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Jim Cummings Jr., lifelong Republican and founder of Indiana Black Expo, dies at 90

James “Jim” Cummings Jr., who was a key Republican operative and the last living founder of Indiana Black Expo, died Thursday night at age 90 of a heart attack.

In 1970, Cummings and fellow community activist Willard B. Ransom took out a $20,000 loan from the Merchants National Bank with the intention of creating a statewide organization for black people to use as a system Support.

influential pastor, the Reverend Dr. Andrew J. Brown, helped them start and promote Indiana Black Expo from the ground up. Brown and Ransom died in the mid-1990s.

The inaugural exhibit, now called Summer Celebration, was held June 19–20, 1971, in the Indiana State Fairgrounds Exhibit Hall. Cummings was the first general president. The celebration of history and culture draws thousands of visitors and celebrities to downtown Indianapolis each year.

The times have changed. Just using the word “black” in the title in the 1970s, Cummings told IndyStar for a 40th anniversary story in 2010, was a statement.

“A lot of people were still calling us ‘colored,'” he said. “We named it ‘Black’ Expo. We were moving towards that term. It was progressive.”

It is believed to be the only such event remaining from the 1970s.

The idea came from three women, Phyllis Carr, Helen Perkins and Barbara Wilson, according to IndyStar records, who worked for Operation Bread Basket and attended the Southern Christian Leadership Conference exposition in Chicago in 1970.

They huddled with Brown to share insights from the conference. Operation Break Basket, which sought to improve black lives, helped promote the first Indiana Black Expo.

This year’s summer party was canceled Thursday due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.

“Given our announcement yesterday,” said Alice Watson, vice president of Indiana Black Expo died the same day. This makes it even more important and relevant that we continue the vision that was set in 1970.”

Work for the recorder

Cummings was born on the West Side, according to his obituary, and earned a bachelor’s degree in commerce from Indiana Central University, now called the University of Indianapolis.

He served as a sergeant in the Korean War and was active in the VFW, according to his obituary. He worked as a reporter for many years for The Indianapolis Recorder.

In fact, his youngest daughter, Claudia Cummings, said he struck up a lifelong friendship with Eugene S. Pulliam, the former editor of The Indianapolis Star, when the two went on missions as young men. At the time, the elder Eugene C. Pulliam was the publisher of The Star and Eugene S. Pulliam was a journalist.

“Just a month or two ago,” Claudia said, “he was telling me stories from the newsroom about how he and ‘Little’ Pulliam, as he would call Eugene, went on a mission together to cover stories. crimes and fires. They shared their notes with each other so that the recorder and the star had it all.”

He has also worked in real estate, help found The Meadowsand then opened the namesake Cummings Real Estate.

He recalled that decision in a 2005 profile in The Indianapolis Star.

“When I first got into this business, my wife said, ‘Why don’t you join Tucker? ‘” Cummings recalled, referring to FC Tucker’s real estate. “I said, ‘Why should I join Tucker? I’m a broker just like Tucker. My name is known in the community as well as Tucker. “”

Republican for life

Cummings was heavily involved in the Republican Party, helping found the National Black Republican Council.

As director, he oversaw operations in 20 states when President Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, according to his obituary. In 1985, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Former Deputy Mayor Joe Slash said there were so many black Republicans in the club at the time that they could fill a good-sized hotel ballroom for their meetings.

When Slash worked in Republican Bill Hudnut’s administration, his path often crossed Cummings, who he said served on various boards. Slash said Indiana Black Expo was a milestone for the black community

“I think it gave a lot of people in our community a sense of pride that we had a lot to celebrate culturally and historically,” Slash said.

Former Lt. Gov. John Mutz, who served with Gov. Robert Orr in the 1980s, remembers running in a primary race for a Statehouse seat in 1964 against Cummings.

They both lost that primary, but got to know each other at near-daily campaign events and stayed in touch afterwards.

“Well, he was a guy with a lot of creativity, a lot of energy and a good sense of humor,” Mutz said.

The family sorted through photos, including those of their father with every Republican president, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. The latter was the keynote speaker at the 2005 Indiana Black Expo corporate luncheon which honored Cummings’ career.

Cummings is pictured with Ronald Reagan, whom he particularly admired, for decades.

Claudia, who is also a Republican, said her father was drawn to the party’s ideology of personal responsibility and progress.

“I think that’s what my dad taught us,” she said, “the responsibility of each individual to themselves and the responsibility of the government to see to the needs that we cannot meet as individuals and also to ensure a strong economy”.

Indiana Black Expo founder James Cummings Jr.

She said the same principle was behind Black Expo. It was a family affair, especially in the beginning. She remembers licking envelopes for letters. Later, as the Expo grew and became more professional, she recalls attending concerts and other events.

Cummings liked to carry a camera and take pictures everywhere he went, before it became trendy on social media, Claudia joked. His contact list had no rival.

“My dad was, as they say, larger than life,” she said. “He knew everyone. We couldn’t walk down the street, drive Downtown, or pop into a restaurant without him engaging in conversation with people from all walks of life.”

Cummings’ Legacy

His wife, Norma L. Cummings, died in 2014. She also worked in the civil service, in the Statehouse Auditor’s Office.

Claudia said that in addition to founding Indiana Black Expo, he was proud to have fathered five successful children with careers ranging from public service to journalist to charitable foundation.

His daughter Cynthia Cummings (Mary Hunsche) works as Vice Chancellor at UMass Dartmouth.

His son James Cummings III (Karlotta Cummings) is retired from the Indianapolis Department of Public Works.

His daughter Cecilia Cummings (Stephen Glynn) is a former Indianapolis Star and Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

His son Ronald Cummings (Lisa Cummings) founded Young Republicans for Change, a 1990s group for young African Americans.

Claudia (Michael Rains) is the president and CEO of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance.

Besides his children and their spouses, he is survived by seven grandchildren, three step-grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.

Contact IndyStar reporter Chris Sikich at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisSikich.