What Happened at Benham West

African American Stories of Community, Displacement and Hope

What Happened at Benham West: African American Stories of Community, Displacement and Hope is a history project that has collected elders’ stories of Elkhart’s predominantly African American Benham West neighborhood and documented the process of the city’s eventual clearing of the neighborhood. The project includes both a documentary and a forthcoming book.

The documentary premiered on Friday, May 19, 2023, at the Crystal Ballroom at the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart. Additional launch events for the documentary and book will take place in Elkhart, Goshen and South Bend, Indiana, in 2023. These events will also be free and open to the public. Please complete this form if you would like to receive announcements about these events.

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The Benham West project team is regularly posting updates to our Facebook and Instagram profiles. Follow us to see all our posts!

Upcoming documentary screening

Juneteenth Celebration Benham West documentary screenings: Monday, June 19, 2023, at the Ruthmere Museum in Elkhart at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. (ADA accessible screenings available). Due to space limitations, advance registration is required.

Leaders and participants

Five people walk down a street with a sign that says "Road closed ahead""

Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, MA, Intercultural Competence and Undoing Racism coordinator at AMBS, and Jamie Pitts, PhD, Associate Professor of Anabaptist Studies and Director of the Institute of Mennonite Studies at AMBS, coordinated the project, with extensive support from project assistant Patrick Obonde (MA 2020). 

The elders’ narratives — which are contextualized with extensive supporting research on practices of segregation locally, in the state of Indiana and across the nation — are featured in the documentary and a forthcoming book by the same title.

Read the article announcing the launch event

Read the article reflecting on the launch event

Interviewees: Bonnie Clark • Phyllis Davis • Christine Edgerton • Arthur Fisher • Travis Jackson • Nadine Johnson • Glenda Love • Rev. Dr. Plez Lovelady • Rev. Willie Jean Mayes • Steven Millsaps • Sondra Mose-Ursery • James Otterbridge • Esther Pettis • Elkhart Mayor Rod Roberson • Jean Robinson • Leroy Robinson, Jr. • Charles Walker

Interviewers: Nekeisha Alayna Alexis, Jamie Pitts and Charles Walker
Project Advisory Committee: Rev. Jon Brown, Dr. Plez Lovelady, Rev. Willie Jean Mayes, Daniella Panetta and Jason Shenk. Special thanks to: Ed Kauffman, Barbara Pitts and Brittany Purlee.
Book publisher: Wolfson Press
Photography: Oliver Pettis, Black Lion Cinematography
Documentary filmmaker: Oliver Pettis, Black Lion Cinematography

Funding: A grant from the Community Foundation of Elkhart County provided funding for the history project, and a grant from Indiana Humanities in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding for the launch event. Additional funding came from a Vibrant Communities Grant from the Elkhart County Visitors Bureau. Thank you — we are grateful!



Street sign saying S. 6th Street

What Happened on the Benham West grew out of AMBS’s 2020 MLK Day program, Repairing the Harm: A Community Conversation on the Systemic Exclusion of African Americans in Elkhart. That event featured a panel discussion on the exclusion of African Americans in the community of Elkhart, Indiana, where the seminary is located. Conversations between local African American leaders Rev. Jean Mayes and Rev. Dr. Plez Lovelady during the gathering and among participants afterwards emphasized the need to name and address both current and past harms.

In response to this need and with the passionate encouragement of elders and allies both within Elkhart and beyond, Nekeisha Alayna Alexis and Jamie Pitts coordinated a team to produce the aforementioned documentary and book. Together, the pieces explore life in the predominantly Black Benham West neighborhood — known to many as “the village” — including experiences of segregation in Elkhart; the city’s clearing of Benham West; and some of the remaining elders’ hopes for the future.