Northwestern professor of history presented paper at academic conference in Europe

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Northwestern professor of history presented paper at academic conference in Europe

September 6, 2016

Dr. Roger HardawayDr. Roger Hardaway, professor of History at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, presented a paper at an academic conference in Europe this summer.

The 16th International Conference on Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations met at the University of Granada in Spain in late July.

Hardaway’s paper was titled “Leigh Whipper: African-American ‘Western’ Actor”. Hardaway noted that Whipper, who lived from 1876 to 1975, had an acting career that lasted more than 70 years. Most of his career was spent on the stage, including performing in several Broadway productions. Whipper also starred in several movies, mostly when he was in his 60s and 70s. Six of his movies were “westerns”—a genre of films that rarely featured black actors.

Four of the western movies in which Whipper acted were lightweight entertainment vehicles that were basically forgettable; these included three B-grade movies starring Roy Rogers. But two of Whipper’s performances were as strong supporting characters in films that were nominated for “Best Picture” Academy Awards and have since become cinematic classics.

In 1939, Whipper starred in the first filmed version of John Steinbeck’s novel, “Of Mice and Men”. Whipper played “Crooks”, a stable hand on a ranch in California in the early 20th century. Then, in 1943, Whipper was an itinerate preacher named “Sparks” in “The Ox-Bow Incident”, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. This movie is about a lynch mob run amok in 1880s Nevada; Sparks tries unsuccessfully to prevent the mob from lynching three men suspected of murdering a rancher and stealing his cattle.

“I have been researching Whipper for several years,” Hardaway said. “His career is significant for several reasons; the paper I presented in Spain highlighted his work in ‘westerns’ when such roles for black actors were few and far between. His performances in ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Ox-Bow Incident’ are dynamic ones in Oscar-caliber film masterpieces that deserve wider recognition than they have received.

“The paper I presented this summer,” Hardaway continued, “is a first step in shedding some academic light on Whipper’s talents. I hope to turn the paper into a journal article, and I plan to continue to research and write about Whipper’s life and career in the future.”

For more information on Hardaway’s work contact him at (580) 327-8520 or