KOKOMO, Ind. —
Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984. The next year, the 14-year-old was barred from attending school because of the disease.
What followed brought a firestorm of media attention to this north central Indiana community, and thrust White and Kokomo into international headlines.
Dave Broman, executive director of the Howard County Historical Society, said it is history, and it needs to be documented .
That’s why he said the historical society recently completed an extensive oral history project documenting the first-hand experiences of 22 people who were intimately involved with White and his place in Kokomo’s history.
“We knew there were things happening in our recent past that we needed to preserve for future generations,” Broman said. “We realized that on this story, we needed to collect information while people were still among us to do future generations a service . . . .”
The project got underway in 2010, when Allen Safianow, chair of the society’s oral history committee, began compiling names of those who could offer real insight into the emotional atmosphere at the school and within the city.
The list of interviewees included students, teachers, school board members and administrators, city leaders, clergy, family friends, parents, the press and a legal consultant.
In November, the undertaking caught the attention of the Indiana Historical Society, who ended up naming the Howard County Historical Society as the winner of the 2012 Indiana History Outstanding Project Award.
“The Ryan White story constitutes an important, unique part of Howard County’s history,” a pamphlet on the project states.
Amy Lamb, media relations manager for the Indiana Historical Society, said that understanding the inevitable complexities and nuances was necessary.
“The goal was not to decide if the community was right or wrong, but to show the complexity of the story, the division of the community, the negative and positive outcomes, and the fact that it happened in Howard County,” she said.
But Broman said the project has a purpose beyond history. He said he hopes it will bring some kind of closure to a community that still struggles with the controversy that surrounded White, Western Middle School and the city.
“Many people still have very strong emotional reactions to what happened,” he said. “It was an intense experience, and there’s a residue still left in this community ... What happened here could have happened anywhere. But the fact is that this is where it occurred, and it left a wound.”
Details for this story were provided by The Kokomo (Ind.) Tribune.