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On Juneteenth: History of Race Relations in Indiana

Wednesday night a terrorist attacked a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.  I was in the middle of working on this post when I heard about it and wondered if in light of current events the subject of this post mattered.  I have come to think that it does.  It seems to me that part of the reason that people think these incidents can be and should be treated as isolated incidents is that we forget our history.  I’m not a historian.  I am sure there are others who know this history better than I do, but I couldn’t find a short condensed history of race relations in Indiana when I went looking for it (except this archive).  I think it is important that we remember our history and how it continues to affect our present.  As Faulkner said, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” Another reason I’m writing this is that today is the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.  Juneteenth is the earliest celebration of commemorating the end of slavery because it was on June 19, 1865 that Union soldiers showed up in Galveston, TX and informed the slaves that they were free, two years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  I used to live in Texas, where I learned about Juneteenth, but now I live in Indiana.  I’m from Philadelphia, and I have a pretty good sense of the history (and the present) of race relations in Philadelphia, but when I moved to Texas and Indiana, I wanted to better understand the history of those places.  So I was thrilled when a friend from graduate school who is now a Hoosier, Nazareth Pantaloni, gave me IU history professor James H. Madison’s book: Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana.  Madison spends considerable space addressing the history of race in Indiana (though I was disappointed to see no entry for race or racism in the index). In the spirit of Juneteenth–of learning about emancipation long after it has been declared but does not seem yet to be in force–I want to blog about the history of race relations in Indiana that I learned from Madison’s book.  I just want to give some of the highlights.  I am limiting this list to highlights, especially to highlights that continue to echo in today’s climate.

Early Years and Statehood

  • The first thing that becomes clear from Madison is that there are two fronts to the history of race relations: the history of white settlers engagement with the American Indian population and the history of white settlers engagement with Black settlers and former slaves.  While there are differences to these stories, both are about European settlers gaining and maintaining access to land, and therefore, wealth at the expense of American Indians who already lived here and to the exclusion of former slaves fleeing the south.
  • Slavery was prohibited by Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.   But the French had slaves at Vincennes, many people including the Governor, William Henry Harrison, brought slaves to Indiana.
  • The first general assembly of Indiana allowed for slaves to be brought into Indiana and held as indentured servants for periods that would extend way past their life expectancy.  Children of such servants could be held for up to thirty years old.  By 1810, anti-slavery activists had the 1805 indenture law repealed.  Their motivations were not based on a principle of equality, but rather the effort to eliminate free slave labor as competition. (52)
  • At the time of the Indiana Constitutional Convention of 1816, most of the people who lived in Indiana, and most who served on the convention, were from the south, and most of them were from Kentucky.  The delegates restricted voting to white male citizens over the age of 21.  The constitution also stated that there would be “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in this state” and that “the holding of any part of the human Creation in slavery, or involuntary servitude, can only originate in usurpation and tyranny, no alteration of this constitution should ever take place so as to include slavery or indentured servitude.”  But then there was a tricky clause that said “Nor shall any indenture of any negro or mulatto hereafter made, and executed out of the bounds of this state be of any validity within the state.”  The hereafter made granted that those who had made such indenture before would not be freed by the constitution. (50-53)
  • Once Indiana became a state in 1816, there were three new waves of migration into the state: from New England, the mid-Atlantic, and the upper South.  With these waves came African Americans, some with their southern masters and some free Blacks.  They looked for places where they could find land and places that were close to Quakers.  Indiana had both.  African Americans settled in significant numbers in Rush County at the Beech settlement and in Hamilton County creating the Roberts Settlement and in many towns along the Ohio River. (56-61)
  • In 1820, in State v. Laselle, the Indiana Supreme Court freed a slave named Polly concluding that the framers of the constitution intended to prohibit slavery from the state.  An indentured servant was freed the following year. (105)

From the Underground Railroad to the Civil War

Speed Cabin, Crawfordsville, IN

  • Some Hoosiers assisted slaves fleeing the South in the Underground Railroad, but many didn’t want to interfere in Southern politics.  Madison, Indiana, was a stop on the Underground Railroad and it was worked largely by African Americans such as Chapman Harris and Elijah Anderson.   Many of the white supporters of the Underground Railroad in Indiana were Quakers.  But white support should not be overestimated: many took the Underground Railroad as extremist. (108)
  • Those who thought themselves moderate went a different route.  In 1829, the Indiana Colonization Society formed to raise money to help emancipate slaves from the south and send them back to Africa.  In 1849, the Indiana General Assembly passed a resolution endorsing this approach in a way that showed their own investments in keeping Indiana “pure”:

we can never consent that Indiana shall be made the receptacle of manumitted negroes of other states, as their color and character would forbid political and social equality, and their migration here could but be injurious to us and detrimental to them. (109)

  • The effort to ban slavery (labor competition) transitioned into an effort to deny entrance to free Blacks.
    • In 1811, a law was passed that allowed only whites to vote. (48)
    • In 1803 a law was passed in the territory banning nonwhites from testifying in court.  In 1818, the state legislature prohibited African Americans from testifying in court and prohibited blacks and whites from marrying. (48)
    • In 1831, Black newcomers had to post a bond of $500 as security against becoming a criminal (note the ways that blackness becomes associated with criminality as the default view with this law).  Most of the churches in the state remained segregated (and for that matter, still do).  When the Indiana Constitution was revised in 1851, it included Article XIII which read, “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State.”  It passed.  Those black folks who had come to the state before 1851 had to provide a witness to validate their legal residency, a witness who could not be black, which became a way of allowing local communities to decrease or eliminate their Black populations by refusing to stand witness for them just as laws requiring a black person to have a sponsor to register to vote worked to keep blacks from voting in the south. (110)
    • In 1840, the legislature defined blackness by the one-eighth rule — if a person had one black great-grandparent she was Black.
    • In 1846, a mob burned the homes of several African Americans, motivating some to leave for Liberia.  A future president of Liberia emigrated there from Terre Haute (Edward J. Roye). (109)
  • Indiana became more anti-slavery when slave catchers started functioning in the state.  This invasion seemed more an affront than the presence of non-whites among them. (147-148)
  • In the election of 1860, the Democratic Party (which was then more like the contemporary Republic Party) defended southern states’ right to slavery using language that even today is employed to defend racist policies without using the language of race: the language of sovereignty, of states’ rights, and of individual freedom.
  • In 1860, Lincoln won Indiana, the state in which he was raised, and Indiana sent 7 Republicans and 4 Democrats (all from the southern part of the state) to Congress.  When Lincoln declared war, it wasn’t clear whether states like Indiana would rally.  But Governor Oliver P. Morton ensured that Indiana would send soldiers. (151)
  • When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, it presented what Madison calls, “the most extreme threat to white supremacy that the state and nature had ever faced.”  Congressman Voorhees vowed that “not another soldier, not another dollar, ought to be furnished for the further prosecution of this war for negro emancipation.”  After the war, Congressman Voorhees expressed the fear of many, “Shall the white man maintain his supremacy.” (164-165)

Reconstruction and the KKK

  • The Indiana Civil Rights Law of 1885 was meant to grant access to public services and spaces, as well as privately-owned businesses in Indiana to people of color.  It proved incapable of preserving such access.  In 1917 two Black sisters sued an ice cream vender in Marion under Indiana’s Civil Rights Law of 1885, but the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the Greek immigrant ice cream parlor owner’s “right to refuse service.” (191-192)
  • At the turn of the century, “sunset towns” existed in Indiana–towns that made it clear that Blacks were unwanted in the town after dark.  Between 1865 and 1903, 20 of the 61 known victims of lynchings were African-American, while the African-American population was significantly smaller than 1/3 of the population. (192)
  • “Colored sections” remained in baseball teams, women’s auxiliaries, churches, theaters, hospitals and even the newspaper had a separate section for the “colored news.”  (192)
  • Indiana fostered a sizable branch of the Klu Klux Klan.  Not just simple backwater uneducated hooligans, the KKK membership drew from all over the state, town and country, workers and owners, church leaders and political leaders, men and women, Quakers and temperance advocates.  As Madison writes, “These were mainstream Hoosiers, not a fringe group.” Notably, the Klan claimed to be defending Christian principles and the protection of an American way of life in its work.  Catholics, Jews and Blacks, eastern European immigrants, union organizers and communists were the targets of Klan terrorism.  (244-245)  Passing itself of as a community service organization, the Klan sponsored a fireworks display in Crawfordsville, Indiana, the town I live in, on July 4, 1924.  At their events, they carried signs that read “We are pure Americans,” and “We stand for Christian religion.”  They used these gatherings to recruit more members.  Protestant ministers who challenged Klan doctrine were forced to resign (250), while labor unions and the Indiana Bar Association, and many newspapers across the state condemned the Klan (251).
  • In the early twentieth century, the Republican Party, which had once been the party of Lincoln, was more sympathetic to the Klan (248).  (That isn’t to say there were no Democratic Klan members though.)  One could argue that it was the influence of the Klan in the Republican Party that shifted its politics away from the Party of Lincoln to the party that used the very language once used against it to defend white supremacy, such as “states rights,” “individual liberty.”  Thus, by the time the first NAACP state chapter meeting in Indiana, the delegates endorsed a Democratic ticket, the party that had historically been against fighting the Civil War.  The 1930s saw this voter realignment solidify with recent immigrants, people in cities, workers and unions moved more definitively toward the Democratic Party.  (264)
  • In 1930, two young Black teenagers were lynched by a white mob on the Grant County courthouse square.  The Marion branch of the NAACP led by Katherine Bailey petitioned the state attorney general and the governor to prosecute those who did the lynching, but no one was ever prosecuted.  Madison argues that despite this incident, Indiana was not a lynching state in the 20th century.  (314)
  • The influence of the KKK declined after a number of sexual assault scandals came to light and as Jewish and Catholic and Black Hoosiers organized to challenge its influence.

World War II and the Civil Rights Era

  • During WWII, Black men and women and white women had worked in jobs vacated by soldiers.  After the war, places of business categorized positions in terms of race and gender.  Some assembly lines were designated for Black workers only.  Union workers proved to be a fragile coalition with Black workers, when in 1944, they closed their meeting to African American workers.
  • In 1941, the general assembly considered a bill to address racial inequality in defense employment, but it was strongly opposed by labor unions and the Chamber of Commerce.  (270)
  • In 1945, Black officers protested segregated officers clubs at Camp Atterbury risking court marshal (271)
  • In 1949, Indiana passed the Indiana School Desegregation Act of 1949, five years ahead of the US Supreme Court’s decision to require desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education.  While white Hoosiers did not actively resist that decision and were ahead of it legislatively, Indiana was one of the last Northern schools to give up schools that were designated for Black students only.
  • Basketball teams with players of color were refused entry to the state tournament until the Second World War.  When Indianapolis Crispus Attucks’ basketball team won the tournament, their parade was rerouted to keep Black fans from celebrating downtown. (314)
  • Much of the integration of school that was achieved in Indiana came through legal action brought by the NAACP in Gary, South Bend, Kokomo and elsewhere.  One consequence of these efforts was white flight (which Ta-Nahisi Coates argues was engineered by policy and not the sum total of individual racist decisions)  into the suburbs.  (315)
  • In 1961 and 1963, Indiana passed civil rights bills set up a civil rights commission that would accept petitions from those whose rights had been violated and pursue penalties against the violators.  This legislation made Indiana one of the more progressive states in terms of law, preceding federal legislation by a year.  Many counties set up commissions as well.  But despite the law, lunch counter sit-ins and protests were still required to grant Indiana’s black population equal access to goods and services. (315-317)
  • In 1969, Unigov was created to move government functions from the city to the county while excluding schools, thus allowing both white suburban schools and Republican control of the city.
  • In 1971, a judge found that the Indianapolis School Board “through the years, has consistently employed policies and practices causing and maintaining racial segregation.” Busing of black students from Indianapolis to Marion County township schools began after a long fight against it in 1981. (315)
  • Madison notes that the KKK continues to have small gatherings in the state, though Indiana is not a “Klan state.” This news story from October shows the Klan to remain active in pockets.
  • While Madison doesn’t discuss this incident, in April of this year, a noose was given to a firefighter on the job.  His wife is related to the last man lynched in the state.

Madison recognizes in conclusion: “Access to quality education, housing, and jobs still depended on color, even if many pretended otherwise….The heritage of the past remained a special burden for twenty-first-century lawmakers, courts, and citizens.” (319)

Correction: an earlier version of this post claimed that Lincoln was born in Indiana.  He was raised in Indiana, but born in Kentucky.  This post has been updated to reflect that clarification.  Thanks to Seton Goddard for the correction.

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