A Wapakoneta resident recently earned an African-American in History Award at the ninth annual Power of Unity Luncheon held at the Bradfield Community Center in Lima late February.
The man says the award is more for his hometown than for his work.
The award is given annually to a black achiever. Jim Bowsher is white, although the influence of Native American ancestry is also noticeable in his appearance. While Bowsher is not particularly impressed with awards or notoriety, this time around he felt the recognition was quite significant.
“This award isn’t for me,” Bowsher said. “It is for the city of Wapakoneta.”
Bowsher said he didn’t doubt there was probably plenty of heated discussion when his name was even mentioned to receive the award at the program, hosted by the Lima Family YMCA, the Black Achievers Program, and the Ohio State University-Lima Office of Institutional Diversity. However, he feels it has shown how far the community has grown.
“The reason I say this is an award for Wapakoneta is because of our past,” Bowsher said.
Bowsher is described by many as a philosopher, writer, teacher, historian, geologist and visionary. His home is a virtual showcase of history.
One of his more popular topics was the presence of the Klu Klux Klan in Wapakoneta.
Bowsher said many people have downplayed the effect of the Klan in the area. Bowsher said its place in local history is important on both sides of the fence.
“Many people say it didn’t even exist,” Bowsher said, while showing different Klan artifacts from Wapakoneta and the surrounding area.
Bowsher said he found there to be other problems, too. As a youngster, his eclectic tastes and a supportive father led him all over the country seeking historical information from different people. His searches eventually led him to the possession of a desk that was in the office of KKK headquarters in Wapakoneta.
He eventually was able to get a locked drawer open, and amazingly found registrations for local KKK members. Bowsher went on a hunt, riding his bicycle around town searching for different members. He would often ask them why they joined. It was through projects like this as a young boy that he learned to look into everything.
“I went to one guy who’s name I had found,” Bowsher said. “I told him what I had found. He did not deny it.”
However, the man then gave Bowsher the rest of the interesting story. The man had flat out refused the Klans offer to join or make a $5 freewill donation to the group. Soon after, the same man’s Belgian workhorse came up dead. When a donation still wasn’t forthcoming, his barn was burnt down. The man soon got the picture and donated his $5.
“You have to know who the card carriers were,” Bowsher said. “There is no way to tell who was extorted.”
Bowsher said the key is having an open mind and not having a preconceived notion.
“When discussing anything, you have to have balance,” Bowsher said. “People have to analyze. I look at every person I talk to as an individual. Sometimes people have the simplest reasons for doing things, like wanting to please their parents. You have to exercise free will. When is the last time you used it?”
Bowsher felt sometimes it is best just to apologize for the past and move on. He felt receiving this award was a sign of doing just that.
“We can admit the way we were,” Bowsher said. “And we can apologize we are not that way now. I tell people if you are black now, you can be black and come here and not be persecuted, just bored to death.”
Bowsher said when someone apologizes for a generation, it makes it over.
“Its the hardest thing for people to do,” Bowsher said. “Apologizing relieves that pain. Its hard to admit dad was wrong.”
Bowsher said political correctness sometimes causes a big problem.
“I’m not big on political correctness,” Bowsher said. “PC (political correction) is an opportunity for people to still be racist. We can admit the way we were, and be thankful we are not that way now.”