| Indianapolis Star
Since its establishment in 1976, Black History Month has been a time when communities are asked to reflect on the contributions of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history and on the ongoing struggles for equity and racial justice.
The developer of Black History Month, Carter G. Woodson, first proposed “Negro History Week” in 1926, choosing the second week in February because of its proximity to the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. Feb. 1 is National Freedom Day, commemorating the anniversary of the approval of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.
Woodson believed it was necessary to teach and celebrate Black history because “those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
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To commemorate Black History Month, IndyStar asked the Indiana State Museum and Indiana State Library which artifacts from Black Hoosier history stand out from their collections.
Free Black settlements formed across Indiana
Historians have found evidence of over 60 Black settlements across 43 Indiana counties before the Civil War, according to Marcy Dodson, adult engagement and program manager for the Indiana State Museum.
Some of the state’s earliest Black settlements are believed to have been founded along the Wabash in Gibson and Knox counties, and offered free Black residents a chance to live out dreams of buying land and finding refuge from economic, social and political oppression.
Those settlements include Lyles Station, Roundtree and Sand Hill in Gibson County; Pinkston in Dubois County; Roberts Settlement in Hamilton County; Cabin Creek, Greenville and Snow Hill in Randolph County; Burnett, Lost Creek and Underwood in Vigo County.
Artifacts from some of these settlements are on display at the museum.
Indianapolis published essays highlighting free Black voices before the Civil War
Published in Indianapolis until 1861 for the Literary Societies under the Baltimore, Indiana, and Missouri Conferences of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Repository of Religion and Literature includes essays, stories and commentary regarding the lives of Black Americans in the 1860s.
“It’s before the Civil War,” said Monique Howell, supervisor of genealogy at the Indiana State Library. “These are free Black voices.”
While some content is specific to Indiana, many entries cover topics of religion, education, community engagement and some speculation regarding what the future may hold for Black Americans.
These books, which are preserved but in somewhat delicate condition, are available by request at the State Library.
Registration cards for free Black residents
An oft-ignored chapter of Hoosier history created a legacy of discrimination in what was in theory, a free state — but not necessarily in practice.
Article XIII of the 1851 state constitution set strict guidelines on the settlement of free Black residents in Indiana — specifically, that “no negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State.” Additionally, contracts with those seeking residency in the state should be voided and any employer of those persons who otherwise encouraged them to stay in the state would be subject to a fine.
The article, which was later expunged, also gave birth to a requirement for free Black Hoosiers living in the state to register themselves with their county clerks.
The State Library houses a pair of certificates belonging to Nelson and Gilly Perry of Gibson County, who served as each other’s witnesses on the documents. Information included on the certificates include name, birthplace, date of registration and general description of the carrier — including height and complexion.
Indiana’s Ampey brothers among historic Black Union regiments
Some of the first Black soldiers to fight for the Union in the Civil War were Hoosiers.
Indiana-born brothers Isom, Thomas and George Ampey made history by joining the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the 28th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), respectively. The 54th is perhaps the best-known African American Civil War regiment, having been memorialized in the 1989 Oscar-winning film, “Glory.”
The 28th was Indiana’s only Black regiment in the war, having been authorized in 1863 to help fill a federal quota for soldiers. Six companies were organized and activated the following spring, with members of the 28th serving at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, that July. They returned to Indianapolis for discharge in January 1866.
A historical marker honoring this Indiana regiment is located in downtown Indianapolis, near the intersection of Virginia Avenue and McCarty Street, not far from where they would have trained at Camp Fremont.
Newspapers serving Black communities
There’s a rich history of newspapers and newsletters serving Black communities across the country, including right here in the Circle City, where the Indianapolis Recorder has served Hoosiers since the 1890s.
The Recorder, founded by George Pheldon Stewart and William H. Porter, got its start as a two-page church bulletin and expanded into a weekly newspaper in 1897. It has since earned a reputation for covering local and national events and their impact on Central Indiana’s Black community, becoming one of the most highly regarded Black newspapers in the country.
Other publications of note include the Indianapolis Leader, the city’s first Black newspaper, which published from 1879-91, The Indianapolis World (1883) and The Freeman (1884). In Southern Indiana, the Evansville Argus served readers from 1938-43.
See why some of Lena Horne’s family photos are stored in Indiana
Prior to leading the Chattanooga Justice newspaper, journalist and political activist Edwin Fletcher Horne Sr. lived and taught in Indianapolis and Evansville. Edwin and his wife, Cora Calhoun Fletcher, were the grandparents of jazz singer and civil rights activist Lena Horne.
The Horne family collection, housed at the State Library, includes family photographs, newspaper clippings, Cora’s passport, travel mementos and personal letters from her extended trip to Europe in the 1920s.
The collection also includes a handwritten letter to Edwin from Benjamin Harrison, dated May 13, 1884. In the letter, Harrison, then a U.S. Senator, alludes to a potential run for the presidency. He was elected four years later.
Marion County birth returns provide useful genealogical records
For Black families, genealogical research can be complicated by a lack of records.
With birth return cards, midwives and doctors included information regarding birth sequence — whether the child in question was the first, second, third and so on born to that mother — and parents’ names, birth dates and birth places.
Explore the State Library’s digital collection of these cards from the 1880s and early 1900s at bit.ly/2NuUyYn. Birth certificates for these children can be obtained from the Marion County Health Department.
The Y’s Man chronicles history of Senate Avenue YMCA
In the early 1900s, the “Indianapolis colored YMCA” provided a space for Black men who had been denied memberships at other facilities and eventually grew to be one of the most influential Black YMCAs in the country, according to the Indiana Historical Bureau.
Within years of its formation, the YMCA outgrew its location at California and North streets. Construction of a new facility was made possible in part by a large donation from Madam CJ Walker.
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The new building, located at Michigan Street and Senate Avenue, soon became home to “monster meetings,” large gatherings open to both men and women to host forums on a variety of topics including religion, industrialization, unemployment and desegregation.
To explore the State Library’s digitized collection of The Y’s Man, a publication of the Senate Avenue YMCA, visit bit.ly/3dgFdWg.
The contributions of Black men and women at Camp Atterbury in WWII
During World War II, Camp Atterbury, located about 40 miles southeast of Indianapolis, provided housing to over 44,000 officers and troops. Among them were several segregated Black units.
The men of the 751st Medical Sanitary Company and the 1560th Service Unit were complemented by the Medical Section of the 3561st service unit, which was comprised entirely of Black servicewomen of the Women’s Army Corps (which is why you’ll see these servicewomen referred to as WACs).
The collection of photos, taken by William J. Moriarty Sr. for the U.S. Signal Corps, shows servicemembers taking in USO shows, victory rallies, completing various odd jobs or lining up for review by commanding officers.
But the photos also reveal another aspect of life at Camp Atterbury — joy. Handfuls of the photos depict celebrations of various units in fall and winter 1943, soldiers and WACs dressed to the nines and dancing in the camp’s service clubs.
Explore the State Library’s digital archive of images from the Moriarty collection at bit.ly/2Nvuo83.
Richmond’s Specialty Record Shop becomes a cultural institution
Founded by Founded by the Kelley and Bass families in 1947, the Specialty Record Shop was the first Black-owned business on Richmond’s downtown Main Street, according to a 2012 blog post by Jacqueline Dowdell, the granddaughter of founders Harold and Elizabeth Kelley.
The shop became an institution among Black and white music fans alike, carrying a wide variety of genres and special ordering customer requests.
“It is difficult to attach particular significance to the place in a simple essay about music except to say that as with sound with Specialty meaning was everywhere, and as with music, Specialty reached everyone, at least in Richmond,” Dowdell wrote.
The shop closed its doors in 1980, but its sign is now on display at the Indiana State Museum.
Gary convention helped set agenda for 1970s and beyond
In 1972, Gary, Indiana, was host to the National Black Political Convention, one of the largest gatherings of people of color convened to advance their rights since the 1930s, according to the Indiana Historical Bureau.
Attendees included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, Bobby Seale and Louis Farrakhan. Due to bomb threats and concerns of violence, Muhammad Ali helped with security efforts.
The purpose of the convention was to identify a unifying political strategy for Black Americans. The far-reaching agenda included addressing issues like increasing the number of Black representatives in Washington DC, higher incomes for Black families, cuts in defense and space budgets and end to trade with countries that supplied the country’s drug market.
Buttons from the convention and other memorabilia from the time are on display at the Indiana State Museum.
See them for yourself
All of these pieces are either currently on display at the museum or available to view by appointment at the library.
The Indiana State Museum is located at 650 W. Washington St. in White River State Park and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Standard adult admission is $17 and youth admission is $12. Admission for students with a valid ID from an Indiana college or university is $15. Children ages 3 and under get in free. For more information, visit indianamuseum.org.
The Indiana State Library is located at 315 W. Ohio St. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is open to the public by appointment only. To make an appointment or request online assistance, email email@example.com or call 317-232-3675. To learn more about the library, its history and its collections, visit in.gov/library.
USA TODAY reporter N’dea Yancey-Bragg contributed.
You can reach IndyStar reporter Holly Hays at 317-444-6156 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @hollyvhays.