There are internships. And then, there are internships—ones that are catalysts for personal and professional transformation, growth, and evolution. Three Ball State University students experienced the latter with Indiana Landmarks’ Black Heritage Preservation Program last Summer.

Ahmaud Carroll-Tubbs, a third-year Landscape Architecture student, and Sierra Ivy, a third-year Architecture student, were selected from among 40 applicants for this paid internship. Mesgana Waiss, a Journalism student, earned her internship through a separate program supported by the Indianapolis Press Club Foundation.

All three students were already keenly aware of the importance of preserving Black history, culture, and heritage. But through their duties and experiences during this internship, the trio learned how, through their career fields, they can help preserve Black history and culture.

“Not only are we preserving structures, we’re preserving culture.” – Sierra Ivy

“I gained a whole new perspective on how people get things done in historical preservation work,” Ms. Ivy said about her internship experience. “It instilled in me a love for historical preservation, especially when the efforts are aimed at the Black community. Not only are we preserving structures, we’re preserving culture. There are stories behind structures—important stories that shouldn’t be destroyed when a new structure is built.”

Spaces and Places Grounded in History and Culture

As an aspiring landscape architect, Mr. Carroll-Tubbs aims to create functional and efficient outdoor spaces that bring people together and offer more sustainable ways to use and enjoy those spaces.

But on a tour the Ball State students went on as part of the internship, Mr. Carroll-Tubbs was reminded that outdoor and natural spaces can also hold historical significance, and while history isn’t always positive, it needs to be preserved. The cave the interns toured in Paoli, Ind., was a site where kidnapped African Americans were taken before being enslaved.

“It is tough to learn what has happened in this space,” Mr. Carroll-Tubbs said. “But I’m glad I learned about this. From a historical view: In order for us to move forward, we should explore the history and realize that these recognitions are going to be uncomfortable, but they need to happen. These stories cannot be erased by any means; this is a part of history. We have to have the entire truth.

“As a landscape architect, it’s important to understand the history, or cultural significance, of a space. That understanding gives insight into how to go forward with the design of a space,” Mr. Carroll-Tubbs continued. “If we are going to change a space, we should make sure there is something put in place (such as signage about the space’s significance) so that the history never dies. Or you can make it into a place for learning that history as well as an enjoyable space.”

Full-Circle Moment

On of Mesgana Waiss’ main assignments during this internship hit close to home for her and reaffirmed her belief that her career and passion will involve impactful research. She was conducting research and helping to complete paperwork in Indiana Landmark’s effort to get Indianapolis Public School 56 (IPS 56)—which was slated for demolition—preserved and recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Ms. Waiss attended this elementary school.

The demolition was prevented prior to her internship. Ms. Waiss mostly worked on the first phase in the pursuit of getting recognition from the National Register.

As Ms. Waiss learned in her research, IPS 56 was originally a school for white children . Then that building was knocked down, and another IPS 56 building—for Black children—was erected.

“Black children couldn’t go to the schools in the (nearby) Brookside Neighborhood,” she explained, adding that evidence of the unfair policy of segregation should not fade from history.

“So I thought that doing the work with Indiana Landmarks—and being able to do the work on a building where I attend school—is indicative of who I am as a person and where I’m trying to go.” – Mesgana Waiss

“Contributing to the effort to get IPS 56 preserved and recognized was a full-circle moment for me,” Ms. Waiss continued. “All my life, I’ve wanted to help people. And I’m about preserving history, especially Black history. So I thought that doing the work with Indiana Landmarks—and being able to do the work on a building where I attend school—is indicative of who I am as a person and where I’m trying to go.”

Building for the Future While Preserving History

Mr. Carroll-Tubbs found his primary duty in the internship fulfilling and fascinating. This task involved doing document searches and records research on people and places that are part of local or regional Black history.

The subject of one of his research assignments was Archie Greathouse (1908-1975), an African American man who lived in Indianapolis. Celebrated today as a civic leader who fought against segregation, Mr. Greathouse also owned a lot of property in Indianapolis. The importance of this is that family generational wealth, such as property ownership, built and held by African Americans, pre-World War II, was somewhat rare.

That significance and the impact of Archie Greathouse was not lost on Mr. Carroll-Tubbs. He said: “After learning this history, I felt inspired. It also taught me that we have our roots which truly define us. It made me interested in learning more about my own history and what my ancestors achieved, possibly in the face of doubt and oppression.”

Students presenting

Additionally, some of Mr. Carroll-Tubbs’ research during the internship helped in the discovery of a familial connection between Archie Greathouse’s father, Morris, and famous boxer, the late Muhammad Ali. Morris Greathouse was one of many African Americans buried in Indianapolis’ Greenlawn Cemetery.

 Sierra Ivy was also positively affected by her experience in the internship. Among her duties was helping to document historic landmarks in Indianapolis’ Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, orchestrating related events and attending municipal meetings. Although her documentation work took her back in time, Ms. Ivy has her sights set on the future and how she can impact her community.

“I’m realizing that not so many Black people know about architecture. So it feels really good to know that I’m going into this field, and I’m sort of setting an example,” Ms. Ivy said. “I want to educate youth about architecture, so they know it’s possible for them to do something like this as well. And I want to design sites, structures, or environments that help bring communities together and help celebrate our culture.”

Also, she noted the importance of being intentional about form and function when designing and constructing buildings for the future—while maintaining the history, heritage, and culture entwined in spaces and existing structures.

“As an architect or someone in the architecture field, we should always research the history of a site,” Ms. Ivy said. “I believe doing so will also help connect the community with the site, and allow the structure to have more of a bigger impact instead of designing a random building to be constructed without any consideration of the site’s past.”

Follow Us