William Wiggins | Filmmakers on Folkstreams

William Wiggins

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."