"When I Die, Please Don't Bury Me in Kokomo": Ryan White's Contribution to the History of AIDS in the United States

Taylor Dickerson Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): Vivian Deno Butler University

In 1984, a thirteen-year-old boy from the small town of Kokomo, Indiana, spent several days in the hospital undergoing surgery and other medical procedures to treat a severe case of pneumonia. After surviving these operations, he was given life-altering news: he had tested positive for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS. At the time, AIDS was a newly discovered disease, first reported in the United States in 1981, and pejoratively associated with gay men and drug users. This discovery occurred just three years before the diagnosis of this young boy the world would soon come to know as Ryan White. “When I Die, Please Don’t Bury Me in Kokomo” explores how Ryan White’s struggle impacted the greater story of AIDS in the United States and around the world; showcasing his significance in the communities of Kokomo and nearby Russiaville for the past thirty years. Ryan White was the poster-child for AIDS because he did not represent the social demographics associated with the disease. My research examines the Ryan White Letters Project from the Indianapolis Children’s Museum in combination with the Ryan White Oral History Project from the Howard County Historical Society in Kokomo to highlight the conflicting opinions regarding Ryan White. These records highlight how these attitudes have reverberated into the present day and evolved over thirty years. This is the first research that utilizes both projects from the two archives to create a broader understanding of the issue and how it impacted people across the country.
Oral Presentation

When & Where

09:45 AM
Jordan Hall 301