Start Your Aircraft Engines!: Aviation Accomplishments in Speedway During World War II

Note: For those interested in learning more about aviation in the Speedway area during World War I, see “Speedway: An Aviation Hub During World War I.”

This weekend, some 300,000 fans are expected to descend upon the Town of Speedway to watch the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500. The Speedway area has been home to the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since 1911. The race attracted drivers and fans from all over the world. It has only been cancelled on two occasions: during World War I (1917-1918) and World War II (1942-1945). While there was no roar of race cars, the area was by no means quiet. Instead, the Speedway area became a hub for wartime production, with aircraft engines taking center stage.

James A. Allison, photo courtesy of Allison Transmission: History and Heritage.

Entrepreneur and Indianapolis Motor Speedway co-founder James Allison quite literally shifted gears when he devoted his precision machine shop’s resources on Main Street, just south of the track, to the war effort in 1917. Allison originally built the shop to redesign and rebuild foreign and domestic racecars. By mid-1918, the War Department awarded government contracts to Allison Experimental Company to build parts for the Liberty aircraft engine. According to the National Museum of the United States Air Force, the Liberty represented “America’s major technological contribution to World War I.” The United States’ auto industry produced over 20,000 of these engines during the war and Allison’s Speedway company played its part in this endeavor. The Speedway area also saw the development of an aviation repair depot where workers helped repair, modify, and test hundreds of airplanes and aircraft engines.

Allison Engineering Company Main Street Building and Employees, 1921, photo courtesy of Indiana Memory.

Just one month after the war’s end, in December 1918, the owners of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that the Indianapolis 500 would resume in May 1919. The focus in the Speedway area quickly shifted back to automobiles and racing, but interest in aviation there had just begun. During the 1920s, Allison Experimental Company (Allison Engineering Company by 1921) worked on rebuilding and inverting Liberty engines.

Liberty 12-A Inverted Engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Following James Allison’s death in 1928, General Motors Corp. filed an appropriation request to buy the company the following year. According to the request, General Motors planned to continue Allison’s work in the aviation industry. The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce promoted the acquisition, stating that with General Motors’ purchase of the company:

Development of this city as a center for the nation’s aviation industry seems assured.

General Motors Corporation Appropriation Request to Purchase Allison Engineering Company. Courtesy of Rolls Royce Heritage Trust – Allison Branch Archival Collection.

The Chamber of Commerce was not far off the mark. During the 1930s, Allison Engineering Co. focused its efforts on developing a 1,000 horsepower liquid-cooled aircraft engine in the Speedway area. Known as the V-1710, it would become the primary engine that powered Allied fighter aircraft during World War II. Norman Gilman, chief engineer and general manager for the company, reasoned that a liquid-cooled engine could be placed inside the fuselage, where a radial type engine could not and therefore developed high wind resistance or drag, particularly at higher speeds. Despite initial hesitation from both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, the Navy placed an order with Allison Engineering Co. for a liquid-cooled airplane engine of 750 horsepower in June 1930. The company designed, built, and delivered this engine to the Navy in March 1932. After completing a 50-hour development test, the Navy accepted the engine in September of that year. The Army Air Corps followed suit and soon after placed an order for the engine with the company.

Throughout the mid-1930s, Allison Engineering Co. worked to improve the engine, with the goal of making it 1,000 horsepower. After several tests and improvements to the design, the company delivered the engine to the Army Air Corps at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio in March 1937. One month later, the V-1710 passed the 150-hour acceptance test.

AllisoNews, March 31, 1942, vol. 1, no. 18, photo courtesy IUPUI Digital Collections, Allison Transmission.

By 1939, as war clouds gathered over Europe, Allison Engineering (renamed Allison Division of General Motors in January 1941) committed itself to mass production of the V-1710 aircraft engine in Speedway. At the time, Allison employed 600 people, but this number grew exponentially as orders for the V-1710 came pouring in. In April 1939, newspapers reported that the company would soon triple its facilities with construction of a new plant that would span 200,000 sq. ft. By the end of the year, employment figures had almost doubled to 1,200. Allison Division constructed additional plants in Speedway and the Indianapolis area throughout the war years and with these plants came thousands of additional employees.

V-1710 engine, photo courtesy Allison Transmission: History and Heritage.

Demand for the V-1710 engine made Allison Division one of the three principal manufacturers of aircraft engines in the country during the war, alongside Pratt & Whitney and Wright Aeronautical. In January 1941, Life magazine ran a feature on the engine, highlighting it as the “plane motor on which the Army puts its biggest bet.” By July 1941, the War Department awarded Allison a new contract for the engines. With this contract, total orders for Allison engines since the beginning of the defense emergency program totaled approximately $242,000,000.

America has bet heavily on the Allison engine in its aircraft defense plans, just as the war industries board in 1917 bet everything on the Liberty engine . . . the Allison engine has been delivering regularly for the R.A.F. [Royal Air Force]. Allison is now producing 400 aviation engines a month, where a year ago it was delivering only 150, and expects to approach 1,000 engines a month by the end of 1941. – “More Air Power,” Mason City [Iowa] Globe Gazette, August 13, 1941, 4.

Curtiss P-40, photo courtesy AllisoNews, July 18, 1941, 4.,

Orders and output for the V-1710 engine continued to grow, particularly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. By this point, employment at Allison Division surpassed 12,000. It swelled to 23,019 in October 1943. The company’s growth impacted the Town of Speedway as well. As early as 1940, Indianapolis newspapers commented on Speedway’s growing pains, reporting that officials from the town were seeking state aid to address problems that had come about from the influx of workers to the plants. These problems included the need to improve streets, sanitary conditions, and the need for a better water system. The Indianapolis Times noted that with more employees at the Allison plants came “more money, more home buying, more eating, etc.” School enrollment in the area doubled, church attendance rose greatly, and many new homes were built.

Bell Airacobra P-39, photo courtesy AllisoNews, August 1, 1941, 6.

Meanwhile, Allison Division continued to impress. By March 1944, it built and delivered its 50,000th liquid-cooled engine. By the war’s end, the total figure reached 70,000. These engines powered many of the United States’ fighter planes during the war, including the P-38 Lightning, the P-39 Airacobra, and the P-40 Warhawk. The engine was also used in several fighter planes flown by the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom.

Lockheed P-38, photo courtesy AllisoNews, August 15, 1941, 4.
Program for the Presentation of the Army-Navy Production Award to Allison Division, General Motors Corporation, November 5, 1942.

Allison Division received high praise for the fine precision, workmanship, and durability of the V-1710. It won the Army-Navy “E” Award for excellence in production four times during the war: in October 1942, March 1944, October 1944, and June 1945. By the spring of 1945, Allison Division reduced production schedules of the V-1710 to focus more of its time on building jet engines, which could power planes at much higher speeds. The U.S Army Air Forces had awarded Allison a contract for the production of jet propulsion units in the fall of 1944. The Navy followed the Army’s lead and placed their own order with Allison in the summer of 1945, citing Allison’s “well established reputation for delivering the goods on time.” This reputation would continue through the end of the war in August 1945 and through the post-war years.

As had happened following the conclusion of World War I, racing returned to the Speedway area in 1946 to much fanfare. Left abandoned for nearly five years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had fallen into disrepair during World War II. Tony Hulman purchased the track in November 1945 and worked to restore it in preparation for the May 1946 500-mile race. Fans came in droves to witness the 30th running of the Indianapolis 500 that year, as racing returned to center stage in the Speedway area.

AllisoNews, March 1944, 1, accessed IUPUI Digital Collections, Allison Transmission.

Allison’s work in Speedway and its commitment to technological advancements did not end with World War II, but rather continues through today. In addition to continuing its investment and development in the aviation industry following the war, Allison also organized a new department for the design and development of transmissions. The transmissions were manufactured for commercial and military use, with many powering tanks during the Korean War. Their production ushered in a new chapter in the company’s history. Today, James Allison’s experimental company in Speedway , now known around the globe as Allison Transmission, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fully automatic transmissions.

Strange Fruit: The 1930 Marion Lynching and the Woman Who Tried to Prevent It

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, image accessed NPR.org.

After investigating over 4,000 incidents of “racial terrorism” that took place in the United States between 1877 and 1950 in the form of lynchings, the Equal Justice Initiative realized the trauma left in their wake had never been properly confronted by the nation. The EJI sought to remedy this and opened the Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama on April 26, 2018. Memorial visitors first encounter sculptures of chained slaves before experiencing memorial square, an exhibition of 800 6-foot monuments that represent lynchings in each of the counties where they took place. The memorial concludes with a bronze sculpture that examines “contemporary issues of police violence and racially biased criminal justice.”

Woven into the fabric of racially-motivated violence in America is a summer night in Marion, Indiana in 1930. On August 7, black teenagers Tom Shipp, Abe Smith, and James Cameron were held in the Marion jail for the murder of Claude Deeter and rape of Mary Ball. Before they could stand trial, a mob comprised of white residents tore the young men from their cells and brutally beat them, mutilating and hanging Shipp and Smith from a tree on the courthouse lawn. They intended to send a message to other African American residents, one which Marion NAACP leader Katherine “Flossie” Bailey scrambled to prevent.

A crowd at the Marion courthouse looks on following the lynching of Shipp and Smith, courtesy of the Organization of American Historians.

Local photographer Lawrence Beitler took a photograph of the swinging bodies, capturing a white crowd that looked on in a mixture of satisfaction, hostility, amusement, and bewilderment. This photo was reproduced on postcards and circulated by the thousands. NPR noted that in the late 1930s white poet, activist, and Bronx school teacher Abel Meeropol remained haunted by the image of “strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” and penned a poem about the lynching, published by the teacher’s union. Inspired by Meeropol’s words, artists like Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Sting, Kanye West, and Nina Simone have performed their own versions of “Strange Fruit.”

Historian Dr. James Madison contends that the Marion lynching continues to command attention because it took place outside of the Deep South and occurred after the Ku Klux Klan-prompted lynchings of the 1920s. The East Tennessee News noted weeks after the lynching that the “deplorable affair” confirmed the notion that “mob law” can break “forth in all its furry [sic] in North as readily as in the south.” The paper added that only the enactment of a federal law would “serve to discourage the tendency of irresponsible hoodlums who are inclined to take the law into their own hands.” Prior to August 7, 1930, it is believed that the last lynching in Indiana took place in 1902 in Sullivan County and the resurgence sent shockwaves through Indiana and around the nation.

Katherine “Flossie” Bailey, courtesy of America’s Black Holocaust Museum.

As white residents gathered on the afternoon of the 7th, formidable NAACP state president Flossie Bailey mobilized. Born in Kokomo, Bailey was described as a “hotrod,” “born leader,” and “superb organizer” for her tireless work with the NAACP. She established the Marion branch in 1918 and built it up, despite encountering apathy created by Great Depression conditions. She became head of the Indiana NAACP and offered her house as headquarters when Marion’s Spencer Hotel refused to accommodate black guests.

As the restless crowd hoisted Claude Deeter’s blood-stained shirt from the window of the Marion City building, Bailey called Sheriff Jacob Campbell to alert him to the mob’s plan to lynch the prisoners. According to NAACP acting secretary Walter White, upon Bailey’s phone call, Sherriff Campbell checked the jail’s garage and found that gasoline had been removed from the cars and the tires flattened, preventing transportation of the endangered prisoners. He made no attempt to procure working cars, despite three hours passing until the lynching. Bailey also called on Governor Harry G. Leslie’s secretary, operating in his absence, to dispatch troops to the restless city. He abruptly hung up on her.

Mary Ball, courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal, August 11, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

As Bailey tried to intervene, Mary Ball’s father, Hoot Ball, entered the jail to speak with Sheriff Campbell and, upon failing, the crowd broke into violence and stormed the jail. The Muncie Evening Press estimated that of the thousands gathered around the jail “only about 75 men actually took part in the rioting,” encouraged by the shouts of onlookers. The mob penetrated the front and side of the jail using crowbars and hammers. Officials inside tried to stop rioters with tear bombs, one of which was lobbed back into the jail and exploded among nearly fifty prisoners.

Walter White declared the lynching of Shipp and Smith to be the “most horrible and brutal in the whole history of lynching.” He stated that Smith was taken first and lynched from the jail bars and “When first pulled up he held on to the rope, preventing strangulation.” Shipp “fought furiously for his life, burying his teeth in the arm of one of the lynchers. In order to make him loosen his teeth his skull was crushed in with a crow-bar and a knife plunged into his heart.” 

The rancorous mass took Smith’s life by dragging him to the courthouse square and hung him from a tree before a crowd that included children, an act witnessed and recounted by Muncie podiatrist Dr. E. Frank Turner. He saw the “ghastly spectacle” around 8 p.m. and, hearing that water would be used to disperse the crowd, “felt that everything would be alright, and went away.” When he returned around 10 o’clock, he saw the mob drag Shipp and Smith to the courthouse lawn. Lynchers utilized shadows created by tree branches to obscure their identities. Dr. Turner recalled that:

The body went up, dangling on the rope, and a demoniacal yell surged from the crowd. It was hideous! That mob sounded like wild wolves, the yells were more like vicious snarls. Some even clapped their hands. 

Not all observers cheered, he recalled. Some wept and others condemned the crowd.

Grant County jail where white residents mobbed Shipp and Smith, courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal, August 11, 1930. The Journal noted that the arrow indicated the “window from which one body was suspended.”

Cameron, the youngest of the three accused men, was ripped from his cell and nearly hanged before someone in the crowd shouted that he was not involved in the crime. Muncie policeman Earl Doolittle noted that when Indianapolis officers finally arrived in their “big touring car” they were “greeted with boos and catcalls” from the crowd, lingering to prevent the coroner from removing the bodies. This was the same crowd that had left the jail “ravaged,” with “gaping holes in the walls” and the “twisted remains of broken locks.” Reportedly by midnight, an “indignation meeting” formed in Johnstown, the Marion neighborhood where African Americans lived. Hundreds of black residents listened to speeches about the sheriff’s unwillingness to order officers to shoot at the mob. Officers broke up the meeting, which prevented further violence. An Illinois newspaper reported that about 200 black residents fled Marion for Weaver, a historic black community in Grant County, out of fear of escalating violence.

At the time of the lynching, the state militia was training in Kentucky and, therefore, the “lawless element” controlled the scene of the lynching for over half a day. After Sheriff Campbell removed the bodies the following day, the crowd used penknives to cut buttons and shreds of fabric from the victims’ clothes as “souvenirs.” Shipp’s and Smith’s bodies were then taken to Shaffer Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Muncie because Marion lacked a black mortician.

Echoing editor George Dale‘s 1920s skewering of the Ku Klux Klan via the Muncie Post-Democrat, the Muncie Evening Press condemned the act, stating “Not alone Marion but the state of Indiana stands today disgraced in the eyes of the world as a result of the lynching of two Negroes in that city last night. As for Marion herself she will be regarded abroad as a city of barbarians.” The paper believed that Marion could be partially redeemed only by indicting rioters on murder charges. The article noted “This ought not to be difficult.”

NAACP acting secretary Walter White, courtesy of the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Flossie Bailey knew otherwise. According to James Madison, after the crime Bailey convinced Walter White to investigate the lynching. Fearing her phone calls were being monitored, she traveled back to Kokomo to communicate with NAACP leaders in Indianapolis and Marion. She received threatening phone calls, Madison noted, and drivers “deliberately backfired their cars as they cruised past her house.” Despite these threats, Bailey worked diligently to hold the perpetrators accountable. She joined a delegation of ten African American citizens from Marion and Indianapolis that met with Governor Leslie, including prominent pastors and Walker Manufacturing Company attorney Robert L. Brokenburr. In a formal resolution presented by Bailey, the group demanded that Governor Leslie ask for Sheriff Campbell’s resignation and promise protection for those who would testify about the identity of the lynchers. According to The Kokomo Tribune, Governor Leslie responded by claiming that “rumors had come to him that negroes in Marion were equipped with dynamite and were threatening to blow up the county jail.”

Bailey countered this rumor directly in a letter-to-the-editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the leading African American newspapers in the country. The Courier previously printed a story about plans for retaliation by Marion’s black residents. Bailey noted that this was a “LIE,” one absolutely not perpetuated by the city’s black pastors, as the Courier had claimed. She stated that because of the rumors she and her husband “are daily receiving anonymous letters of a threatening nature” and alleged that “The Negroes who start rumors of this sort are the ones who will not help in anything constructive.” She concluded her letter “A few of us refused to be intimidated and do all we can in the name of the Association [NAACP] to bring law and justice again to Marion.”

The county grand jury began its investigation into the lynching in September. Bailey testified that she warned Sheriff Campbell of the formation of the mob just before 5 p.m., countering Campbell’s statement that it was made after 7 p.m. When questioned about his lack of action, he stated he feared hitting a woman or child with a stray bullet. Ultimately, the jury decided that Sheriff Campbell handled the mob in a “prudent manner” and exonerated him of any responsibility for the deaths of Shipp and Smith. 

Flossie Baily and husband Dr. Walter Thomas Bailey, courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Unable to extricate Campbell from office, Bailey and her husband focused their efforts on prosecuting the lynchers. Historian Emma Lou Thornbrough noted that they led the effort to gather names from witnesses at “considerable personal risk.” White sent a list of twenty-seven alleged participants, along with evidence of their involvement, to Governor Leslie and Indiana Attorney General James M. Ogden. According to Thornbrough, only seven men were arrested, two tried, and both acquitted. She noted that at the trial of the second man, antagonism “against the blacks who attended it was described by a representative of the national NAACP as ‘appalling.’ Most of the whites who packed the courtroom were jubilant when the accused man was acquitted.” The New York Age noted of Bailey that “A high tribute is paid her courage and energy in working to restore order in Marion and to bring the lynchers to justice.” The NAACP awarded Bailey with the Madam C.J. Walker Medal for her refusal to be intimidated in her quest to bring the perpetrators to justice.

While Bailey’s efforts were ultimately unfruitful, she used the Marion lynchings as a springboard to enact anti-lynching legislation in Indiana. House Democrats introduced a bill in February 1931, for which Bailey organized statewide meetings, and convinced African Americans to contact their legislators. Her legwork paid off. Governor Leslie signed the bill into law in March, which allowed for the dismissal of sheriffs whose prisoners were lynched. The law also permitted the families of lynching victims to sue for damages. The Indianapolis Recorder, one of state’s preeminent African American newspapers, praised the law. The paper stated, “Indiana has automatically retrieved its high status as a safe place to live.” It added that without the law, Indiana “would be a hellish state of insecurity to our group, which is on record as the most susceptible victims of mob violence.” Although the newspaper praised Governor Leslie, it credited a “small group which stood by until the bill became a law.”

Using this momentum, Bailey and her NAACP colleagues worked to pass a similar bill on a federal level. Madison noted that she tried to change national lynching laws by publishing editorials, wiring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and distributing educational materials to Kiwanis clubs. Although these efforts were unsuccessful, Bailey fought for the rights and safety of African American citizens until her death in 1952, challenging discrimination at IU’s Robert W. Long Hospital, speaking against school segregation, and suing a Marion theater for denying Bailey and her husband admittance based on their race.

Memorial for Peace and Justice, courtesy of the Equal Justice Initiative.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice has made tangible the tragic events of August 7, 1930. Perhaps one day the American landscape will represent Flossie Bailey and other individuals who tried to prevent racial terrorism at considerable personal risk. Learn how to apply for a state historical marker via the Indiana Historical Bureau.

 

SOURCES USED:

“Marion and Indiana Are Disgraced,” “Negro Killers Hanged in Courthouse Yard After Big Mob Storms Jail; Trio Accused of Attacking White Girl,” “Muncie Man is Lynching Witness,” and “Police Tell of Scenes at Marion,” Muncie Evening Press, August 8, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Negroes Leave City,” Journal Gazette (Mattoon, Illinois), August 9, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Gross Failure of Officials Is Exposed by Investigators” and “Lynching, North and South,” Indianapolis Recorder, August 30, 1930, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mrs. F.R. Bailey, Letter to the Editor, The Pittsburgh Courier, August 30, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Marion, Indianapolis Negroes Call upon Governor for Action,” The Kokomo Tribune, August 21, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Five Heard in Lynching Quiz,” Muncie Evening Press, September 3, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Sheriff Was Negligent,” The New York Age, September 6, 1930, accessed Newspapers.com.

“The Anti-Lynching Law” and “Cruising Around,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 14, 1931, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

James H. Madison, “A Lynching in the Heartland: Marion, Indiana, August 7, 1930,” Journal of American History (June 2011), accessed Organization of American Historians.

James H. Madison, “Flossie Bailey,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History (Winter 2000): 22-27.

Emma Lou Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 67-69.

The Fort Wayne Visiting Nurse League

Josephine Shatzer, first paid nurse, image courtesy of Visiting Nurse Archives.

With a staff of over 155 and over 170 volunteers, today’s Fort Wayne Visiting Nurse is a far cry from its humble beginnings. In 1888, a group of Fort Wayne women organized the Ladies Relief Union with a mission to “help the sick poor of Ft Wayne.”  Calling themselves the Visiting Nurse Committee, they soon discovered a link between poverty and disease.  Dr. Jessie Calvin, a Fort Wayne sanitation and indoor plumbing pioneer, encouraged women’s church groups to raise money for a qualified nurse that could meet community needs.

Prior to the 1860s, nursing was “typically considered a domestic responsibility provided in the home by family members.” Nursing as a profession evolved after the Civil War, when women gained experience caring for wounded soldiers. Historian Clifton J. Philips noted that in the post-war period, women’s religious orders were “especially active in establishing hospitals in an attempt to extend to the general public, and the poor in particular, some of the services formerly rendered to sick and wounded soldiers.” As hospitals materialized, so too did nursing groups and training programs. By 1897, The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette noted that “modern nurses” wished to “be given her proper position as a skilled assistant in serious illness.”

Nurse with a Ford Model T purchased in the 1920s, so that nurses could more efficiently reach patients, image courtesy of Visiting Nurse Archives.

The paper added that:

The daily or visiting nurse is a recent development of modern nursing and meets the needs of many people who find it inconvenient to have a nurse stopping in the house and requiring more or less attention from servants perhaps already overtaxed. The visiting nurse comes in for an hour or so every day to perform those services for which her skill is needed.

On March 1, 1900, an organizational meeting was held in Fort Wayne and the Visiting Nurse League became a reality. At a salary of $10.00 a week, Josephine Shatzer was hired as the League’s first nurse.  During harsh weather she took a trolley, but normally she could be seen making her rounds on her bicycle.  Regardless of transportation, it was clear that she wasted no time.  On her first day she saw six patients.  Next she established a baby milk station at First Presbyterian Church, instructing new moms how to prepare formula.

Fort Wayne Daily News, September 29, 1900, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

She also volunteered at free immunization clinics, bathed patients, delivered meals, changed bedding, dressed wounds, cared for the elderly and ill in their homes and endeared herself to all she served. At the end of her first year she had made hundreds of calls, utilizing supplies donated by local churches, relief societies, and drug stores. For those patients who could pay, the charge of a one-hour visit was fifteen cents.

The Fort Wayne Daily News praised the program in 1900, noting that the league “found favor with all classes of people” and that visits to the “sick poor” conveyed not only “help and benefit, but hope and good cheer to every member of the family.” In 1913, the Public Health Nursing Association appointed a visiting nurse to serve African American patients at the Flanner Guild. Dr. Calvin continued to guide the League, through the years of World War I and the 1918 flu epidemic, which took the lives of 3,266 Hoosiers.

Nurse treating a young burn victim, image courtesy of Visiting Nurse Archives.

By 1919, a nurse named Dixon had reached a salary of $100.00 a month. League expenditures in 1920 stood at $1,300 annually and in 1922 the Community Chest offered its support.  Insurance companies began to hire nurses from local visiting nurse groups to assess policyholders who were ill, and paid the League seventy-five cents a visit.  By 1923, the League reorganized and served in an advisory, instructional health teaching capacity. The Great Depression wrought poor health conditions: eight nurses made over 29,000 visits to 4,477 patients.  One made 3,255 orthopedic visits to 104 crippled children, many of whom were victims of polio.  Sisters of Saint Joseph Hospital provided free hospitalization in the pediatric ward for those who could not pay.  In the 1940s, World War II increased demands for nursing schools to produce eligible Nurse Corps candidates.

In 1954, the agency changed its name to Visiting Nurse Service, Inc.  By 1956, it undertook a program that cared for stroke victims in their homes, which served to collect data on medication, exercise, loss of function and the need for expanded therapy service. By 1962, the agency’s director Eva Rosser introduced a State Board of Health-funded program that focused on treating the chronically ill in their homes, instead of a hospital or nursing home.  Later the group provided care as home health aides and the agency became certified for Medicare on July 1966.

Nurse visiting a patient, likely just after World War II, image courtesy of Visiting Nurse Archives.

With certification came additional paper work.  According to History of Visiting Nurse, by 1983, “a record number of visits for a single month occurred (2,200), due to earlier hospital releases and greater technology used in the home.” During this period, the glucometer was used for the first time, registered nurses were trained to perform phlebotomy services, and around-the-clock care was made available for all patients. In 1984, Medicare Hospice Benefit became available and Visiting Nurse Service merged with Hospice of Fort Wayne, Parkview, and Lutheran Hospices.  The agency introduced computerized billing and, by the end of the decade, services for the frail and disabled.  By 1990, Hospice service visits totaled 38,177, a forty percent increase over previous months.

History of Visiting Nurse noted that in 1990 the agency moved to the “Moellering Unit of the nearly vacant former Lutheran Hospital.” In 1995, the 1984 merger dissolved and Visiting Nurse Service and Hospice became a free standing agency. By February 2001, a new Hospice Home facility opened and in 2006 a building expansion added patient rooms. In 2011, nurse practitioners joined the staff and the “Watchful Passage” program began, in which trained volunteers remained at patient’s bedside during the last few days of life. In 2018, Visiting Nurse staff and volunteers can proudly stand tall celebrating 130 years of community service.

Speedway: An Aviation Hub During World War I

Speedway’s aviation repair depot was bordered by Main St. on the west, 14th St. on the north, Polco St. on the east, and roughly contemporary Ford St. and 10th St. on the south. Photo courtesy of William Menkel, “‘New Plans for Old’: The Work of the Aviation Repair Depots,” Aerial Age Weekly, September 1, 1919, 1129, accessed Google Books.

May is finally here and with it racing fans from around the world will soon begin flocking to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to attend practices and qualifying races in preparation for the Indianapolis 500. For the past century, the Speedway ─ both the track and the adjacent areas of the town ─ have become synonymous with motorsports and racing.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, March 23, 1917, sec. 2, p. 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

In addition to racing though, the area holds another important place in Indiana and U.S. history ─ as an innovative aviation hub during both world wars. During World War I, the track was used as a landing and flight test field and hangars built on site helped house aircraft. Just south of the track, the Allison Experimental Company manufactured parts for the Liberty Engine, arguably one of America’s greatest contributions to the war. And at Speedway’s aviation repair depot, workers restored 313 planes, 350 engines, and numerous aircraft parts. Their work helped keep our nation’s pilots in the air and made the Speedway area a center for military aviation during the war.

The United States lagged far behind the British, French, and Germans in military aviation when it entered World War I in April 1917. Those countries had been fighting  for three years and in that time had understood and capitalized on the value of military aircraft for combat and reconnaissance. American entry in the war spurred rapid expansion of the industry in the country. Although time constraints forced the U.S. to purchase much of its military aircraft from the British and French during this period, the country made great strides in preparing pilots for air service abroad and in the production and repair of engines and training aircraft.

Liberty 12 Model A V-12 Engine. Photo courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum.

Indianapolis’ central location made it a prime site for aviation repairs and flight testing. Nearby flying fields included Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois and Scott Field in Belleville, Illinois, McCook Field and Wilbur Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, and Selfridge Field in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, among others. Additionally, the proximity of railroad lines in the city and automobile centers in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois made it easier to access raw materials such as steel, aluminum, and lumber, as well as supplies and spare parts used in repairing wrecked aircraft. Perhaps even more importantly though was the leadership of men like Carl Fisher and James Allison, co-founders of the Speedway, who dedicated their manufacturing resources in the area and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the war effort.

Airplanes waiting to be placed in “roundhouse” at Speedway. “Aviation Repair Depot at Speedway City May Become Permanent When Aerial Mail Service is Extended to Midwestern Country,” Indianapolis News, August 10, 1918, accessed Newspapers.com.

The U.S. Army established the aviation repair depot in Speedway on February 4, 1918 with the arrival of the 810th Aero Squadron from Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas. According to William Menkel, former captain in the U.S. Air Service and commanding officer of the depot, it was the first of the repair depots to get under way and begin repairs in the U.S. Other repair depots later opened in Dallas, Texas and in Montgomery, Alabama. In addition to the 810th Aero Squadron, the Speedway depot was also home to the 809th, 811th, and 821st squadrons. 150 men served in each squadron.

821st Aero Squadron. Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection.

In October 1918, the Speedway Dope, the newsletter of the aviation repair depot, reported that “the commissioned and enlisted personnel [at the depot] constitutes a cosmopolitan community. Mechanicians, [sic] clerks, cooks, and chauffeurs have come from all parts of the Union, and at the Speedway there is no East or West or North or South.” The majority of the civilian mechanics at the repair depot had little knowledge of aircraft before American entry in the war, but within a short time they became experts in the industry and in repair work. The U.S. Air Service established training schools for these men across the country and provided classes in engine assembly and wing and fuselage construction, while also teaching skills such as making and fastening metal parts to the aircraft, sewing fabric on wings, and applying dope varnish to the aircraft. The first wrecked aircraft arrived in April 1918.

Small Parts and Welding Department at the aviation repair depot. Photo courtesy of William Menkel, “‘New Plans for Old’: The Work of the Aviation Repair Depots,” Aerial Age Weekly, September 1, 1919, 1129, accessed Google Books.

Damaged planes were unloaded and often sent to the Dismantling Department where the engine, landing gear, tail surfaces, and other parts were removed, cleaned, and worked on separately before reassembly began. While some of the planes that arrived only needed minor repairs before being shipped back out, others were total wrecks that needed to be completely rebuilt and tested.

By July, output reached three completed planes a day. Perhaps even more impressive though were the modifications made to the aircraft to help increase pilot safety. Workers at the repair depot analyzed incoming wrecks in order to find patterns in destruction. They then used this information to make improvements in design of the aircraft. For example, in his 1919 report on repair depots, Captain Menkel noted that many damaged planes that arrived in Speedway had smashed instrument boards. The instrument board was located so close to the pilot that in the case of a crash their head was likely to hit it. Workers at the depot moved the instrument boards farther away from the pilot’s seat during their repairs. This extra space reduced the chance that the pilot would hit it in a crash, thereby improving the pilot’s safety and lowering the chance of damage to the instrument board.

Propeller Room. Photo courtesy of William Menkel, “‘New Plans for Old’: The Work of the Aviation Repair Depots,” Aerial Age Weekly, September 1, 1919, 1129, accessed Google Books.

The information learned from wrecked aircraft that arrived at the depot also resulted in other modifications, including the reinforcement of longerons and other parts of the plane to lower the chances of damage or fatal injury of the pilot and cutting out sections of the cowl frame to provide more distance between it and the pilot.

In a post report to Washington in January 1919, the Speedway Dope reported 313 airplanes repaired at the depot during 1918, representing a total value of $1,195,550.00 and 350 airplane motors valued at $638,699.00. In addition to these figures, the report noted repairs of wings, ailerons, elevators, rudders, and other miscellaneous parts valued at approximately $300,000.00. Added together, repairs at the depot well exceeded $2,000,000.00. Beyond the economic benefits and savings to the government was the fact that those working at the repair depot helped keep pilots in the air, reducing their chance of injury or death and ultimately giving the U.S. a better opportunity to win the war.

Articles in the Speedway Dope reiterated these sentiments, noting that those who trained or repaired airplanes in the Speedway area might be inclined to downplay the role they played in the war because they were not in the trenches abroad or flying in France. The repair and reconstruction of airplanes was a vital part of the war effort though.

Speedway Dope newsletter letterhead.

The third side of aviation has not only been neglected, but the public generally does not know that it even exists. The repair and reconstruction of damaged planes and motors, constitutes a bit part of the game of aviation. It is that part of the game that must be done and done right, or the other parts would fail to accomplish anything. True it does not carry any of the romance or glamour that follows the course of the pilot and his plane, and neither does it require the enormous financial outlay that goes with production . . . Yet this third side of aviation has been well taken care of and thousands of men who enlisted for service in France have remained at home repair depots and made it possible for others to enjoy foreign service and win international fame.

“The Third Side of Aviation-Rebuilding,” Speedway Dope, November 30, 1918, 1, accessed Indiana State Library Collections.

In the days immediately following the armistice on November 11, 1918, the Speedway Dope wrote that even though the war had ended, production at the depot should continue, as there was still plenty of work to do before completion of the final peace terms. Major Guy L. Gearhart, former commanding officer of the depot agreed. Maj. Gearhart recognized the important role the airplane would play in transportation after the war and believed the repair depot would become a permanent fixture in the Speedway.

A group of the Aviation Repair Depot Officers at the Flying Field, Speedway Motor Track. Left to right – Lt. A. D. McIlvaine, Sen. Instructor Frank Mills, Lt. James Wallace, Lt. William Groom, Lt. Col. A. W. Robins, Capt. Edward Laughlin, Lt. A. L. Maurer, Lt. Ralph M. Snyder, Lt. H. A. Knudson, Lt. R. J. Brandi, Lt. R. A. Ballard, Lt. Kincaid. Photo courtesy of the Speedway Dope, November 16, 1918, 1, accessed Indiana State Library.

The depot’s future remained unclear though. With the war over, immediate aviation interests in the area took a backseat to racing and motorsports. The Indianapolis 500, which had been cancelled in 1917 and 1918, recommenced in May 1919. The resumption of the annual race led to questions and concerns about the track and infield being used for aircraft. Despite initial orders calling for the closing of the depot in March 1919 though, the South Bend News-Times reported that recruitment for men for the U.S. Air Service at the Speedway aviation repair depot continued as of July. By the following year, however, the status of the aviation repair depot was again called into question. Some speculated that it would be removed from the Speedway area and relocated to Fairfield, Ohio. The government officially ordered the abandonment of the repair depot in September 1920 and publicized the sale of buildings and utilities in November of that year.

Although work in the Speedway area shifted back to racing and motorsports, aviation interests did not disappear completely. The Allison Experimental Company (Allison Engineering Company by 1921), located just west of the repair depot, continued to work to improve the Liberty aircraft engine into the 1920s. When General Motors purchased the company in 1929, it expressed a commitment to expanding its work in the aviation field. It was this commitment that made the Speedway area an aviation hub once again during World War II.

Be sure to check back in a few weeks when we examine the vital role the Speedway area played in military aviation in World War II!

Sources Used and Research Note:

William Menkel, “‘New Plans for Old’: The Work of the Aviation Repair Depots,” Aerial Age Weekly, September 1, 1919, 1129-1133, 1144, accessed Google Books.

Much of the information about the aviation repair depot came from articles in the Speedway Dope. The publication ran from September 28, 1918 until February 1, 1919. Copies of the paper can be located at the Indiana State Library.

The Indiana Historical Bureau installed a new state historical marker commemorating the aviation repair depot in Speedway on April 24, 2018. Marker sponsors included Rolls-Royce North America, Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust – Allison Branch, and the Town of Speedway. For more information on the aviation repair depot and additional sources, see: https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4406.htm

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THH Episode 13: Reaching toward Peace: Robert F. Kennedy on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Transcript of Reaching Toward Peace: Robert F. Kennedy on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research using various sources (see show notes for details)

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

Recording of Robert Kennedy: And that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

­­­­­­­­­­Lindsey Beckley: Across America, there are schools, parks, and roads all bearing the name of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Many small towns and nearly every big city in the nation has at least one Martin Luther King Jr. elementary school or boulevard. And Indianapolis is no exception. On Broadway Street,   north of 16th Street in Indianapolis, you’ll find the 14 acre Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The park features a variety of trees, shelter houses, playgrounds, and even a community swimming pool. It’s also home to a remarkable memorial. Approaching the memorial, you pass between two metal walls. Above you, reaching out from those walls, are the likenesses of two men , one black, one white leaning out over your head, arms outstretched towards each other. As you pass beneath them, you probably recognize one figure as being Martin Luther King Jr. But chances are, unless you know why this memorial was constructed, you wouldn’t recognize the second.

That second figure is that of Robert Kennedy and the memorial is called the Landmark for Peace Memorial. On this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we will explore the events that inspired the creation of this striking piece of public art. And stick around after the main episode for a discussion with Reverend Dr. Frank Thomas. We’ll talk about how these inspiring leaders use moral imagination.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Hello and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[crowd noises and music]

On March 16, 1968, Robert Kennedy began his presidential campaign when he declared:

Voice actor reading from Robert Kennedy speech: “I am today announcing my candidacy for presidency of the United States. I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all I can.”

Beckley: He planned to win the Democratic Party’s nomination through the popular support of voters in primary elections, a strategy that had worked for his brother John F. Kennedy 8 years earlier. To this end, he announced that he intended to enter the Indiana Democratic primary on March 27 and arrived in Indianapolis to do just that the following day. Kennedy’s Indiana primary campaign was set to begin on April 4, 1968.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Throughout this same time, Martin Luther King Jr. was also in the midst of a campaign, although his was not one for political power. It was one for social change and it was known as the Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Committee, or SCLC, had been planning to expand their mission to include economic equality for some time. During a SCLC staff retreat Dr. King said:

Voice actor reading from King: “I think it is necessary for us to realize that we have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.”

Beckley: To that end, King announced the Poor People’s campaign in November 1967 and outlined its goals: more jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and improved education. To accomplish this, he planned a series of protests culminating in a takeover and mass occupation of the National Mall in Washington D.C., where protesters would live in a shanty town for the duration of the rally.

[Transitional music: “We Shall Overcome”]

Beckley: Just as Robert Kennedy headed to Indiana to start his primary campaign, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr headed to Memphis, Tennessee to assist with a strike being conducted by the sanitation workers of the city. The workers had been striking for higher wages and better working conditions for over 11 weeks.  While his Poor People campaign was focused on affecting change in Washington, King saw that the objectives of the strike fit well with his own and decided to adopt it as part of the campaign. So, that’s how King and Kennedy came to be involved in two different campaigns in two different states on April 4, 1968. Although they were hundreds of miles apart, the events of that day would forever link the two men in the pages of history.

[Transitional music: “We Shall Overcome”]

Beckley: Both men had busy schedules on Thursday, April 4th. King was sequestered in closed meetings throughout the day, likely with other local and national civil rights leaders. Kennedy gave campaign speeches in South Bend and Muncie before flying to Indianapolis for a rally in a majority black neighborhood. Around 6 o’clock that evening, King was preparing for dinner. Kennedy was in the midst of a speech to the students of Ball State University. King stepped out onto the balcony of the Lorraine Motel and was shot by a sniper. Kennedy stepped onto a plane and received news of the attack on King. King was pronounced dead at around 7:00 pm. Kennedy arrived in Indianapolis and was told that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. He recoiled at the news, almost as though he himself had been struck. He put his hands to his face and lamented, “Oh, God. When is this violence going to stop?”

In the days leading up to April 4th, Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar had shown reservations about allowing Kennedy to hold a rally in the majority black neighborhood at all. He thought it dangerous. But Kennedy and his team felt otherwise. Now, with the news of Kings’ assassination, the Chief of Police advised the group not to attend the rally and warned that his force would not protect them if they did. Kennedy was determined to go. As his car entered the neighborhood, their police escort melted into the background.

As Kennedy and his team arrived in front of the assembled crowd of around 2,000 people, the crowd was festive, if a bit restless. Kennedy was over an hour late and they had been standing in the windy street waiting for some time. Kennedy climbed onto a flat-bed truck, his face “full of anguish.”  What followed was an impromptu speech so impactful it’s been credited with “Saving the city of Indianapolis,” a claim we will discuss at some length later. The audio of this speech is one of the most impactful recordings I have ever heard. Kennedy asks off mic if the crowd knew of the assassination, then he delivers the news, and it’s followed by gasps and wailing from the audience. Following is a condensed version of that powerful speech.

Recording of Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis: Ladies and gentlemen, I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world. And that is, that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

[Cries from the crowd]

Recording of Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis: Martin Luther Kind dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black – you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend…and love. What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

[Crowd cheers]

Recording of Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis: It is not the end violence. It is not the end of lawlessness. And it’s not the end of disorder. But the vast majority of white people, and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our lands. Let us dedicate ourselves to that. And say a prayer for our country, and for our people. Thank you very much.

[Crowd cheers]

[Transitional music]

Beckley: In the wake of Dr. King’s death, grief and anger spread through the black communities of America. In the days and weeks following, the already high racial tensions came to a breaking point. In over 100 cities across the United States, this resulted in civil unrest, and even rioting. There were over 40 deaths and 4,000 injuries. Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville all fairly near Indianapolis and with similar demographics, all had various levels of rioting. Indianapolis, however, did not.

[Inspiring music]

As Robert Kennedy finished his speech in Indianapolis, he urged those in attendance to go home and pray, and many did. Meanwhile, the riots were already starting in Washington D.C. and by the time they ended 4 days later, over 1000 buildings had been reduced to ash and 12 people were dead.

The next day, on April 5th, Baptist Reverend Melvin Girton organized a memorial in honor of Dr. King at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. Hundreds of people attended. Sam Jones, the leader of the Indianapolis Urban League addressed Indianapolis’s black community, saying

Voice actor reading Newspaper article quoting Same Jones: “For Indianapolis, I appeal for calm and reason during this period. This should be a time for prayer and soul-searching for all of us.”

Beckley: Meanwhile, violence erupted in Chicago, ending with 11 deaths and 500 injuries.

On Sunday, April 7th, special services were held at St. John’s Missionary Baptist church, where Indianapolis’ Mayor Richard Lugar, on the suggestion of African American leaders, announced that all African Americans in the city were excused from work and school  on the day of King’s funeral as part of a day of tribute to Dr. King. Three more commemorative services were held at Trinity Episcopal Church, where Reverend G. Ernest Lynch  continued the calls for peace, saying:

Voice actor reading from Newspaper article quoting Lynch: “Martin Luther King was primarily a Christian, and so the motivation of his life was the power of unarmed truth, nonviolent and unconditional love.”

Beckley: On the same day in Baltimore, the unrest in the city exploded into rioting and by the end of the day, the city called in 6,000 troops from the National Guard in an attempt to take back the city.

This pattern continued – leaders of the Indianapolis African American community called their people together to mourn the loss of their spiritual leader. The people gathered. These black leaders called for continued peace. And Peace continued. All the while, other cities were in chaos.

Some sources credit Robert Kennedy and his April 4th speech as the sole savior of the city during what became known as the Holy Week Uprisings. His show of support and call for peace in the face of violence certainly helped soothe the tensions in the crowd – for instance, directly after his speech, he and Civil Rights leader John Lewis attended a meeting and met with a group of people who Lewis described as “black militants.” Lewis said that the young black men entered the meeting with hostility and bitterness, saying that “establishment people” are all the same: “Our leader is dead tonight, and when we need you we can’t find you.” In response, Kennedy said,

Voice actor reading from Kennedy: “Yes, you lost a friend, I lost a brother, I know how you feel…. You talk about the Establishment. I have to laugh. Big Business is trying to defeat me because they think I am a friend of the Negro…”

Beckley: Before the men departed, they pledged their support to the Kennedy campaign.

You can tell from that exchange that Kennedy’s words did have an impact on the African American population of Indianapolis, but to say that he single handedly saved the city – I mean, I found one recent article literally titled “How RFK saved Indianapolis” – and that ignores the huge part played by black leaders in the community.

In the end, it was the strong network of African American leaders in the city, in conjunction with Kennedy’s speech that “saved Indianapolis.” It took more than one man to save the city. It took a variety of people in a variety of positions, all calling for peace in a time of anger and grief. Looking at the Landmark for Peace memorial, you see this sentiment reflected. You see two men , one black, one white, on either side of a divide, reaching towards each other. Reaching towards peace.

[Inspiring music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been the last episode of season one of Talking Hoosier History. But don’t worry – we’ll be back in a few months with season two. Until then, we’ll leave you with this one last segment.

[Transition music: “We Shall Overcome”]

Beckley: In the run up to the 50th anniversary of this tragic piece of history, I sat down with Dr. Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. His new book, How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon, uses this speech, along with others, to talk about the use of language to ignite what he calls “moral imagination” to call people to a better future.

[Transition music]

Beckley: We’ve got Dr. Frank Thomas here today, and we’re going to be talking his new book, “How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon.” Thank you so much for being here with us today, Dr. Thomas.

Frank Thomas: Well, thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor.

Beckley: Your book focuses a lot on moral imagination and I think it’s important probably for the listeners to get an idea of what that is before we go into talking about how people used it, so, uh, could you give us just a brief explanation of moral imagination?

Thomas: Yea, it’s the, the fact that we’re faced with ethical delimas, you know, in much of our lives, in our politics, in our religion. And there are people who are able to find creative alternatives. In essence, it’s the ability to look at ethical delimas and choose options that are in the common good, rather than simply what’s good for one tribe, or one group, rather than the whole.

Beckley: So, in the – in the book, you kind of go chanpter by chapter and look at how different people have utilized the, uh, the moral imagination in different ways. And what fit so well into this particular episode is that you start with Robert Kennedy and  his April 4, 1968 speech, which is a great example of, of moral imagination – imagining a world that is better than the one we live in. Could we talk a little bit about some of the particular ways in which he utilized it?

Thomas: Well, I think his entire campaign was about moral imagination. He said that what he wanted to do was to solve the race problem in America, and resolve poverty.

Beckley: Ambitious goals.

Thomas: Yes. But I haven’t heard a single politicial address that since he died. So he was able to see the possibility that we would be a ble to work on these solutions and that they were connected, you know, poverty and race, and that we could solve it. Now, in the speech that he gave on the night of the death of Martin Luther King, he used those themes, and I call it the four qualities of moral imagination. Number one, he showed up. He showed up on 17th and Broadway in an African American community to do a campaign speech, when in fact, King had been killed that very night, and everybody said that, “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go. There’s going to be violence.” But he went. When he got there, he had a level of empathy, you know, when you show up and you actually dialogue with people, it creates empathy. The third thing that I say is a part of moral imagination is the wisdom of the ages. He drops some heavy, heavy wisdom. Greek tragedy, a quote from escolous. And then, fourthly, his rhetoric – his speech – lifted up, um, it was uplifting and it touched the chords of wonder, mystery, and hope. I call those the four characteristics of the moral imagination. And in the book I do a very detailed explanation of the speech right here in Indianapolis, Indiana, and I have not seen – very few people generate this level of moral imagination.

Beckley: It definitely, when you listen to it, it’s probably on of the more powerful speeches I’ve heard, especially given that it was rather impromptu. He had a speech prepared and then, all the sudden, that was kind of, you know, ripped away, and he kind of came up with that – I think, on the, on the plane here. It’s impressive to me that he came up with such a powerful and, um, emotive speech, kind of, off the cuff, more than, more than anything.

Thomas: well, I think that, um, he gave people what was in his heart and what was in his imagination. He had been thinking about these things, and he had actually lived – so one of the points in the speech that he says is that he tell the crowd, speaking directly to African Americans in the crowd, that “my brother was killed by a white man.” And he creates a level of empathy and so he had been thinking about these things, and the Greek tragedy and escolous helped him to come to terms with his brother’s death. So, what the crowd is experiencing and he also – the death of Martin Luther King, my sense, or what I say in the book is, he just gave them the hope that he himself had received. So that’s why, to me, it’s so gripping. It is, uh it’s anchored in his soul.

Beckley: It’s not just platitudes and, and him trying to quell an audience – It’s, it’s him really connecting with them and giving them what he’s learned through the death of his brother.

Thomas: Exactly, feeling what he felt, it’s not to get votes, it’s not to be reelected, you know, as a matter of fact, in the first part of the speech, he tells them, “Could you take – could you take them campaign…”

Beckley: The banners.

Thomas:  Yea, the banners. “Could you take them down?” And I interpret that as “this is not a political speech.” This is about the direction of our country. This is about what kind of people we want to be. This is not the end of violence and lawlessness, he says, but the majority of people in America want to live in peace, harmony, justice for all. And the audience claps, I mean, it’s an amazing speech. He announces that King has been killed and veious parts of the audience scream because they haven’t heard it. And by the time he finishes, there are two places in the speech where the audience claps, and both times, it’s about speeking to, what I say, the moral imagination. That we can create a society or a nation where white and black can live in harmony with justice for all, with justice for everybody. I call that moral imagination, and I don’t see many people, though we talk the language of it, the implementation of it has to do with showing up.

Beckley: and I think that kind of goes to, uh, the point about using moral imagination for social and political change – it doesn’t only have to be a spur of the moment, talking out of tragedy or, you know, a preacher at the pulpit, but it can be our political leaders giving us a picture of a better world and telling us how they’re going to accomplish it.

 

Thomas: Exactly. And also, inspiring us. So, if our leaders, we say in the book, I quote an author, who says that imagination rules the world, and we become who our leaders imagine us to be. And so, if our leaders don’t have moral imagination, if our leaders can’t envision equality, see, the argument I make is this: if you can’t see people as equals, in your mindset, you must see hierarchy – one group has to be over another group, or, or…then you set up a moral hierarchy. Well, this group is over that group. Then, after you establish the moral hierarchy, then you create laws to enforce the moral hierarchy. And then, you find religious leaders to bless the laws – and it’s a whole system.

Beckley: it’s kind of backwards from what it should be in a just and equal society.

Thomas: Exactly. Exactly. So, this whole concept of moral imagination is very critical and we see it exhibited around us every day: there is such a lack of moral imagination, even if we use the language, we do not have the, the concrete steps or the showing up. So one of the things that I say is that a lot of us will pontificate about what’s needed in neighborhoods that we’ve never been in. You’ve never shown up. You never talked to the people. How you gonna come up with solutions for a community, and you don’t go to the community, you don’t talk to any of the people in the community, you don’t put any people of the community on your leadership team- on your cabinet – on your board of trustees. But you are spouting off what we need to do for the community. It’s a lack of moral imagination. So the people experience it as paternalism.

Beckley: So, when you look at what you want people to take away from this book – obviously, the book is written towards preachers, and people of the clergy, but I found it very enlightening and there are a lot of things that everyday people, and leaders, and political leaders can take away from it as well. Could you sum up what you want people to take away from this book?

Thomas: Well, thank you so much. I-it is not just meant for the clergy, though I am a clergy person, and so I kind of write, and I think that the religious and spiritual community has a tremendous amount to say about moral imagination that we’re not saying. But what I want people to take away is really four things – the four qualities of moral imagination. You have to show up. You must show up. You cannot pontificate about people that you’ve never shown up to their community, you’ve never sat down and had food with them, you’ve never shared with them. So you have a bunch of uninformed information when you have not actually talked to a community – a community different than your community. Second, uh, when you get there and listen more than speak, when you go to learn more than you go to teach, or you go to learn and teach, then you develoep empathy, and empathy creates bridges for new decisions about peace and justice. When you start to work on new directions for peace and justicve, you’re going to have to anchor that somewhere. In a traditioin. In spiritual traditions – call it the wisdom of the ages – in political arenas, the constitution, the Bill of Rights – you have to anchor it somewhere. You know, so, you’re going to need the wisdom of the ages, and the fourth thing I want people to take away from it is that our talking, our speech, our, um, our rhetoric, our sermons, have to lift and inspire people and have to put them in touch with wonder, mystery, and hope.

Beckley: If people are interested in finding the book, uh, where, where can they find it.

Thomas: Uh, it’s on Amazon, and you can kindle it, you can get the physical copy.

Beckley: I’ve got it on my phone here.

Thomas: Well, I’m glad, see, I have it in a physical copy but I don’t have it on the phone yet. But I would hope that people would take it and maybe make it a discussion in some groups, so people could discuss it and, um, I did a presentation recently for a group here in Indianapolis, and it was a wonderful time we had, just, everybody doesn’t have to agree, but it’s the discussion that’s the critical thing.

Beckley: It’s kind of the start of something new there.

Thomas: Right, right, right.

Beckley: Well, thank you so much for coming in and talking with us today. We really really appreciate it.

Thomas: well, thank you so much. It’s my honor to be here. Thank you for taking the book, reading the book, and taking it so very seriously and thoroughly. Thank you.

Beckley: As always, thanks to Jill Weiss-Simins, producer and sound engineer extraordinaire, and Justin Clark, the voice of Newspapers here on the podcast. Remember, find us on Facebook and follow us on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist and to subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Reaching Toward Peace: Robert F. Kennedy on the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Books

Boomhower, Ray. Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.

Schlessinger, Arthur. Robert Kennedy and His Times, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978.

Newspapers

                “City Pays Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther King.” The Indianapolis News, April 5, 1968.

“City To Hold Memorials For Dr. King.” The Indianapolis News, April 6, 1968.

“King Moves to Confrontation.” The Leaf-Chronicle, April 4, 1968.

“Leaders Of Races Urge Calm After Tragedy.” The Indianapolis News, April 5, 1968.

“Negroes Excused For King Funeral.” The Indianapolis News, April 8, 1968.

Websites

                The King Center Archive: http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive

Martin Luther King, Jr. encyclopedia: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/encyclopedia/enc_poor_peoples_campaign/

Poor People’s Campaign: https://poorpeoplescampaign.org/index.php/poor-peoples-campaign-1968/

Other

The Indiana Historical Bureau. “Robert F. Kennedy on Death of Martin L. King” Historical marker file.

Special Thanks

                Dr. Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, joined us on this episode for a discussion of his book “Preaching a Dangerous Sermon.”

Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing.

Justin Clark, project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project, voiced all newspaper clips in this episode.

Monster Meetings at the Senate Avenue YMCA

Senate Avenue YMCA membership drive. Photo from “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys.”

Two or three black men brought segregation of Indianapolis’s YMCA into sharp focus in 1888, when they attempted to join the organization. Although the YMCA lacked an official policy mandating segregation, they denied the black mens’ applications. Two years later, a group of African American men formed a Young Men’s Prayer Band in Indianapolis. By 1902, this band merged into a “colored Y.M.C.A.”

The Y opened at the tail end of a major influx of African Americans to the city following the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the forty years between 1860 and 1900, the African American population of Indianapolis grew 3,000 percent. Many white residents did not welcome these newcomers. Oftentimes, African Americans were relegated to segregated areas of the city due to housing discrimination and exclusion from facilities. Indiana Avenue was at the center of the largest African American community in the city, with 30,000 black residents living within a ten mile radius of the Avenue by the 1950s.

The establishment of this YMCA provided facilities for those men who had been excluded from the central organization. In an Indiana Magazine of History article, Dr. Stanley Warren points out that:

the necessity of finding a way to survive within a limiting system driven by segregationist tendencies has been the base from which many great African-American traditions and organizations have begun.

In the capital city, the organization then called “The Indianapolis Colored YMCA” served as an example of these great African-American traditions. Emerging out of the discriminatory practices of Indianapolis, this branch of the “Y” grew into one of the largest and most influential black YMCAs in the country.

Senate Avenue YMCA Building Circa 1920-1940. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Before that could happen though, they needed a building able to accommodate their rapidly growing membership. By 1911, just nine years after its formation, the YMCA outgrew its building located at California and North Streets in the city. To remedy this, they proposed the construction of a new building. The building cost an estimated $100,000, a figure that seemed unobtainable to many in the community, where even the working professionals barely got by due to the limited job opportunities available to them.

Fortunately, just as the YMCA members began to plan their fundraising strategy, they gained a rather unlikely ally in a white, Jewish, Chicago businessman. Julius Rosenwald, part-owner of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, announced that he would give $25,000 to any community able to rise $75,000 towards the construction of a Colored Young Men’s Christian Association. With this support, members of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA joined forces with the white members of the Central YMCA for an incredible fundraising push. Two teams formed, one for the white members and one for the black members, and they set out on their mission. In just ten days, they surpassed their $75,000 goal. African American entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker was one of the largest contributors to the YMCA’s Building Campaign Fund.

Dedication of the Senate Avenue YMCA. This group includes: “George Knox, publisher of the Indianapolis Freeman; Madam Walker; behind her F.B. Ransom, attorney for the Walker Company; next to Madam is Walker Booker T. Washington; Alexander Manning, editor of Colored World; behind him wearing a light colored suit Dr. Joseph H. Ward; Charles H. Bullock, Secretary Louisville YMCA; and Thomas Taylor, Senate Avenue YMCA Secretary,” image courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, Digital Images Collection.

On July 28, 1912, with a crowd of over 5,000 people in attendance YMCA committee men broke ground on the site of the new building. Three months later another celebration with thousands of spectators was held for the laying of the cornerstone. Workers completed construction on the building, located at the corner of Michigan Street and Senate Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, in July 1913.

Booker T. Washington, 1903. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

YMCA members held a week of festivities and ceremonies in celebration of the opening of the new Senate Avenue Y, as it was called. Celebrations-attended by both black and white residents-included a ladies night, fraternal night, and athletic night. The highlight of the week, though, was Tuesday July 8 – the official dedication, which featured an address by Booker T. Washington, civil rights activist and founder of Tuskegee institute.In his address, Washington commended the citizens of the city, black and white, for banding together to make the Senate Avenue Y a reality. Then, he said:

I am proud of being a member of the Negro race and never
more so than tonight. I spurn the men who sympathize with me because I am a member of the Negro race. We have work to do and difficulties to overcome . . . Let the white people know about the good deeds in our race. In too many cases white people hear only of crime. They do not hear about the hard-working, industrious, sober colored men, and Indianapolis has many of the latter class.

In many cases, African American churches were the heart of the black community. The Indianapolis Colored YMCA, itself a Christian organization, became another center of the African American community in Indianapolis. Majority black neighborhoods such as this did not have access to the same social, recreational, and charitable organizations as the white communities. Because of these segregationist policies, black communities had long provided these facilities for themselves, often led by their churches. This is where the Senate Avenue Y stepped in, building on and expanding the work of African American churches.  The Senate Avenue Y was located in the heart of the Indiana Avenue African American community and offered adult education classes, held bible studies, provided meeting space for a variety of organizations, and even established an amateur basketball team.

Dance at the Senate Avenue Y, no date, courtesy of IUPUI University Library.

According to historians, these Senate Avenue programs:

fostered self-respect and self-reliance and tried to provide young men with proper role models and male companionship . . . [they] served as sanctuaries which preserved African American Masculinity and prepared black men and boys for their leadership role in the struggle for equality that lay ahead.

In order to reach more and more young men and boys, the Y held annual membership drives. These campaigns borrowed military organizational structures, dividing members into divisions of “enlisted men.” These men worked hard to recruit as many new members as possible. Those groups that enlisted the most new members were inducted into the Society of High Producers and The Royal Order of the Spizzerinktum, meaning “the will to succeed.” These tactics worked fabulously; membership jumped from just fifty-two in 1903 to over 5,000 by 1930.

Senate Avenue YMCA welcome ceremony. Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Libraries, Kautz Family YMCA.

These wildly successful membership drives turned the Senate Avenue Y into one of the largest African American YMCA branches in the country. But being large does not necessarily make an organization important or influential. To understand the influence of the Y, we need to go right back to the very beginning of the branch, to the establishment of Monster Meetings.

The roots of the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings can be traced to the very early years of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA, and executive secretary Thomas Taylor. He instituted public forums where men, and later women, could gather on Sunday afternoons between November and March to listen to lectures on a wide variety of topics. Originally, Taylor wanted to call the forums “Big Meetings” but the proposal was rejected by the Central YMCA board because their annual meeting was already being called the Big Meeting. So, Taylor one-upped them and labeled his forum series the “Monster Meetings.” Taylor could not have known how fitting that name would become.

In the Taylor years, the meetings featured local religious leaders speaking almost exclusively on religious matters, but in 1916 a new executive secretary took the meetings to a new level. That executive secretary was Faburn Defrantz. (In 1947, he successfully spearheaded the effort to convince IU to allow African American basketball player Bill Garrett to play for the school’s varsity team. A “gentleman’s agreement” had barred African Americans from playing in the Big Ten).

Faburn DeFrantz in his Senate Avenue YMCA office. Photo from “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys.”

During DeFrantz’s tenure, Monster Meetings continued to feature local ministers delivering religious messages. But they soon expanded to include some of the most well-known African American leaders in the nation, speaking on a variety of hot-button issues. In his seminal article “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis,” Dr. Stanley Warren provided a list that sampled some of the hundreds of speakers and topics featured at Monster Meetings during the DeFrantz years. These included authors, NAACP leaders like Walter White, professors, university presidents, politicians like Governor Paul V. McNutt, newspapermen, famous athletes such as Olympic gold medalist track star Jesse Owens, religious leaders, and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Unfortunately, I have not located a collection or archive containing the speeches given at these Monster Meetings. Luckily, some snippets of some of the lectures are preserved in the pages of newspapers like the Indianapolis Recorder.

The lectures bespoke major events and concerns of the period. In 1930, months after the 1929 stock market crash, Freeman B. Ransom, attorney for the Madam C. J. Walker Company, discussed “Unemployment and How to Solve It.” In 1931, during the Prohibition Era, Reverend Charles H. Winders and Boyd Gurley debated the question “Prohibition: Shall Indiana Stay Dry?” Dr. George Washington Carver, Director of agricultural research and professor of chemistry at Tuskegee University, asked in 1932 “Great Creator, What Is a Peanut, Why Did You Make It?”

In 1940, as World War II raged in Europe, Dr. Max Yergan spoke on “Democracy: A Goal to Defend.” After U.S. entry into World War II, Dr. Lorenzo Greene spoke on “The Negro in National Defense,” Phillip Randolph lectured about “The Negro in War and Peace,” and William Hastie discussed “The Fight Against Discrimination in the Armed Forces.”

In 1947, one year after the Froebel School Board in Gary, Indiana voted for desegregation after hundreds of white students staged a walk out in protest of integration, Joseph Chapman spoke on “Democracy in Gary Schools.” In the early Cold War era, Former Crispus Attucks teacher and the first African American woman to study at the University of Oxford spoke about “Education and International Good Will” in 1952. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke to a desegregated audience at the Murat Temple about “International Human Rights” in 1953.

And finally, leading up to and during the Civil Rights Movement, speeches such as “Integrated Society or a Segregated Society,” “The Civil Rights Crisis and American Democracy,” and “The Civil Rights Resolution in America” demonstrated that the black citizens of Indianapolis’s discussed and debated the same issues as those around the nation. The following details some of the most prolific speakers at the Monster Meetings:

Dr. Mordecai Johnson. Photo courtesy of The Atlantic.

Dr. Mordecai Johnson was a fixture of the Monster Meeting schedule, opening the meeting season for over forty consecutive years. He got involved with the YMCA in 1916, when he served as a student secretary and became a life-long supporter of the association. In 1926, Dr. Johnson became the first African American president of Howard University, one of the nation’s historically black universities. He served in that capacity until 1960. During his decades speaking at Monster Meetings, he covered a wide range of topics, including:

  • “Anti-Semitism and the Negro Ministry”
  • “Civilization’s Civil War”
  • “Implications of the Atomic Bomb”
  • “Ghandi and the Liberation of India”
  • “Segregation is Suicide”

Described as a man who “made people listen even when they did not believe,” Johnson was a powerful speaker and he lent his skill to important topics. As Cold War tensions mounted, he spoke of the dangers American segregation posed to the nation. He said:

“Through our nation’s moral weakness caused by segregation, we are committing scientific and technical suicide. We are five years behind militarily due to this moral weakness. Oh my brothers, let us pray it is not too late – only Almighty God knows whether it is not too late already…”

He went on to address the recent affirmation of Brown Vs. Board of Education, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional.

“It is my judgement that the death knell of segregation has been sounded. I see no disposition on the part of the Supreme Court to yield to the opponents of integration. The Court is informed by a sense of world duty which is inexorable.”

A. Phillip Randolph. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Another name that appears more than once in the list of prominent figures featured at Monster Meetings is that of A. Philip Randolph. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor union comprised principally of African American workers. A major civil rights activist, he played a large part in pressuring President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order that banned discrimination in World War II defense industries. He also pressured President Harry Truman to issue an Executive Order that ended segregation in the armed forces. (The 1945 Freeman Field uprising in Seymour, Indiana, where Tuskegee Airmen protested illegally-segregated officers’ clubs by forcibly entering the white officers’ club, also played a large part in Truman’s Executive Order). Randolph was not satisfied with those successes, though. In 1955, he stood in the Senate Avenue YMCA and declared:

“Negroes are yet second class citizens. Civil revolution was never completed, free public schools were never established, Negroes cannot buy property where they wish, nor can they enter certain businesses. They cannot join all the various unions. The Negroes cannot vote in some parts of this county; therefore they are not yet free.”

Later, in 1963, Randolph organized the March on Washington, where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, which highlighted the injustice of many of the same racist, segregationist policies Randolph underscored in his Monster Meeting lecture.

Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder.

In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. himself, made an appearance on the YMCA Monster Meeting roster with a speech entitled “Remaining Awake through a Revolution.” Due to intense interest in King’s lecture, organizers moved the event to Cadle Tabernacle, which could accommodate a larger audience. In one of his first public appearances since he suffered a brutal attack at a book signing that year, the Baptist minister maintained his message of nonviolence, urging the use of love in the face of violence. He proclaimed:

“A new age of justice is challenging us to love our oppressors . . . We must not assume this new freedom with attitudes of bitterness and recrimination, for, if we do, the new age will be nothing but a duplicate of the old one . . . A new world is being born, and the old world will die. We must be prepared for the new world to come. Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties and complexities. If our democracy is to live, segregation must die . . . Use love. Love is a sure winner. Remember that as Christians we are working with god. If we do it the way God wants us to do it, we will be able to sing with pride, ‘My Country ‘tis of thee’ for Freedom must ring from every mountainside.”

The Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings played a central role in not only educating members about topics of local, national, and international importance, but also in galvanizing the community into action. According to Dr. Warren, “As the popularity and importance of these mass education meetings grew, both the public and YMCA members exhibited a higher level of community activism.” For those who regularly attended Monster Meetings, the YMCA became a foundation for the changes that they worked towards in the coming decades. The meetings were a place where, in the words of Dr. Mordecai Johnson, “The redcap and the lawyer, the laborer and the doctor, seek together to find answers to social and political questions.”

*Interested in the Civil Rights Movement in Indiana? Check out this post about the 1972 National Political Black Convention, which drew over 10,000 black Americans to Gary. Influential leaders, such as Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, Revered Jesse Jackson, and Coretta Scott King, lent their support in creating a cohesive political strategy for black Americans.

THH Episode 12: The Revolutions of George Rogers Clark

­­­­Transcript of The Revolutions of George Rogers Clark

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Peter DeCarlo

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

Recording of man speaking: “An American general named George Rogers Clark has taken Kaskaskia and Cahokia, and I would expect by now that he also controls Vincennes…”

Recording of Second man: “George Rogers Clark? Who is he? How large is this fort?”

First man Speaking: A Virginian, I believe…

[Transition music]

Lindsey Beckley: So, sometimes these episodes come really naturally to me. We decide what the topic is going to be, I read as much as I can on it, and I write and record the episode. Of course, there are revisions and discussions along the way, but generally, I just kind of write. That’s not how this one has been. I knew for a while that a George Rogers Clark episode was on my horizon, and, I’m not going to lie, I was kind of dreading it. Not because I particularly disliked the topic, I didn’t really have any strong feelings about it at all. No, I dreaded it because I knew I was going to be out of my element. Eighteenth century military history is far out of my area of expertise.  My area of expertise is, obviously, Indiana history. And here I was, tasked with doing an episode about George Rogers Clark, a Revolutionary War hero whose life, from his first commission in 1774 to his military funeral 44 years later, consisted of a string of military campaigns. And while Indiana is the only state to celebrate George Rogers Clark day every year, most of his story takes place outside of the Hoosier state. To say I was out of my element is an understatement.

So, I read several summaries of his life. Then a few articles. Then a book. And then a thesis. And against all odds, I genuinely enjoyed all of it. But I just couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the story. I tried again and again to start the writing process. I even wrote a whole script and then scrapped it the same day. I thought about George Rogers Clark constantly, and I talked about him nearly as much. My poor husband and friends kindly listened as I rambled about the exploits of a man 200 years dead. My coworkers listened to pitch after pitch of the episode. And through all this, I realized that I kept coming back to the same question: why is this important? And the answer to that question always came in the form of another question: what if? What if things had gone differently? So, on this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll be asking just that.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[Sound effects]

Beckley: Before we get to my main man, George Rogers Clark, let’s talk about something called Historical Contingency.

[Sound effects]

Voice of a man on the television: The American ideals of Freedom and equality became beacons of hope.

[Sound effects]

This is a concept often used by historians to explore historic happenings. Basically, the world we live in today was not inevitable. It’s the result of a series of events, each of which could have had multiple outcomes.

[Music]

Beckley: For example, some people would argue that during the Civil War, the succession of the Southern states was on the election of Abraham Lincoln. What if someone else had become president? Maybe the Civil War wouldn’t even have happened. And was World War II contingent on Hitler’s rise to power? I mean, what if he had been accepted to art school? Maybe there wouldn’t have been a World War II. Of course, both of those things could have happened regardless. The thing to keep in mind here is that history isn’t linear – it’s a web with one small event leading to another one and that event leading to two more. I’ll be talking about a few historical contingencies. And you may not agree with my conclusions. And that’s alright. That’s what makes historical theorizing fun – there is no one right answer (although there are some wrong ones.)

Voice of a man on the television: Hamilton is sitting in Vincennes dreaming about spring time, thinking that nobody can cross these flooded plains to get to him. I say we treat those British to an early spring.

Voice of second man on television: On a rainy day in February 27….(fades out slowly)

Beckley fading in: … 1779, George Rogers Clark was 27 years old the leader of 175 men on a mission. He led his troops through the neck deep waters flooding the Wabash River valley in present day southern Indiana. They had left the town of Kaskaskia over 2 weeks before with only the most necessary supplies – the clothes on their backs, food, guns, and ammunition. Their sole mission was to retake Fort Sackville in Vincennes from the British.

This wasn’t the men’s first time trekking to Vincennes to take the fort from the British – they had taken the fort just 6 months ago but were unable to hold it after spreading their forces too thin. No, it wasn’t their first time taking the fort. But it would be their last.

[Menacing music]

Beckley: When Clark heard that the British had come down from Detroit and walked back into the fort with little fight, he had a choice to make – wait until the spring campaigning season to march on the fort, which would the British gathering reinforcements in the meantime, or march immediately and risk the unpredictable Midwestern weather in the middle of February.  He decided on the latter option and before setting off, wrote to his superior:

Voice actor reading from Clark: I know the case is desperate, but, sire, we must either quit the country or attack Mr. Hamilton. No time is to be lost… Who knows what fortune will do for us? Great things have been effected by a few men well conducted.

Beckley: Those few men might have been wet and tired. And they definitely hadn’t eaten a decent meal in days. But they had one thing on their side – the element of surprise – and they would indeed affect great things.

Eighteen days and 180 miles later, they arrived in Vincennes on February 23 and laid siege to the fort that night. Clark ordered every banner and flag they had to be unfurled in an attempt to make their numbers look larger than they were. They fired so relentlessly on the fort that the British forces inside hardly dared poke their heads over the battlements. Just 2 days later, on February 25, 1777, the British forces surrendered. The fort was in American hands once again and would stay that way through the end of the war.

And here, we come to our first “what if?” What if George Rogers Clark hadn’t made this march? What if he hadn’t taken fort Sackville?

[Inquisitive music]

Beckley: First and foremost, if he had not made this march and taken the fort, we probably wouldn’t be talking about him today. While he did have other military accomplishments, the Vincennes campaign was by far his most famous achievement. When his story is taught in Indiana History classrooms, this is the story that is told. The George Rogers Clark National Historical Park, one of Indiana’s 3 National Parks, is located in Vincennes near the site of the old fort and it was established solely to commemorate this action.

But it’s more than that. If George Rogers Clark had not made his march – if the fort had stayed in British hands – the boundary lines agreed upon after the Revolutionary War may have looked much different. The British wanted to use the Ohio River to serve as the northern American boundary. But because fort Vincennes had been held by the Americans for nearly 5 years, the United States had a legitimate claim to the land. Partially because of this, the boundary line was moved to the next natural boundary to the north – the Great Lakes. So, if he hadn’t marched, or if the march had failed, if he hadn’t inspired those tired, hungry men to march on the fort, Indiana and the rest of the Northwest Territories may have become part of Canada, not the United States. I never really realized this importance until it was phrased as a “what if” so I decided to look at another chapter of George Rogers Clark’s life in the same way.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: For this story, we jump from 1778 and the end of the American Revolution to 1794, and to a totally different revolution.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: George Rogers Clark was just days away from enacting an elaborate plan that was over a year in the making. This plan involved a representative of the French government stationed in Philadelphia, Frenchmen living in Spanish Louisiana, and Americans from Kentucky and the Northwest Territory, including what would become Indiana.

Simply put, the plan was for Clark and around 1,500 Americans, to gather around the Falls of the Ohio river, near present day Louisville. Once gathered, the men would expatriate themselves, renouncing their allegiance to the U.S. They would then declare French citizenship and head south, from the Ohio River to the Mississippi, attacking and capturing any Spanish settlement they encountered on their way. After taking a settlement, they would commandeer any weapons and ammunition they found, recruit as many new men as they could, and set off towards the next settlement.

In this way, both their manpower and their firepower would grow as they moved towards their main goal, Spanish held Louisiana. Clark expected no less than 5,000 men to be at his back when he reached the capital, New Orleans. Once he reached the city, the French residents living there would join forces with him and overthrow the Spanish in a revolution. At this point, they would proceed all the way east to Sarasota and overthrow the Spanish there. If things were still looking good, they would then march back west to Santa Fe, conquering as they went. Their end goal was the formation of a new republic, separate from both the United States and France, but allied with both.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Of course, if all of this had actually happened, we probably would hear more about it. So, obviously, it failed. Or rather, it never really got going in the first place. At the same time that George Rogers Clark was laying his plans and gathering his forces, the French government was overthrown and the minister in Philadelphia replaced. This change of administration meant that the money Clark needed for this so-called expedition would never make it to his camp on the Ohio.

Now, If you’re anything like me, you’ve never heard that part of George Rogers Clark’s story. And if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, “Wow, George Rogers Clark was a traitor?” And by modern terms, he may have been. I mean, he allied with a foreign nation and renounced his US citizenship in order to lead an army comprised mostly of Americans against a nation which the US Government was not at war with. However, Clark and his western brethren wouldn’t have seen it in the same light.

Most people in the early republic believed that every man had the right to expatriate themselves at any time. And most westerners believed that, as the only other republic in the world, they were obligated to help the budding republic of France in any way they could. While this was definitely something Clark was thinking about when concocting his plan, there were three other main motives behind his decision to pursue such an extreme course of action.

First, he and many other westerners were outraged that the Spanish did not allow US citizen’s to freely navigate the Mississippi. Most Americans were flat out not allowed to ship goods down the Mississippi river. Those that were allowed to faced hefty fees. And those that chose to do it without Spanish consent faced the possible confiscation of their goods and punishment by Spanish government. This was a huge deal because the farmers of the west needed a way to get their products to the east, and in a time before cars and trains, river navigation was the name of the game and if you couldn’t ship your goods, you couldn’t make a living.

The second thing spurring Clark on to action was the American government. After the American Revolution, Clark felt that the government was falling far short of his revolutionary ideals. He thought the Federalists, who held most of the power in government at the time, were leading the country back to monarchy or creating an oligarchy, which is rule by a powerful few. He also felt wronged by the government. He had financed much of his American Revolutionary activities himself and was in massive amounts of debt because of that. After years of petitioning for repayment, it was clear that he was not going to get the money. His disagreements with the American government were so strong that he no longer felt an allegiance to them. Just before he started on the plans for the Revolution on the Mississippi, he had written:

Voice actor reading from Clark: My Country has proved notoriously ungrateful, for my services, and so forgetful of those successful and almost unexampled enterprises which gave it the whole of its territory on this side of the great mountains, as in this my prime of life, to have neglected me.

Beckley: To him, the government had turned its back on him as much as he had on it. His third and final motivation for action, and probably the purest one, was a desire to help the French living under Spanish rule in Louisiana. After all, he himself had lived under unwanted British rule before the American Revolution. He looked to the South and saw basically the same situation. Here were a people, calling out for freedom from the oppressive yoke of foreign rule. All they needed was a hero, willing to risk it all to save them. And who better to do so than the Washington of the West, George Rogers Clark?

All of this brings us to our second “What if?” What if George Rogers Clark had gotten the funding for his expedition? What if he had set out on the Ohio with 1,500 men at his back and revolution in his heart?

Well, all evidence says that if he was well funded, he probably would have succeeded. I mean, he certainly thought so. Clark wrote to the French representative in Philadelphia saying:

Voice actor reading from Clark: There is no knowing where our career will stop.  This kind of warfare is my element.  I have served a long apprenticeship to it.  I engage in it from the purest motives and have no doubt of success …you will ere long hear of a flame kindled on the Mississippi that will not be easily extinguished.

Beckley: But let’s not just take his word for it, though. Let’s look at the facts of the matter.

Clark expected to have at least 5,000 men at his back when he reached Spanish Louisiana, and the reports that were coming in from various places in the west seemed to back that up. On the other hand, the Spanish Regiment of Louisiana consisted of approximately 1,500 troops, and that was spread throughout the region. New Orleans, the capital, only had about 300 troops for its defense. So, even conservatively, Clark would have had a 10 to 1 advantage in any attack on Spanish held settlements. The only thing the Spanish had to their advantage was a fleet of boats that was dominant enough to control the Mississippi, but Clark had begun building a fleet of his own before funding fell through, so that threat as well very well may have been nullified. Add to all of this the rising discontent of the Frenchmen who were under Spanish rule and it seems fairly clear that Clark had a good shot at leading a successful revolution. Which brings me to my last “What if?”

What if he had succeeded? Simply enough, if George Rogers Clark had succeeded…there would have been, there might still be, an independent nation stretching from Florida in the east, to New Mexico in the west, and stretching all the way down into Mexico. And if that nation had been established but no longer existed, we would have yet another war to learn about in our history classes, a war which pitted republic against republic. George Rogers Clark vs. George Washington. It’s impossible to know all the various ways this revolution on the Mississippi could have changed the course of history, just as it was impossible for George Rogers Clark to know all the various ways the American Revolution would change the course of history as he led the march on Vincennes and became the Father of the Old Northwest.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. A special thank you to Peter DeCarlo, a Historian with the Minnesota Historical Society. I used his thesis extensively in preparing for this episode. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss Simins, my sound engineer extraordinaire, for bringing her incredible skills to the podcast. And for voiceing George Rogers Clark, we want to thank Justin Clark, no relation. Keep up with us on Facebook at Talking Hoosier History or on Twitter at @TalkHoosierHist. And please, subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts…it helps more than you can know. Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for The Revolutions of George Rogers Clark

Episode Eleven Show Notes

Books

Boomhower, Ray. Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.

Schlessinger, Arthur. Robert Kennedy and His Times, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1978.

Other

                The Indiana Historical Bureau. “Robert F. Kennedy on Death of Martin L. King” Historical marker file.

Newspapers

                “City Pays Tribute To Dr. Martin Luther King.” The Indianapolis News, April 5, 1968.

“City To Hold Memorials For Dr. King.” The Indianapolis News, April 6, 1968.

“King Moves to Confrontation.” The Leaf-Chronicle, April 4, 1968.

“Leaders Of Races Urge Calm After Tragedy.” The Indianapolis News, April 5, 1968.

“Negroes Excused For King Funeral.” The Indianapolis News, April 8, 1968.

Special Thanks

                Dr. Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, joined us on this episode for a discussion of his book “Preaching a Dangerous Sermon.”

Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing.

Justin Clark, project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project, voiced all newspaper clips in this episode.

Music Credits

Theme Song

The Talking Hoosier History Theme Song is “Rock and Gravel” by Indianapolis band Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids. The trio recorded this song in Richmond, Indiana, in 1929. Used courtesy PublicDomain4U, accessed publicdomain4u.com.

Featured Sample

Several samples were taken from the 1970 documentary “A Few Men Well Conducted,” created by the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center. The film is housed in the National Archives at College Park, and was accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgMpUFY9EoA.

Other Audio

Bensound, “Epic,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ae8FyeVc7qk

Josh Kirsch, “It’s Coming,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi0cGs4wXLY

Ross Bugden, “Parallel,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQ1oZ9tmoEo

Kevin MacLeod, “Sneaky Snitch,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-rXQALDv-4

Uniq, “Art of Silence,” No Copyright, Royalty Free, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3V-pYCGx0C4.

2018 Marker Madness

WHAT: Marker Madness Social Media Campaign       WHEN: March 1, 2018 – March 31, 2018                           DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE BRACKETS HERE

During the month of March, the Indiana Historical Bureau will be pitting potential historical marker topics against each other in a single elimination tournament. The 32 topics will go head-to-head and YOU get to decide who will move forward.

Each day, there will be a featured match up from one of the four divisions: Politics & Military, Economy & Technology, Culture & Arts, and Community & Society. Voting for the featured match will start at 5:00 am and close at 5:00 the next morning. You can vote on Facebook and Twitter so follow us on both to participate! Check back here to see the results and the updated bracket. Below are the results of the first round matchups that have come in so far- print your own bracket and pick your winners here!

 

 

 

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants

Larry Rubama, “Missing History Postcard Spurs Search For Forgotten Team,” Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, September 20, 1998, 1, courtesy of Perspectives.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants was the only black baseball team to represent the city of Fort Wayne for forty-two years, from 1907 to 1949. In that time period, baseball was a segregated team sport, with black athletes playing only on all black teams. The Colored Giants team was one of the premier black teams in northeast Indiana in that period. Other black Fort Wayne teams included the Black Diamonds (1916-1917), Dupee’s All-Nations (1919), Riddle’s All- Stars (1920-1922), the Cadillac Colored Giants (1921-1922), and the Fort Wayne Colored Pirates (1926-30s). Indiana had over thirty-seven traveling black teams, extending from West Baden in the south to South Bend in the north, and Evansville in the west to Fort Wayne in the east.

Young men with outstanding baseball skills comprised the Fort Wayne Colored Giants. These young men developed their baseball prowess playing sandlot, church ball, “pickup” baseball, and community ball. Young men would come play baseball from as far away as Marion and other black communities in northeast Indiana.  Fort Wayne newspapers advertised player recruitment and notices for team competitions. It also provided notification of both games and team and league scores.

Cities large and small adopted black baseball teams when they could find players and afford to do so. The teams vitalized and energized their communities, both black and white.  The teams were self-sufficient and team members were paid scanty sums. Community teams typically passed a hat around during the game where patrons would contribute whatever they could to help defray costs. Teams struggled to maintain their budgets and keep their key players. Some teams were very wealthy, such as the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the National Negro League. Others just made ends meet and vanished after a season or two. The Fort Wayne Colored Giants did manage to provide a stipend for their players.

African-American Historical Society in Fort Wayne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Baseball was the cornerstone of many communities, both large and small. This was the heyday for black businesses and the black community.  Life revolved about church, neighborhoods, clubs, and organizations like the Phyllis Wheatly House, the former community center, which is now home to the Fort Wayne African African-American Museum.

The Giants’ home field was located in southeast Fort Wayne, where home and exhibition games took place. The team also played at Fort Wayne’s League Park, which was constructed in 1883, and in 1922 renamed Lincoln Life Field. The Fort Wayne Colored Giants played black teams such as the Toledo Mud Hens, the Indianapolis ABCs, the Chicago Giants, Saint Louis Stars, the Evansville White Sox, and Pittsburgh Homestead Grays of the Negro National League. The Giants team played ‘out of local area’ Indiana teams, including those from Lagrange, Decatur, Geneva, Uniondale, Marion, Huntertown, Evansville, La Otto, Ligonier, Hudson and North Manchester. They also played teams from Hicksville, Antwerp, Convoy, and Van Wert, Ohio.

The Colored Giants had standing rivalries with area white teams, such as the Fort Wayne Lincoln Lifers, the Columbia City Grays, the Roanoke Independents, the New Haven Visible Pumps, the Kendallville Reds, the Garrett K of Cs, and the Auburn Athletics.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, May 29, 1923, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Colored Giants team had multiple owners and managers over the years and these include: (1909) Mr. Harry Ellis, both owner and manager; (1916) Mr. L.B. Dupee, owner and Mr. George Wilson, manager; (1919) Mr. Bob Jones bought out Mr. L.B. Dupee and retained Mr. George Wilson as manager; (1920-1921) Mr. Bob Jones, owner and Mr. Johnson, manager; (1921- 1922) Mr. Bob Jones, owner and Mr. T.E. Lewis, manager; (1923-192) Mr. Moses Taylor, owner manager; and (1930-1949) no information on owners or managers was available.  The information presented was obtained from Fort Wayne newspaper articles of the period.

Very little is known about the team’s owners and managers, but the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Newspaper did feature one. That was Moses Taylor, the longest serving owner and manager of the Colored Giants (1923 to 1929). The story of black baseball in Fort Wayne is a story of a family involved in the community and in baseball.  It is a story of a man, a visionary and an entrepreneur, who became the catalyst for the creation of a strong baseball team. His dream generated passion within a community and among a group of young black men. He set the stage for solid baseball play with major teams, both semi pro and local.

After a team bus broke down in 1929 in Pittsburgh, Mr. Taylor stayed and found a job.  He moved the rest of his family to Pittsburgh around 1930. Mr. Taylor utilized his experience with the Fort Wayne Colored Giants to form the Pittsburgh Mystics, as reported by his daughter Mrs. Lucille Taylor Wooden of Cleveland, Ohio.  This team played against the Pittsburgh Homestead Grays of the National Negro League.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 3, 1920, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Fort Wayne Colored Giants infused and energized the black community of Fort Wayne. The team established its mark in the city and in baseball.  The Fort Wayne Tincaps are the legacy of the Fort Wayne Colored Giants and the many white league teams of the era.  They all contributed to baseball history in Fort Wayne.  The Giants are one of the few Fort Wayne baseball teams, black or white, from that era (1907-1949) to be recognized in the 21st century via news media and with a plaque at Parkview Field.  They assume their proper place in the history of Fort Wayne as true contributors to the development of sports history in the Summit City.

“Tired of Going to Funerals:” The 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary

Delegates, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, marching into the National Black Political Convention, courtesy of Gene Pesek/Chicago Sun-Times, accessed wbez.org.

They agreed that black prisoners should receive fair trials, that black Americans should not die years earlier than white counterparts, that black workers should be afforded a living wage, and that black candidates should be given opportunities to craft legislation that affected their communities. They shared a collective outrage. In 1972, organizers asked them – Americans of color affiliated with Socialists, Democrats, Republicans, Nationalists, and the Black Panthers- if they could overcome differing ideologies to channel this outrage into political action at the National Black Political Convention (NBPC) held in Gary, Indiana. Black poet and activist Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) advocated for the gathering to practice “unity without conformity.”

According to an essay in Major Problems in African American History, the Gary convention was the culmination of a series of uprisings in protest of discrimination, which historians refer to collectively as the Black Revolt. Black Americans were emboldened by tragic events, such as the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, as well as legislative progress, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  In an interview, North Carolina convention delegate Ben Chavis recalled:

I had gotten tired of going to funerals. . . . so much of the Movement had been tragic. You know. And I have to emphasize [Rev. Martin Luther] King’s assassination was a tragic blow to the Movement. And so four years later, March of ’72, for us to be gathering up our wherewithal to go to Gary, Indiana–hey, that was a good shot in the arm for the Movement.

Historian Stephen Grant Meyer identified 1968, when King was assassinated, as the year in which the modern civil rights movement began to diverge. No longer was integration the primary means to make political and economic gains.  This fracture gave rise to a Nationalist faction, which sought to promote black identity and improve living conditions through a separate black nation. The polarization was reminiscent of the late-19th and early-20th century debates between reformer Booker T. Washington and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois, who both worked to ease the economic and social plight of African Americans. Washington believed this was best achieved by earning the respect of white citizens through hard work and self-help. Du Bois, on the other hand, believed white oppression should be cast off by protests and political activism, in large part through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization he co-founded.

Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale. According to the NWI Times, he declared “all black people, involved in any way with survival programs for the black community, [to be] revolutionaries at the National Black Political Convention,” AP Photo, courtesy of the NWI Times.
NBPC organizers, who had begun planning the conference in 1970, struggled to find a city willing to accommodate an influx of politically-engaged black Americans. Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, an advocate of civil rights and minorities and one of the first African American mayors of a major U.S. city, volunteered his predominantly black city. Not since the 1930s, with the first meeting of the National Negros Congress in Chicago, had such a massive and diverse gathering of people of color convened to advance their rights. Approximately 3,000 official delegates and 7,000 attendees from across the United States met at Gary’s West Side High School from March 10 to March 12. The attendees included a prolific group of black leaders, such as Reverend Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, U.S. presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm, Amiri Baraka, Muslim leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, Black Panthther co-founder Bobby Seale, and Malcolm X’s widow Betty Shabazz. Organizers sought to create a cohesive political strategy for black Americans by the convention’s end.

Television crews waiting for convention to start, courtesy of the NWI Times.

A bomb threat was called into convention headquarters at the Holiday Inn and a local gang reportedly deposited guns in school lockers. These threats to disrupt the convention necessitated additional security. Uniformed and plainclothes policemen reinforced the northwestern Indiana city. Armed civil defense personnel supplemented the police presence and boxer-turned-activist Muhammad Ali served as sergeant-at-arms.

The high school, decorated with red, white, and blue bunting, thrummed with activity. As vendors sold books, banners, and souvenirs, a band prompted snapping and feet-tapping with “gutsy,” drum-driven music. The Munster Times reported “Two or three white reporters, their faces split with grins, were lost somewhere with the music. A policeman absentmindedly slapped the butt of his pistol to the beat.” Delegates ranging from “pinstripe-suited conservatives to youngsters in colorful flowing robe-type shirts [dashikis] and mod fashions to the black-uniformed para-military” milled about the gym waiting for the delayed convention to finally start. Organizers scrambled to respond to complaints that the elevated platform for journalists blocked the stage.

Welcome poster, courtesy of the NWI Times.

Entertainers like James Brown and Harry Belafonte lent their support to the convention by performing. Comic and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, weighing 90 pounds as a result of fasting to protest the Vietnam War, addressed the audience about issues of policing and drug access and asked, “‘[H]ow can a black kid in Harlem find a heroin pusher and the FBI can’t?'”

State delegations, national organizations, and individuals proposed resolutions in the creation of “A National Black Agenda” (Muncie Evening Press). This agenda would extend the movement beyond the convention. As convention attendee and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York Dr. Ron Daniels noted, the Black Agenda was “integral to holding candidates, who would seek Black votes, accountable to the interests and aspirations of Black people.”

Delegates from Illinois suggested fines and prison sentences for businessmen found guilty of discriminatory practices. North Carolina attendees proposed a bill of prisoners’ rights that included humane treatment and fair trials. Delegates from Indiana and other states demanded that the U.S. dedicate resources to the plight of black Americans rather than the Vietnam War and end the conflict immediately. North Carolina representatives also urged that black men receive Social Security benefits earlier than white men since their life expectancy was eight years shorter. The Muncie Evening Press noted that “Politicking was intense . . . as state delegations tried to compromise their own views with positions they felt other delegations could support.” Tensions ran so high that part of the Michigan delegation walked out of the convention.

Muncie Evening Press, March 11, 1972, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Keynote speakers Reverend Jackson, executive director of P.U.S.H. and Operation Breadbasket, and Mayor Hatcher ignited the crowd and “stoked rhetorical fires aimed at molding the diverse black communities represented here into a solid unit that can tip the political balance this presidential election year and from now on” (Munster Times).

While similar in many aspects, the men’s speeches hinted at the divergence in philosophies pervading the convention. Hatcher believed change could come from within the existing two-party system, so long as the parties responded to the needs of African Americans. However, if legislators continued to neglect black constituents, black Americans would create a third party and, he told attendees, “we shall take with us the best of White America . . . many a white youth nauseated by the corrupt values rotting the innards of this society . . . many of the white poor . . . many a White G.I. . . . and many of the white working class, too.” The party would also welcome “chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Indians [and] Orientals” (Indianapolis Recorder).

However, Jackson, appealing to Nationalists, urged the immediate formation of a black party, potentially called the “Liberation Party.” He asserted “‘Without the option of a black political party, we are doomed to remain in the hip pocket of the Democratic party and in the rumble seat of the Republican party'” (Kokomo Tribune). Jackson also called for the establishment of black institutions to oversee black educational, economic, and judicial matters. He asked the crowd “what time is it?” and the audience, electrified, shouted “It’s Nation Time!”

Harry Williams, “Convention Raps Busing,” The Republic (Columbus, Indiana), March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Jackson’s proposal drew criticism from some black organizations, like the NAACP, which believed that continued segregation, albeit black-led, would impede progress. According to Major Problems in African American History, the NAACP circulated a memo at the convention denouncing the proposal of a separate nationhood for African Americans and criticizing the rhetoric for being “‘that of revolution rather than of reform.'” An Indianapolis Recorder editorial articulated this point, noting “The only road to nationwide achievement by a minority is through cooperation with the majority.”

Presidential campaign poster courtesy of the Library of Congress, accessed BBC.com.

Another contentious issue in the 1970s: school desegregation through the forced busing of black children to white schools. The Jackson faction opposed busing and defined successful black education not as being able to attend white schools, but rather as children attending black-led schools. The endorsement of the presidential candidate that would best represent black interests also generated conflict at the convention. Some delegations supported Democrat Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black Congresswoman, while many Nationalists wanted a leader from a black party.

After intense debate, a steering committee tentatively adopted a National Black Agenda. The committee officially published the 68-page document on May 19, Malcolm X’s birthday. The resolutions included black representation in Congress proportionate to the U.S. black population, a guaranteed minimum income of $6,500 for four-person households, a 50% cut in the defense and space budgets, and an end to national trade with countries that supplied the U.S. drug market. The resolutions, designed to move black Americans towards “self-determination and true independence,” represented major, yet tenuous compromise among the black community.

Image courtesy of NWI Times.

The steering committee also formed the National Black Political Assembly, a body tasked with implementing the Black Agenda. Dr. Daniels noted that, although many of the agenda’s resolutions never materialized, “thousands of Black people left Gary energized and committed to making electoral politics a more relevant/meaningful exercise to promote Black interests.” He attributed the quadrupling of elected black officials by the end of the 1970s, in large part, to the Gary convention and the “audacity of Black people to . . .  defend black interests.” The NBPC was notable too for its inclusion of black Americans from all walks of life, rather than just prominent black figures, in formulating how to ease the struggles of the black community. The Recorder also noted that Mayor Hatcher’s reputation “has been considerably burnished in the white community as well as the black by the success of the historic event” (Indianapolis Recorder).

In 2012, Gary hosted the 40th anniversary of the National Black Political Convention. Speakers discussed the issues that had prevailed into the 21st century, such as a disparity in prison sentencing and poverty. One speaker remarked that without Shirley Chisholm, America’s first black president Barack Obama would not have occupied the White House. Another speaker, who ran for mayor of Baltimore, lamented that forty years after the convention “we’re still asking what to do instead of how to do it.” When asked if it was still “nation time” one speaker responded “it’s muted nation time.” Black Americans, they agreed, needed to “have the audacity.”

Contact: npoletika@history.in.gov

 

SOURCES USED:

“Black Convention Split Over Separation,” Terre Haute Tribune, March 11, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Black Meet Without Incident Bodyguards, Police Vigilant,” Munster Times, March 12, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Black Political Movement Born in Gary,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Creation of ‘The National Assembly’ Concludes Black Political Convention,” Kokomo Tribune, March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Dr. Ron Daniels, “It’s Nation Time: The 40th Anniversary of the Gary National Black Political Convention,” Institute of the Black World 21st Century, March 28, 2012.

Harry Williams, “Convention Raps Busing,” Columbus Republic, March 13, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Hatcher to Keynote Black Convention,” Indianapolis Recorder, March 11, 1972, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jay Harris, “Black Political Agenda Hit on Busing, Israel,” Wilmington (DE) Evening Journal, May 19, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

John Hopkins, “Leaders Mold Black Power: Warn Parties” and James Parker, “Blacks Marching to Different Drums,” Munster Times, March 12, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Keeping Watch,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, March 10, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

Major Problems in African American History: Documents and Essays, Second Edition, eds. Barbara Krauthamer, Chad Williams, and Thomas G. Paterson (Cengage Learning, 2016): 510-515.

“National Black Agenda Calls for Permanent Political Movement,” Kokomo Tribune, March 12, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Plans Span Wide Range of Opinion,” Muncie Evening Press, March 11, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Wants Changes,” Valparaiso Vidette-Messenger, March 11, 1972, accessed Newspapers.com.