hoosiers have not confined their talent to writing musicals.

   John Mellencamp—a person safely left-of-center—Michael Jackson (from another planet but born in Gary), and Axl Rose all fall within the definition of Hoosier. Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon was from Tippecanoe County. David Lee Roth was born in Bloomington. JJ Johnson was revered as a jazz trombonist. Wes Montgomery set the standard for a jazz guitarist. These folks’ music would not be classified as "contemporary christian." Their professional success was/is world-wide.


Gene Debs was a Hall of Fame leftie.

   And I am not talking baseball. Eugene V. Debs, an early labor leader and noted socialist, was born in beautiful Terre Haute. He was imprisoned for his active opposition to United States involvement in World War I. He also ran for President from prison. Upon his release from prison, 50,000, people greeted him when he arrived in Terre Haute.

 Other "values" have held sway in Indiana.

   Okay, if you do not want the word "Hoosier" to be identified with Broadway musicals and pacifists, we can look at other displays of Hoosiers’ beliefs.

    Perhaps you mean "traditional values," as reflected in Hoosier history. Then let us travel back through time.

William Henry Harrison killed a lot of people indigenous to this area and owned slaves.

   Harrison was not born in what would become the Hoosier State. He was the territorial governor

and a figure in our eighth grade textbook on Indiana history, primarily for his generalship at the Battle of Tippecanoe. (He served the shortest term of any President of the United States—32 days—having contracted pneumonia following his long inaugural address delivered without a hat. He was perhaps our greatest president, based on his having done nothing of substance while in office.) Harrison brought with him to Indiana slaves he had held in Virginia. The Northwest Ordinance forbade slavery, but various loopholes were found and, thus, slavery existed. 

The Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1850 was not friendly to African Americans or single women, was reluctant to adopt phrases from the Declaration of Independence—and was against religious bigotry.

     Dissatisfied with the constitution with which Indiana had entered the Union in 1816, delegates met in Indiana in 1850 to draft a new one.

   A spirited debate broke out over whether to include wording from The Declaration of Independence. Many opposed such wording, including Daniel Kelso, delegate from Versailles:

"Now I think I may be supposed to know something of what we came here for. It was not to make a Constitution for the whole world, nor for the United States, nor for any other people than the people of Indiana. And, sir, some of us came here instructed upon certain questions which were expected to be brought before this body, and I, for one, am so instructed, especially in regard to the admission of persons of color within the State hereafter. Perhaps the most solemn pledge that I gave to my people was that I would vote uniformly against permitting them to emigrate into this State."

, 1850, pp. 970-71. In this same vein, Delegate Kelso continued:

  "I maintain that the proposition that all men have an equal right to enjoy life, liberty, and property, is not strictly true. For instance, if a white man meets a black man upon the public highway in Indiana, and they are alone together, and the white man falls upon the other with a bludgeon, and beats him unmercifully the black man is not permitted to go into a court of justice and make an affidavit upon which the offender can be arrested; or if the man be arraigned, the black man cannot give testimony by which he could be convicted. ... If I could carry out the principle, and do common justice to the people of Indiana, I would most willingly vote for it, for I like the sentiment; I think it is a good one. But I cannot vote for both, so I choose to do in this matter as I promised the people I would do."

., at 971. Fortunately, the Convention adopted the wording of the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, only one delegate, Edward May of Angola, voted to give African-Americans the right to vote.

   On the other hand, Robert Owen—founder of the Utopian community of New Harmony in southern Indiana—sought to secure property rights of widows and married women. Apparently single women were left to fend for themselves, a theme picked up in Sister Carrie, a famous novel from 1900 written by Hoosier Theodore Dreiser.  

   Finally, the delegates were strident in their defense of the rights of conscience. Article I, sections 2 through 9 are explicit in their protection of freedom of conscience. Apparently the delegates, as a group, had less of a problem with racial than religious bigotry.

We should not forget Indiana’s 1907 compulsory sterilizations law.

   Based on a concept of eugenics, Indiana enacted legislation, signed into law, that made sterilization of confirmed criminals, idiots, morons, and rapists compulsory. Our—meaning Indiana’s—Supreme Court ruled the statute unconstitutional in the 1920s.

The Ku Klux Klan ran Indiana in the early 1920s.

   Perhaps, by Hoosier values, you mean those held by the brave people in white sheets who wore hoods (to hide their identities) and advance the good christian values of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. D.C. Stephenson (born in Texas; big surprise there) lived in Irvington. He had taken a prominent role in the KKK and made a mint from sales of what one might call KKK starter kits. As one writer has chronicled:

  "No Catholic, Jew or Negro could be elected under the Klan edict that ‘only 100 percent native-born Protestant Americans should rule this fair land of ours.’ The Horse Thief Detective Association became the police force of the Klan and made stern reprisals against notorious law violators. In dead of night, prostitutes were taken from their beds and flogged. Drunks were tarred and feathered. Klansmen in hoods and robes entered private homes without search warrants and disciplined errant husbands—or errant wives (and sometimes faithful wives who wouldn’t come across to a Kluxer." 

Irving Leibowitz, My Indiana, 1964, pp. 208-09. Leibowitz was managing editor of The Indianapolis Times and a respected journalist. As he wrote about Klan control of the State:

  "The day Ed Jackson was sworn in as Governor on January 12, 1925 the invisible empire of the Klan controlled the State of Indiana. It made the laws and enforced them. Besides Governor Jackson, it had elected legislators, prosecutors, judges and Mayors. Nearly 500,000 Hoosiers, in white robes and hoods, burned their fiery crosses almost nightly to strike fear in the hearts of their neighbors."    On July 4, 1923, approximately 200,000 attended the KKK rally in Malfalfa Park, just outside the town of my birth, Kokomo. Fortunately, the Klan’s dominance was short-lived. D.C. Stephenson was a horny bastard. He raped and sodomized a young secretary. She committed suicide but gave a death-bed statement about the ordeal. There still were politicians who were not in the Klan’s pocket. Also, it was estimated that, at its peak, the Klan claimed half of the white male population of Indiana as members. The other half reacted negatively to Stephenson’s crime. The Klan lost its hold on Indiana.

Id., at pp. 189-90.

   But do people who truly hold their values abandon those values when one person, whom they could claim was a bad apple, does something wrong? 

The plight of Ryan White put my high school on the world map.

   I graduated from Western High School in 1973. Ryan White, later, was a student at WHS. He was diagnosed with AIDS in December, 1984. A hemophiliac, he had contracted HIV from a blood transfusion.

   The HIV retrovirus had been isolated in May, 1984. The scientific community was aware of certain aspects of HIV, amongst which were its fragility outside the body of a host, and its susceptibility to bleach. From all that I have read, Ryan White was a good kid. From all I have read, he was not a "biter," or prone to other antisocial behavior such as to increase risks of passing HIV to other kids. He wanted to go to school. People of the school district wanted Ryan White out. Fortunately a high school in Hamilton County accepted him with open arms.

   What are the Hoosier values operant here? Are they values based on suspicion, fear, and ignorance that caused people to chase a young man—who only wanted to go to school—out of a community? Or are they the values of tolerance and acceptance that were at work in Hamilton County? Or was the "average" Hoosier someplace in-between—Tipton?

There are many other Hoosiers whom you might not think of as holding Hoosier values.

   A famous iconoclast and brilliant author was Kurt Vonnegut (Indianapolis). God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, as I recall, largely took place in Indiana. Many of his characters were Hoosiers. Dan Wakefield (Indianapolis) also has had best-sellers.

   Is Steve Kroft a bit left-of-center? If 60 Minutes is what your crowd parrots as lame-stream media, I would think he qualifies. How about David Letterman (Indianapolis)? His humor seems more rooted in the left than the other side. Jane Pauley (Indianapolis) married—gasp—the author of the comic strip Doonesbury, as left-wing a piece of work as most folks encounter.

   Tavis Smiley also is from Kokomo. He is brilliant, although you probably do not think so.

   Carole Lombard (Fort Wayne) was a brilliant, and bawdy, comedienne/actress. Sydney Pollack (Lafayette) was a bit of a lefty film director. Twyla Tharp has been revolutionary in her concepts of modern dance.


What we have here is a failure to communicate.

   Did I mention Strother Martin? He also is from Kokomo. He had that famous line from "Cool Hand Luke."

   The values I have described—right and wrong, left and right, up and down, back and forth—have developed over our history. There is no individual set of values one may label as "Hoosier" anymore than there is an "average Hoosier." Your views on the matter are simplistic. I would not suggest you leave the State of Indiana if you are unable to handle these complexities. I would suggest you go to school, if the people of your values have not already succeeded in eliminating education in the area in which you live.  


Debates and Proceedings of the Convention for the Revision of the Constitution of the State of Indiana

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