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AFS Review: In Memoriam

William Wiggins (1934-2016)

Saturday, December 24, 2016   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Lorraine Cashman

By Frank de Caro (AFS Fellows President) — 

William Wiggins, professor emeritus of folklore and ethnomusicology and African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University, died at the age of 82 in Bloomington on December 24, 2016.

Bill was the first male African American to receive a PhD in folklore (he earned his PhD from Indiana University; his undergraduate work was at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio). His principal areas of academic interest were festivals, folklore and literature, folk drama, and folk heroes. He was elected to the American Folklore Society Fellows in 1996.

Bill spent 34 years at IU in what is today called the Department of African-American and African Diaspora Studies; he was an original member of the department (at one time called the Department of Afro-American Studies) and devoted much time and energy to making IU a place where African-American students would feel welcome, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. He represented folklore and folk culture in that department, creating such courses as "The Black Church in America” (he was himself an ordained minister) and, with John Moe, the basic "Survey of the Culture of Black Americans.” Prominent in IU sports as well (he represented IU Bloomington on the Big Ten Conference Committee for several years), he retired from teaching in 2004, becoming professor emeritus (of folklore and ethnomusicology as well as of African American and African Diaspora Studies).

Bill, a native of Louisiana who was director of religious life at Tyler College in Texas prior to coming to Indiana, published several books and made two documentary films, including "In the Rapture.” He received grants from the Guggenheim and Ford Foundations as well as from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he directed the Faculty and Staff for Student Excellence Mentoring Program in the IU Office of Academic Support and Diversity.

Bill was also a columnist for the Bloomington Herald-Times newspaper, writing over 50 columns in the course of two years. These columns were set at "Wiggy’s Diner, Bloomington’s first literary restaurant," and covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from holiday parties to why his own birthday was celebrated with watermelon instead of cake. A racist remark from a white Texas watermelon farmer started Bill’s feelings of self-worth, nurtured by his parents who "redoubled their efforts to instill in me the lesson that I...was not a Sambo."

Bill was an important presence in the folklore and the Bloomington communities, and he will be sadly missed.


M. Lee Alexander says...
Posted Monday, January 16, 2017
I am very sorry to hear this news. Dr. Wiggins' course in African-American Folklore was among my very favorite and most memorable courses at IU. I also asked him to be part of my dissertation committee, for which he gave many helpful suggestions. My condolences to Bill's family; the Lord is close to those who mourn. We have lost a pioneer who brought both joy and rigor into everything he did. Folklore is the poorer for his absence, but we are the richer for having known him.

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