Brownsville author makes up for lost time
William R. Black had early designs on becoming a writer but his career in education put those plans on hold.
His latest work, “Dispatches From The World,” a biography of war correspondent Percival Phillips, is further proof that he continues to make up for lost time.
Black also has authored several books including four on transportation analysis and planning. The most recent of these is “Sustainable Transportation” with Guilford Press in 2010. He also has written a spy novel that has an environmental theme and a narrative history of a legal case in the Monongahela Valley in the 1800s involving counterfeiting. The last two are available from Amazon as e-books.
“When I started college, I had a strong desire to be a writer,” said Black, a 1960 graduate of Brownsville High School, when it was still on High Street. “That desire was pushed to the background as I became a transportation researcher and professor. Railroads became an interest of more than a decade of my life, and my writing interests were sidetracked except for papers in academic journals, two books on railroad policy and a major textbook on transportation.”
Work on environmental issues led to one of Black's first textbooks on sustainable transportation and his first novel, which couples the environmental background with a long-term interest in espionage of the Cold War era.
“I slowly moved into the nonfiction area with the history of some court cases related to a counterfeiting incident from the 1860s in the United States,” he said. “These efforts inspired me and eventually led to the biography of Percival Phillips.”
Black, the son of the late Thomas D. Black and Dorothy Hileman Black of Brownsville, developed a natural interest in railroads. His father and paternal grandfather and great grandfather were railroad workers in the area.
Black, who worked at Robinson's Drug Store on Market Street on the North Side of Brownsville during his high school years, graduated from California State College (now California University of Pennsylvania) with a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1964. He attended graduate school at the University of Iowa, where he received a Master of Arts degree in 1966 and his Ph.D. in February 1969. He was honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award from California in 1980. His first academic position was at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He accepted a position at Indiana University in 1969 and retired to Emeritus Professor status in June 2007.
When he retired after 39 years of service to the Department of Geography at Indiana, the College of Arts and Science Alumni Association emphasized that his “leadership in the field of transportation geography is universally recognized.”
“He also has made invaluable contributions to the department as an outstanding teacher and has served in an exceptionally large number of administrative and service positions for national and international agencies, for the state of Indiana and for Indiana University,” the tribute said. “He continues to be a leading figure nationally and internationally in research on transportation.”
Black's wife, the former Donna Lee Frazzitta of Long Branch, a graduate of California Area High School, attended California State College for three years and spent one year in training at The Washington Hospital to become a certified medical technologist. While they lived in Iowa she worked in the nuclear medicine field.
The Blacks have been married 49 years, are the parents of three children and have eight grandchildren.