In Memoriam: Dr. Darrel E. Bigham

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

Dr. Darrel Bigham, 1997. Source: UASC at USI (UP 05625).

Dr. Darrel Bigham, 1997. Source: University Archives & Special Collections, USI (UP 05625).

Rice Library and its University Archives and Special Collections honor the contributions of Dr. Darrel Bigham (1942-2020), Professor Emeritus of History. Dr. Bigham was instrumental in the creation of University Archives Special Collections.  He and the then University Archivist, Josephine Elliot, applied for a grant from the Lily Endowment, Inc. of Indianapolis in the summer of 1972. The successful application meant that Indiana State University Evansville received a three-year grant to establish an archival project for the acquisition, preservation and processing of regional material. At the end of the third year the University was to assume responsibility for continuing the growth of the Special Collections. When Elliot and Bigham established the Special Collections/University Archives department, they started with just a few regional history books on Indiana from the general collection of the library. Today, the University Archives and Special Collection has over 850 unique collections, 800 oral history interviews, 6,500 rare and unique books, and 30,000 digital resources.

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He also revived the Vanderburgh County Historical Association, which led to the acquisition of several of our UASC collections. A number of the collections that document the history of Evansville were donated specifically because of Dr. Bigham’s efforts. These include the four collections that comprise the African-American Community Gallery, the Meyer-Schlamp collection, and the Evansville Government collection. The African-American Gallery contains photographs from Charlotte Moody, Alfred Porter, Solomon Stevenson, Charles Rochelle collections. One of these photographs is this one, circa 1918-1928, of the Frederick Douglass High School band from MSS 284.

He also revived the Vanderburgh County Historical Association, which led to the acquisition of several of our UASC collections. A number of the collections that document the history of Evansville were donated specifically because of Dr. Bigham’s efforts. These include the four collections that comprise the African-American Community Gallery, the Meyer-Schlamp collection, and the Evansville Government collection. The African-American Gallery contains photographs from Charlotte Moody, Alfred Porter, Solomon Stevenson, Charles Rochelle collections. One of these photographs is this one, circa 1918-1928, of the Frederick Douglass High School band, MSS 284-008.

Frederick Douglass High School band, c. 1918-1928. Source: Evansville African-American Community, MSS 284-008.

The Schlamp-Meyer Family collection consists of correspondence, legal documents, advertising material, and other items on a wide range of topics in Evansville, Indiana, the Tri-State region, and the United States. This collection, which includes over 2800 photographs, covers the years 1786 to 2015. It includes this image of the Evansville High School football team in 1896, MSS 157-0063.

Evansville High School football team, 1896, Source: UASC, Schlamp-Meyer Family, MSS 157-0063.

Evansville High School football team, 1896, Source: Schlamp-Meyer Family, MSS 157-0063.

The Evansville Government collection is a huge one (20 boxes, 353 folders, 26 map case folders—the listing of materials encompasses 19 pages) covering 1880 to 2011. It includes correspondence, contracts, reports from city departments, ordinances, appointments, treasurer’s reports, minutes, arrest reports, and a host of other materials that document the history of governing the city of Evansville. Obtaining this collection was what might be seen as a last minute, hail Mary pass—Dr. Bigham and colleagues Dr. Donald Pitzer and Dr. Daniel Scavone were given permission by the mayor of Evansville, Russell G. Lloyd, Sr., to rescue city records from the old courthouse annex (housed in the 1867 (former) German Methodist Episcopal Church building) just before it was razed in 1973. These materials were almost literally snatched from the jaws of destruction.

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The old courthouse annex before being demolished, 1973.

Below is a January 7, 1918 document appointing Ernest Tidrington a detective for the city of Evansville, MSS 233-04-05-01a. Ernest Tidrington (1883-1930) was an influential member of the African-American community and Evansville’s first black detective.

Document appointing Ernest Tidrington has detective, c. 1910's. Source: UASC collection, MSS 233.

Appointment of Ernest Tidrington to detective, c. 1910’s. Source: UASC collection, MSS 233.

Dr. Bigham was not an Evansville native, but he spent the last 50 years of his life here and was passionate about his adopted hometown. In addition to his work with establishing our archives, he documented Evansville history through a series of books, including We Ask Only A Fair Trial: A History of the Black Community of Evansville, Indiana (1987), On Jordan’s Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley (2005). He also published numerous books and articles on Evansville, including An Evansville Album (1988) and two books in the Arcadia Publishing series, Images of America, on Evansville and another on southern Indiana.

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Rice Library is all the richer in its resources for the work and efforts of Dr. Darrel Bigham. We extend our sincerest sympathies to his family.

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This entry was posted in Local history, USI, USI History Department. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to In Memoriam: Dr. Darrel E. Bigham

  1. Dr. Donald E. Pitzer says:

    Darrel Bigham’s scholarly and civic contributions to USI, the Evansville region, Indiana, and the nation will enrich many lives for generations to come. It was my great privilege to have Darrel as a history faculty colleague and friend.

  2. Angela Allen says:

    Oh dear! I didn’t know he’d passed! His work is greatly appreciated (as is yours, Dr. Pitzer!) – am just stunned. What a loss!

  3. angularvelocity says:

    Am so sorry! I did not know he’d passed!! What a loss!

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