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!

 

 

 

THH Episode 11: Lincoln the Boy, the man, and the Myth

­­­­Transcript of Lincoln the Boy, the Man, and the Myth

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Bill Bartelt

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

Lindsey Beckley: Hey, this is your host Lindsey here. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been doing the podcast for over a year. And we’ve learned a lot in that time but we’re wanting to learn more. The best way for us to do that is to get feedback from you, our listeners. The number one thing you can do to help us is to let us know what you like…and what you don’t like….about the show. Review us on iTunes, post on our facebook, email us at ihb@history.in.gov, or even tweet at us on twitter. However you do it, we’d love to hear from you. Now, let’s get to the show.

[Folk style music]

Beckley: Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life.” In subsequent years, many, many people have attempted to make something out of his early life. And on this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we will, once again, attempt to make something out of his early life as we explore the myth, the man, and the grey area in-between.

[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.

It was December, 1816. Indiana was a brand new state and the Lincoln family was moving to the Little Pigeon Creek Community in what later became Spencer County, Indiana. The Lincolns – parents Thomas and Nancy and their children, 9 year old Sarah, and 7 year old Abraham– had lived in Kentucky until then, but Indiana offered an opportunity not available to Thomas before: the chance to hold clear title on a tract of land without dispute. As an added bonus, Indiana was a free state, something which aligned with the Lincoln’s Baptist views.

[Sound effects]

Beckley: Once they arrived at their new home, the family set to work building a modest shelter and clearing the land to make way for crops such as corn and wheat. And Abraham, while young, did his fair share of the work and could wield an axe quite well. He later recalled that:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: He was large for his age, and had an ax put in his hands at once; he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument.

Beckley: The work required to meet the basic needs of food and shelter took up much of the family’s focus, but they still made time for other pursuits.

[Transition music]

Both Abraham and Sarah learned to read and write while attending school in Kentucky and Abraham especially liked to practice his letters. One account said:

Voice actor reading from account: He scrawled them with charcoal, he scored them in the dust, in the sand, in the snow – anywhere and everywhere that lines could be drawn, there he improved his capacity for writing.

Beckley: Because of this fondness for writing, and because neither Thomas nor Nancy had ever quite mastered the skill, Abraham became the de facto letter writer of the family, penning letters to neighbors and family left behind in Kentucky.

Reading hearthside in the evenings, the children adventured with Robinson Crusoe, visited a faraway land with The Arabian Nights, and learned many valuable lessons through Aesop’s Fables and the Bible. Many people who knew Abraham in his youth recounted how much he loved to read and indeed, many images of Lincoln’s time in Indiana feature the young, lanky boy with a book in one hand and an ax in the other.

Literature may have opened a world of imagination to the Lincoln children, but there was much left to learn. Luckily, Andrew Crawford came to town around 1819 and took up the role of school master. Over the next 5 years, Abraham attended school under at least three different school masters, where he learned “readin, writin, and cipherin to the rule of 3.”

[Nature sound effect]

Beckley: Now a young man, it was time for Abraham to find employment. First, he labored on neighboring farms doing the same kind of work he did on his father’s farm – splitting rails for fencing, clearing land, helping with crops, and slaughtering hogs. While working for neighbor Josiah Crawford, Lincoln noticed that he owned a biography of George Washington which Lincoln had been longing to read. He borrow it, but while reading, he accidently left it on a windowsill, where it was soaked through by rain. Embarrassed by his carelessness, Honest Abe went to Mr. Crawford to tell him the truth – he had ruined the book and couldn’t pay for it. Instead, he worked the debt off with three days of hard labor.

For the most part, Abraham pursued jobs that gave him a chance to interact with new and interesting people. For example, he worked on a ferry taking people and cargo across the Anderson River. During this time, he also took the initiative to build a small row boat which he used to carry travelers from the banks of the river to catch passing boats. It was while doing this that he first made a whole dollar in one day – something he reminisced about later, saying

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: You may think it was a very little thing, but it was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely believe that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time.

Beckley: Perhaps the most exciting and influential part of Lincoln’s time in Indiana was a two month span in 1828, when Abraham accompanied Allen Gentry on a flatboat trip to New Orleans. Lincoln seized the opportunity to get away from rural southern Indiana and see more of the world by travelling down the Mississippi River with a boatload of agricultural products such as corn, pork, and corn meal.

Abraham encountered many new things on this journey; settlements ranging in size from a few families to thousands of people, Spanish moss hanging from the trees, sprawling sugar plantations, and architecture much different than the rustic wooden structures he was accustomed to. One experience in particular from this trip made a lasting impression on the future president.

Once they had reached New Orleans, the two young men had a few free days to tour the city before they caught a steam ship back to Indiana. One day, while exploring the city, the two came across something else Lincoln probably had never saw before – a slave market.

[Music]

Beckley: New Orleans was home to the largest slave market in America. In that district of the city, the streets were lined with African American men dressed in blue suits and women wearing in calico dresses. Behind the buildings, there were small, fenced in yards where fifty to one hundred men, women, and children waited to be torn from their families and sent to labor in strange and often cruel circumstances. The streets rang with the sounds of slave traders shouting about the attributes of the people being sold and the din of the crowd below, scrutinizing their appearance and making their offers.

Gentry later recalled visiting the market, saying

Voice actor reading from Gentry account: We stood and watched the slaves sold in New Orleans and Abraham was very angry…

Beckley: It’s hard to know how much this encounter by a 19 year old Abraham Lincoln informed the views of 52 year old President Lincoln, but such an experience surely made its mark on his later political beliefs.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Lincoln first found his interest in law and politics while living in the Hoosier state. The Lincoln farm was situated relatively near 2 different county court houses. It was common at this time for people to attend court hearings for socializing and hearing the latest news. Living near multiple courthouses, Lincoln had ample opportunity to witness skilled lawyers practicing their craft. He also borrowed law books and newspapers, both of which greatly influenced his political development. Nineteenth century papers were highly partisan and when Lincoln first ran for political office in Illinois, his views reflected political arguments he likely leaned from newspaper pages.

While Lincoln’s first forays into politics wouldn’t be in Indiana, he did here for 14 years before the family moved to Illinois in 1830. Long after his departure from the state, Indiana governor Otis Bowen said

Voice actor reading from Bowen: Lincoln made Illinois but Indiana made Lincoln.

Beckley: And that certainly strikes a chord. He came to Indiana a 7 year old boy and left a 21 year old man. While in the state, he learned the value of hard work and honesty, had his first up close encounter with the horrors of slavery, and developed an interest in law: all of which came together to build the character of one of the greatest US presidents of all time.

[Record scratch]

Now, you might be thinking that story I just told, with little exception, sounds very charming…idyllic, even. But, as is often the case, there’s another side to the story. Let’s start back at the beginning.

[Folk music blended with modern music]

The Lincoln’s left Kentucky for Indiana due to land disputes. Lincoln later said:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: This removal was partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Kentucky.

Beckley: Given what Lincoln went on to do as president, many people play up the first clause of that statement and all but ignore the second. While the Lincolns were, in all probability, anti-slavery, the sentiment probably had less to do with moral outrage about the practice and more to do with economics. Nevertheless, the bigger issue for the family was land titles – 2 different times, Thomas Lincoln purchased property, only to have the titles challenged, and he lost money each time. He decided to move to Indiana over frustration with the lackadaisical way Kentucky land was parceled, rather than over any sort of moral problem with slavery.

[Folk music]

Beckley: Regardless of why they moved to Indiana, once they settled here, life was hard. Lincoln may have been “large for his age,” but the fact remains that he was a 7 year old who “had an ax put in his hands” to tackle the physically demanding task of clearing land for subsistence farming. What’s more, if he and his father failed to clear enough land, it could spell disaster for the family…the kind of disaster that ends in a slow, horrible death by starvation. The Lincoln’s were in a slightly better position than some, since Thomas was a skilled carpenter with an alternate source of income, but their Indiana existence was still one largely of subsistence farming and hunting.

[Music continues]

Beckley: And starvation wasn’t the only danger of frontier life. Lincoln remembered the area being populated with bears and panthers.

[Music continues]

Beckley: Even domesticated animals posed a risk; once Lincoln recalled that he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was 10 years old and was “apparently killed for a time,” which most likely means that he was rendered unconscious…in any case, he wasn’t seen by a doctor to assess the extent of the damage – most likely because there were no – or at least very few – doctors in the area.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Yet another ever present danger was illness. In the Autumn of 1818, the Little Pigeon Creek Community was struck by an illness which went by many names – puking fever, bilious fever, swamp fever, the slows, but most commonly, it was called milk sickness. The cause is now known to be drinking milk from a cow that ate a plant called white snake root, which contains the poison tremetol. But in 1818, they only knew that it seemed to come from drinking milk. That fall, several families in the area were plagued by the sickness, and soon it struck the Lincoln household; Nancy started showing the first symptoms of the illness in late September – that’s weakness, dizziness, and loss of appetite – and on October 5, 1818, Nancy died. Afterwards, 11 year old Sarah took on the duties of her mother, at least until Thomas married Sarah Bush-Johnston, a widow from Kentucky with three children, and that must have made things a bit tight in the household, what with the 3 Lincolns, 4 Johnstons, and 2 orphaned cousins all living in a one-room cabin with a single shared loft for sleeping.

[Transitional music]

Lincoln spent some time in his autobiographical sketches outlining his education…or lack thereof. While in Indiana, he attended subscription schools, where families in a community built a school house and paid the teacher directly. And even when there was a school to attend, children wouldn’t have gone as regularly as they do today. They went, as Lincoln later said, “by littles.” A week here, a month there…whenever they had the time and availability. The teachers weren’t necessarily professionally trained educators, either. Lincoln said:

Voice actor reading Lincoln: There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond “readin, writin, and cipherin to the rule of three.

Beckley: All told, Lincoln estimated that all of his schooling, when added together, didn’t even amount to a full year, and when he filled out his biographical survey for the Dictionary of Congress, he summed up his education with one word: defective.

[Transitional music]

The fact that Abraham Lincoln could read put him in the vast minority in frontier Indiana. Even 16 years after the Lincolns left Indiana, only 1 in 7 Hoosiers were literate. And, to set him apart even further, Lincoln enjoyed reading. Many relatives and neighbors recalled this unique trait, some with respect, like Nathanial Grigsby, who was a schoolmate of Lincoln’s. He recalled that Lincoln…

Voice actor reading from account: …would carry his books with and would always read whilst resting…

Beckley: during the work day and would…

Voice actor reading from account: …set up late reading & rise early doing the same.

Beckley: Others in the community, however, saw his penchant for reading and intellectual nature as signs of laziness. For example, one neighbor, when recounting Lincoln’s work ethic, said

Voice actor reading from account: Abe was awful lazy; he worked for me, was always reading and thinking…

Beckley: As most of Lincoln’s other employers described him as a hard, honest worker, it’s unlikely that Lincoln actually slacked off in his work; more likely, the neighbor equated traits of intelligence with poor work ethic. Being one of the few introspective, thoughtful people in the area must have been a fairly lonely and frustrating existence for the young Lincoln.

With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that Lincoln sought employment on the river since it got him away from the small community and introduced him to people from a variety of backgrounds. I mean, who could blame him? And after his sister Sarah died in childbirth in 1828, who could blame him for taking the chance to get as far away from his grief as he could by accepting the position on Gentry’s flatboat trip to New Orleans. As I said earlier, this trip may have been the most influential part of Lincoln’s time in Indiana…and it wasn’t even in Indiana. While in the state, he probably felt surrounded by undereducated, uninspired people, being forced to do menial labor, all of which motivated him to “Escape the frontier,” as historian Mark Neely would put it. It was in spite of his Indiana roots that Lincoln became who he was, not because of them.

[Record scratch]

Beckley: Ok, That’s quite a different story than the first one, isn’t it? And yet, everything I said in both is supported by evidence. Each version of the story represents a different interpretation of Lincoln in Indiana. The first is, somewhat amusingly, called the “Chin-fly Theory” and is derived from author Ida Tarbell’s statement:

Voice actor reading Tarbell: The horse, the dog, the ox, the chin fly, the plow, the hog, these companions of his youth became interpreters of his meaning, solvers of his problems in his great necessity, of making men understand and follow him. Beckley: The second is, just as amusingly, called the dung-hill theory. That name comes from historian Chauncey Black’s remark:

Voice actor reading Black: It is our duty to show the world the Majesty and beauty of his character, as it grew by itself and unassisted, out of this unpromising soil…We must point mankind to the diamonds glowing on the dunghill.

Beckley: These two theories differ so much that both cannot be the correct interpretation of the facts. In reality, the truth of the matter is probably somewhere in the middle.

[Transition music]

Beckley: It’s hard to quantify Indiana’s impact on Lincoln as there are so many variables that come together to form someone’s character. But, we can judge the effect his time in the state had on his politics, as he first ran for public office just two years after leaving the Hoosier state. In his first known political address, the 23 year old candidate for the Illinois General Assembly chose to focus on three issues: high interest rate loans, internal improvements, and education.

While Lincoln specifies that the root of that first issue was a personal incident from his time in Illinois, the other two platform issues can be directly linked to his time in Indiana. The most obvious way Lincoln’s experience in Indiana influenced his politics was in his support of public education. In his 1832 address, he said:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: I view [education] as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other counties, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance.

Beckley: This focus on education came directly from his sore lack of public schooling in southern Indiana.

Now, his support of internal improvements isn’t quite as obviously connected to his boyhood, but when you consider the fact that his means of access to the broader world was primarily through the Ohio River – and the goods, information, and people it transported – and that at this point in history “internal improvements” mostly referred to development of canals to connect small communities to large waterways, it’s reasonable to assume that seeing firsthand how that kind of access to the larger world could change lives influenced his stance on the matter.

Ultimately, it’s unreasonable to say that Lincoln wasn’t influenced by his time in Indiana. He was here from ages 7 to 21. It would be hard to walk away from a place you spent 14 years without being changed by that place. However, it’s also difficult to measure how Indiana shaped Lincoln’s character. His views changed dramatically after leaving Indiana due to life experiences and navigating major political events in American History.

He returned only once, in 1844, to his boyhood home. His visit brought back memories of the losses he experienced here, as well as some of the more joyous times. Inspired, he wrote the poem, “My Childhood’s home I see again.” I’ll leave you with a few stanzas.

Voice actor reading from Lincoln:

My childhood-home I see again,

And Gladden with the view;

And still as mem’ries crowd my brain,

There’s sadness in it too.

The very spot where grew the bread

That formed my bones, I see.

How strange, old field, on thee to tread,

And feel I’m part of thee!

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: To learn more about Abraham Lincoln in Indiana, check out the book “There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth” by William E. Bartelt. The featred song of this episode was “Living Things” by Bloomington songwriter Tom Roznowski. It’s from the album “Wilderness Plots.” Visit Tomroznowski.net to learn more. As always, a huge thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire. And Tom Mackie, formerly director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, who did an amazing job bringing life to the world of Lincoln in this episode. Also, thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. Stay connected on social media…We can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Lincoln the Boy, the Man, the Myth

Books

Bartelt, William. “There I Grew Up.” Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.

Campanella, William. Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2010.

Warren, Louis. Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, 1816-1860. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 1959.

Articles

Greenwald, Erin. “The Price of Life.” The Historic New Orleans Collections Quarterly, Spring, 2015.

Lighty, Chandler. “Research Summary.” Research file, Indiana Historical Bureau. July, 2008.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss Simins is the producer and sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She records the audio, chooses the music and samples, and engineers the mix.

Bill Mackie, formerly director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, who voiced Abraham Lincoln in this episode.

Justin Clark, project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project, lent his voice to Lincoln’s neighbors and other “extra’s” in the episode.

Music Notes

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 Song

The featured song of Episode 11 is “Living Things” by Bloomington songwriter Tom Roznowski. It’s off the album Wilderness Plots. Learn more about Tom and listen to more tracks at his website: http://www.tomroznowski.net/

Other Audio

Ed Lewis, “I Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down,” recorded Parchman Farm, Camp B, Mississippi, 1959, Association for Cultural Equity, accessed http://research.culturalequity.org/get-audio-detailed-recording.do?recordingId=4051

Pat Ford, “Swedish Fiddle from Wisconsin Woods,” 1938, Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/2017701969/

“Indiana Polka,” Edmud Jaeger, composer, Frederick Fennell, conductor, recorded September 1974, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/cwband.recs007/

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

Bensound, “Funny Song,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mHpr8lhjZE

Ross Bugden, “Solstice,” Copyright and Royalty Free, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yRIt5yS36s

AShamaluevMusic, “Free Romantic Background Music for Videos,” No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h45gVQ_FjD4

Ikson, “Walk,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szEfp07r5Cg

Lobo Loco, “Visions of 2018,” Free Music Archive, ID 783, accessed http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Hoh_Hey/Visions_of_2018_ID_783

Lobo Loco, “All Night Long – Guitarversion,” Free Music Archive, ID 775, accessed http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Hoh_Hey/All_Night_Long_-_Guitarversion_ID_775

THH: Episode 10: Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Transcription of Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

[Gospel music]

Voice actor reading newspaper headlines: Jackie Robinson hits bias in Monster Meeting talk. Secretary of State to talk at Monster Meeting at YMCA. Monster Meeting series schedule famous persons. Noted engineer to speak for YMCA. Martin Luther King like Moses. International singer to speak at Monster Meeting. Young Scientist on Monster Meeting. Educator of International fame opens Monster Meeting Governor Schriker to address Monster Meeting at YMCA.

[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.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

 

Lindsey Beckley: Before we get to the topic on hand, I wanted to give a bit of a disclaimer. In this episode, as in most episodes, we’ll be using quotes from early and mid-twentieth century newspapers. Some of the language in those excerpts concerning race, while widely used at that time, would not be acceptable today. In the interest of preserving the historical authenticity of these sources, we have left them unchanged and uncensored, but please know that we do not condone nor would we use this language.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, young men flocked to the bustling metropolis of London, England in search of jobs in the growing industrial sector. While they found their way into the factories, they also discovered the city’s more unsavory gathering places, like brothels and taverns, and one suspects, a decent amount of trouble.

One London newcomer, George Williams, dreamed of a more wholesome gathering place for these young industrial workers with the idea that, given a suitable alternative, they would steer clear of London’s underbelly. In 1844 those ideas came to fruition with the establishment of the Young Men’s Christian Association, otherwise known as the YMCA.

By 1851, less than a decade later the new association had spread around the world with chapters in Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Two years later a formerly enslaved man, Anthony Bowen organized the first YMCA serving African American men and boys in Washington D.C. For nearly a century afterwards the United States YMCA would promote, but not mandate, segregated facilities for its black and white members.

White YMCA activities in central Indiana can be traced back as far as 1854. In the early years, up until the late 1880s, black men weren’t officially barred from membership, as in, there was no rule on the books saying they weren’t allowed…but none had actually tried to join so the issue hadn’t been raised. In 1888, two or three black men attempted to join the Indianapolis Y. When their applications were denied, the de facto segregation of the Indianapolis YMCA was brought into sharp focus and it became clear that African Americans would not be welcomed in the association, weather there was an official rule or not.

In 1900, a group of African Americans formed a Young Men’s Prayer Band in Indianapolis. Two years later, the band merged into a “colored Y.M.C.A.” 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” is a shining example of this. Emerging due to the discriminatory practices of Indianapolis, this branch of the “Y” would become one of the largest and most influential black YMCAs in the country.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Before that could happen though, they needed a building able to accommodate their rapidly growing membership. By 1911, just 9 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 estimated building cost was $100,000, a figure that seemed unobtainable to many in the community, where even the working professionals were barely getting by due to the limited job opportunities available to them. Fortunately, just as the YMCA members began planning their fund raising 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 building.

With this motivation, the members of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA joined forces with the white members of the Central YMCA for what would be an incredible fund raising push. Two teams were formed, one for the white members and one for the black, and they set out on their mission. In just 10 days, the $75,000 goal was surpassed.

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. Construction was completed on the building, located at the corner of Michigan Street and Senate Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, in July, 1913.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: YMCA members held a week of festivities and ceremonies in celebration of the opening of the new Senate Avenue Y, including a ladies night, a 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:

Voice actor reading from Washington: 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.

[Transition music]

Beckley: In many cases, African American churches were at the heart of the community. The Indianapolis Colored YMCA, itself a Christian organization, became another center of the African American community in Indianapolis. 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 40 years between 1860 and 1900, the African American population of Indianapolis grew 3000 percent. White residents did not welcome these newcomers. Oftentimes, they 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 10 mile radius of the Avenue by the 1950s.

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 things 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 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. These programs, according to historians, “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.

[Military music]

Beckley: 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 which, I looked it up, and it’s a real word meaning “the will to succeed,” which is rather fitting. These tactics worked fabulously! Membership jumped from just 52 in 1903 to over 5000 by 1930.

[Music]

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 doesn’t 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 what were called Monster Meetings.

[Modern music]

The roots of what would become 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 first men, and later all people, would 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 called the Big Meeting. So, Taylor one-upped them and labeled his forum series the Monster Meetings. Taylor couldn’t have known just 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 whole new level. That executive secretary was Faburn Defrantz. Long time listeners of the podcast may remember from our first episode that DeFrantz led the campaign against the segregation of the Indiana University men’s basketball team in the 1940s. In 1916, he had been in Indianapolis for just 3 years and advanced to the top position of the Senate Avenue YMCA with ambitious goals.

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 of 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 provides a list that sampled a few of the hundreds of speakers and topics featured at Monster Meetings during the DeFrantz years. When reading this list, the thing that initially jumped out at me was the variety of speakers included; there were authors, NAACP leaders, professors, University Presidents, politicians, newspapermen, famous athletes, religious leaders, and a former first lady.

When analyzing the list a bit further, I started to notice trends. You can see history unfolding before you just in the titles of the lectures.

[Music]

Beckley: In early 1930, at the very beginning of the Great Depression, Freeman Ransom gave a lecture on…

Voice actor fades in: “Unemployment and How to Solve It.”

Beckley: In 1931, 11 years into America’s “great experiment” of prohibition, Reverend Charles H. Winders and Boyd Gurley debated the question

Voice actor fades in: “Prohibition: Shall Indiana Stay Dry?”

Beckley: In 1940, as World War II raged in Europe, Dr. Max Yergan spoke on

Voice actor fades in: “Democracy: A Goal to Defend.”

Beckley: And after US entry into World War II , Dr. Lorenzo Greene spoke on

Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in National Defense,”

Beckley: Phillip Randolph lectured on:

Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in War and Peace,”

and William Hastie talked on

Voice actor fades in: “The Fight Against Discrimination in the Armed Forces.”

Beckley: Then, in the post-war era, you see

Voice actor fades in: “The Colonies in the Post-War World”

Beckley: by Freida Newgabower, and

Voice actor fades in: “Implications of the Atomic Bomb”

Beckley: by Mordecai Johnson.

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.” Leading up to and during the Civil Rights movement, speeches such as “This is the Hour,” “Integrated Society or a Segregated Society,” “The Civil Rights Crisis and American Democracy,” and “The Civil Rights Resolution in America” demonstrate that the black citizens of Indianapolis were having the same discussions and debates as black citizens around the nation.

Unfortunately, there is no collection or archive of the speeches given at these monster meetings, at least not that I have been able to locate. Luckily, preserved in the pages of newspapers like the Indianapolis Recorder, there are snippets of some of the lectures. And there was no way we could do a podcast about Monster Meetings and not include the words of the leaders who spoke at those meetings. Now let’s reach back into the pages of the recorder and hear from a few of the powerful speakers to have graced the stage of the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings.

Dr. Mordecai Johnson was a fixture of the Monster Meeting schedule, opening the meeting season for over 40 consecutive years. He became involved with the YMCA in 1916, when he served as a student secretary and was a life-long supporter of the association. Dr. Johnson became the first African American president of Howard University, one of the nation’s historically black universities, in 1926. He served in that capacity until 1960. During his decades speaking at the Monster Meetings, he covered a wide range of topics, including

Voice actor: “Anti-Semitism and the Negro Ministry,” “Civilization’s Civil War,” “Freedom’s Challenge,” “Implications of the Atomic Bomb,” “Ghandi and the Liberation of India,” “A Troubled World in the Middle East,” and “Segregation is Suicide.”

Beckley: 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. For example, as Cold War tensions mounted, he spoke of the dangers American segregation posed to the nation. He said:

Voice actor reading from Johnson: 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…:

Beckley: He went on to address the recent affirmation of Brown vs. Board of Education seen in the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock.

Voice actor reading from Johnson: 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.

Beckley: Another name which appears more than once in the list of prominent figures featured at Monster Meetings is that of A. Philips Randolph. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was the first labor union comprised principally of African American workers. He was a major Civil Rights activist, and 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 to end segregation in the armed forces. Randolph wasn’t satisfied with those successes, though. In 1955, he stood in the Senate Avenue YMCA and declared:

Voice actor reading from Randolph: 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.

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

In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. himself, possibly the most widely recognized name of the Civil Rights Movement, also made an appearance on the YMCA Monster Meeting roster. Due to high interest in King’s lecture, the venue was moved to Cadle Tabernacle to accommodate a larger audience. In one of his first public appearances since he suffered a brutal attack, the Baptist minister kept his message of nonviolence, urging the use of love in the face of violence.

Voice actor reading from King: 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.

Beckley: He went on, saying:

Voice actor reading from King: 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.

[Music]

Beckley: 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.”

[Music]

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,

Voice actor reading from Johnson: The redcap and the lawyer, the laborer and the doctor, seek together to find answers to social and political questions…

[Music]

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about the Senate Avenue YMCA or Monster meetings, check out Dr. Stanley Warren’s book “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys.” A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, for being the voice of the various civil rights leaders quoted in this episode. And as always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, for bringing our words to life. Stay connected by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist on twitter and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Books

Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Mjagkij, Nina. Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946. University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Articles

                Pierce, Richard. “’Little Progress Happens’: Faburn E. DeFrantz and the Indianapolis Senate Avenue YMCA.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 108, Issue 2, June 2012.

Warren, Stanley. “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 91, Issue 1, March 1995.

Newspapers

                “Martin Luther King ‘Like Moses of Old.” The Indianapolis Recorder, December 20, 1958.

“New Y.M.C.A. Opened.” The Indianapolis Freeman, July 2, 1913

“Voice of the Eastside.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 26, 1955.

                “Segregation Is Suicide, Mordecai Johnson Warns.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 16, 1957.

Other

Senate Avenue YMCA Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau

Special Thanks

             Frank Thomas

A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis for giving voice to the Civil Rights leaders quoted in this episode.

                Jill Weiss

                                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

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music and Audio Notes

Featured Songs

“We Are Americans, Praise the Lord,” performed by Bertha Houston, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/ftvbib000059/

“Oh Jonah,” performed by Golden Jubilee Quartet, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/ftvbib000061/

“Death Is An Awful Thing,” performed by Middle Georgia Four, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/ftvbib000062/

“Recording of A Capella Singing Convention at Stranger Homer Baptist Church, Part 1,” recorded by Beverly J. Robinson, Chicago, Illinois, May 22, 1977, Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1981004_afs20625a/

Other Music

“Hip Hop Instrumental (Crying Over You),” Chris Morrow 4 No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiYs5z4xdBU

“Better Days,” Bensound No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_qYQkGjuVI

“Acoustic Inspiring,” OrangeHead No Copyright  / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWWppImxYnk

“Crossing the Divide,” Kevin MacLeod No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, published by Filmmaking Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leja-D6HQkk

“Days Are Long,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMWPj0wu1Dw

“March to Victory,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEktSBG6SO8

“Military March,” Monviando Royalty Free Production Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9T8ZG4ZbNU

“Upbeat Jazz Music (New York, 1924),” Ross Bugden No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnPLbKmYCKQ

Other Audio

Clip of Booker T. Washington accessed “Voices from the Past: Booker T. Washington,” Talk of the Nation, NPR, accessed https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5319922

Clips of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. accessed “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Open Vault, WBGH Media Library and Archives, accessed http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/A_A014C398246A48308919615DE8676DFC

Clip of Marian Anderson singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” accessed “Denied A Stage, She Sang for a Nation, Morning Edition, NPR, accessed  https://www.npr.org/2014/04/09/298760473/denied-a-stage-she-sang-for-a-nation

THH Episode 9: Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Transcript of Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Gospel music]

Lindsey Beckley: Zerelda Wallace, described as “the sweet-tonged apostle of temperance,” The “Rarest, noblest woman of her generation,” and “Indiana’s Best Loved Woman,” arrived on the national political stage rather late in her life. She had been married and widowed, raised nearly a dozen children, and attended the same church for 41 years, all before becoming one of Indiana’s most distinguished and respected social reformers of the 19th century. During the 14 years she was active in local and national reform movements, Wallace co-founded the Indiana Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association. She spoke at conferences and conventions across the nation. And affected change in the Disciples of Christ church on a national level. During her time on the lecture circuit, she developed an approach which enabled her to address and influence people with vastly different political ideas than her own. With these methods, she personally brought many people to the causes of suffrage and temperance, proving once and for all that it’s never too late to become politically engaged and effect change.

[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.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Born Zerelda Grey Sanders on August 6, 1817 in Millersburg, Kentucky, Zerelda was raised in an environment that fostered intelligence and a deep commitment to faith. She attended boarding school in nearby Versailles, Kentucky, before the family moved to the newly established city of Indianapolis in 1830. Her father, John Sanders, was a physician, a profession in high demand in Indiana as the young state wouldn’t have its own medical college for over a decade. Dr. Sanders took his eldest daughter along on some of his more serious cases to act as his nurse, and soon Zerelda found herself acquainted with prominent citizens of the city who encouraged her to study works by great thinkers such as philosopher John Locke and writer Harriet Martineau.

The most important book in the household, though, was always the Bible. The early 19th century was a time of religious revival in the United States. Often referred to as the Second Great Awakening, this religious resurgence reflected the sentiments of romanticism – it emphasized emotion and feeling over logic and reasoning. One popular tenet of the Second Great Awakening was the pursuit of Christian perfection. Zerelda grew up right in the midst of this movement – both in time and place. Stretching from around 1790 to the early 20th century, it had several hot spots, one of which was just 10 miles from Zerelda’s hometown, in Cane Ridge Kentucky.

Eventually, the ideals expressed in the movement would be central to her social reform activities. From a young age, she was encouraged to memorize bible passages and some sources say that she had memorized the first 14 books of the bible by age twelve. In 1833, when Zerelda was 16, she and her parents were among the 20 charter members of the Church of Christ in Indianapolis. Zerelda’s faith was the foundation upon which her social activism rested…but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves in the story.

[Transition music]

Beckley: In December 1836, at just 19 years old, Zerelda Sanders married lieutenant governor of Indiana David Wallace, a widower 15 years her senior with 3 children. One of those children would grow up to be the bestselling author of Ben-Hur, General Lew Wallace, who wrote of the first time the three boys met their new step-mother,

Voice actor reading from General Wallace: I was inclined…to have nothing to do with this mother which our father was giving us. We were not given time enough to wash our hands and to put on clean clothing, which probably had something to do with our ruffled feelings. Our stepmother was then very young, but she seemed to know exactly what to do under the circumstances and just how to talk to us. She showed us infinite gentleness and tact and made us feel that she was interested in us for our own sakes.

Beckley: The next year, David Wallace became the governor of Indiana. He later served a term in the US House of Representatives and as a judge in the Marion County court of common pleas. While not much has been written about this time in Zerelda Wallace’s life, it is said that she advised her husband on political issues and reviewed and critiqued his speeches and writings, something which almost certainly helped to hone her rhetoric. Pair that experience with the fact that she glimpsed the inner workings of government at the state, and national level during these years and there is little doubt that this time in her life facilitated her later political activism.

In 1859, 42 year old Zerelda Wallace was widowed and left with few financial assets. Even with young children to care for, she declined her family’s offer of financial help and relied instead upon her own initiative and resources by taking in boarders to make ends meet. Eventually, children were out of the house and she began turning her attention to improving society.

Wallace’s adherence to the ideals of her faith – in particular the aspiration to Christian perfection – made the church the ideal place to make her first forays into social reform. In her mind, and in the mind of many reformers, a root of many societal ills was intemperance, making it the perfect problem for her to tackle. On March 3, 1874, Wallace and other reformers organized the Indiana branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, in Indianapolis. Wallace served as the first president of the Indiana chapter and held the position for 7 years. The constitution of the association stated their goals – to provide support for victims of intemperance and to educate the public about the “evils” of alcohol sales, distribution, and especially, consumption. In pursuit of these objectives, they declared that they would “religiously employ all the means which God has placed within our reach, and constantly invoke His aid and guidance.” In conclusion, they called “upon all good men to join hands with us in our work, and with each other in the endeavor to secure temperance laws thoroughly enforced.”

In comparison to more…radical…figures like Carrie Nation, the members of the Indiana WCTU were fairly reserved. While Nation would gain wide spread fame through her rather violent tactics, such as using rocks, bricks, and (most famously) hatchets, to destroy the liquor supplies in saloons and put an end to drinking, Indiana’s WCTU used literature, missionary outreach, and petitions to reach that same goal.

It was during this time of growing activism in Wallace’s life that, at the age of 57, she delivered her first public address.

[Music]

Beckley: One source claims that “her first attempt to speak in public…was a fiasco when she managed only to choke and then sit down, overcome.” While this may have been true, she very quickly found her courage; after one of her earliest forays into lecturing, she said:

Voice actor reading from Wallace:  the moment I began to speak all terror left me, and the devotion I felt for my theme gave me an almost superhuman confidence.

Beckley: Almost at once, Wallace became widely known as a powerful and eloquent public speaker. One Washington D.C. Newspaper described her during a speech given at the National Suffrage Convention of 1887:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: As she stood upon the platform, holding her hearers as in her hand, she looked a veritable queen in Israel in the personification of womanly dignity and lofty bearing. The line of her argument was irresistible, and her eloquence and pathos perfectly bewildering. Round after round of applause greeted her as she poured out her words with telling effect upon the great congregation before her…

[Transition music]

Beckley: Wallace did not live to see the prohibition era. However, through her temperance work, she became the catalyst of a similar outcome, on a much smaller scale, within her own church. Years into her temperance crusade, Zerelda Wallace stood up in her Disciples of Christ church service and announced that she found it inconsistent with the congregation’s beliefs to use wine for communion and that she would no longer take communion unless unfermented grape juice was substituted. The church council, which Wallace was a member of, met and it was decided that the Indianapolis church would no longer use fermented wine for communion. In short order, all Disciples of Christ churches in America followed suit.

Temperance wasn’t the only cause Zerelda Wallace dedicated the later years of her life to. We’ll get to Wallace’s work in woman’s suffrage after we take a quick break.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: We’re always looking for ways to learn, improve, and grow here at Talking Hoosier History. If you’d like to help us in that goal, please consider taking our online survey! You can find the survey on our website at in.gov/history/talkinghoosierhistory. For the survey, we’ll ask you to re-listen to 3 of our episode and answer just 2 questions about each. Once you complete the survey, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Murder and Money in the Gilded Age, the book featured in the author interview episode. That’s right: you could win a free book for answering just 6 questions. Once again, to find the survey visit in.gov/history/talkinghoosierhistory. Now, let’s get back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: When first reading about Zerelda Wallace, one thing that really stuck in my mind was her dramatic transformation from temperance worker to suffragist. This “conversion story,” as it’s called in some sources, depicts the one moment when she shifted from a temperance leader to a suffrage leader. In doing more research on her life, I’ve found that it wasn’t so much a conversion; that word implies that she left one cause behind when she took up the next. In reality, her suffrage work developed out of her temperance work, just as her temperance work developed out of her faith. Nevertheless, suffragists discussed this watershed moment in Wallace’s political involvement even many years after her death.

Her “great awakening” as some have called it, took place in 1875 in the Indiana State House. Wallace and other Indiana WCTU leaders presented a petition signed by 10,000 women from around the state. Wallace took the floor and delivered what was by many accounts a very persuasive and moving argument for temperance. She was met with open contempt and derision from the senators; one senator rose and declared that her petition “might as well have been signed by ten thousand mice.” He went on, saying that the lawmakers were there “not to represent their consciences, but to represent their constituents.” Wallace walked away from the experience changed. She later described it as a light breaking over her…Why wasn’t she a constituent? She was an adult citizen of Indiana. She was affected by the laws these men were making. So why did she not have the right to influence those laws? She later summed up these thoughts beautifully,

Voice actor reading from Wallace: If we women are citizens, if we are governed, if we are a part of the people, according to the plain declarations of the fundamental principles which underlie this nation, we are as much entitled to vote as you, and you cannot make an argument against us that would not disfranchise yourselves.

Beckley: So, on that day, she added suffrage to her agenda, as she saw that temperance wouldn’t be achieved if women didn’t have the vote. Before leaving the State House, she found the offending senator and thanked him for making her a suffragist.

[Modern music]

Wallace’s suffrage work, much like her Temperance advocacy, was very moderate. To modern ears, some of her speeches are maddening. She often massaged the egos of the men she was speaking to, expounding on their accomplishments and expressing gratitude to them for building the great world around her. But it’s important not to bring a modern bias into analysis of a 19th century figure. Wallace’s views may best be understood through the lens of republican motherhood.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Republican motherhood is a term used by historians to describe ideas that go back to 18th century philosophers, including John Locke, whose work, as previously mentioned, Wallace was familiar with. Simply put, republican motherhood turned woman’s domestic and moral roles into an argument for political power. The thinking went like this: Women raise boys into men and so presumably have a hand in shaping their political and moral identities. Surely, then, women who are able to participate in the political system not only raise more politically savvy men, but also introduce into politics that same morality that they instill into their children. It was a way for women to gain more political power without threatening the existing patriarchal system. Wallace’s background fit perfectly into this school of thought; it was only after she fulfilled her duties as wife and mother that she began devoting her time to social reform. She didn’t shirk her domestic responsibilities to take up politics. And it was only for moral betterment that she took up the cause at all. In short, she was a perfect picture of republican motherhood.

[Transition music]

Beckley: We can see many of these ideas reflected clearly in speech she delivered in 1890:

Voice actor reading Wallace: …pre-eminently woman is the teacher of the race; in virtue of her motherhood she is the character builder; she forms the soul life; she rears the generations. It is not part of woman’s work to contend with man for supremacy over the material forces. It was never told to woman that she should earn her bread by the sweat of her brow.

Beckley: Using these sentiments, Wallace attempted to steer Indiana and the nation towards greater equality. In May 1875, just months after she had stood in front of the Indiana senate with her temperance petition, Wallace began to incorporate suffrage sentiments into her temperance speeches. She presented a resolution at the second temperance convention in Cincinnati calling for a national vote of men and women on the issue of prohibition, subtly calling for universal suffrage. Due in large part to her astute manner of speaking on the issue, the measure passed, and even gained support from anti-suffragists. From there, Wallace began traveling the country stumping for the cause of universal suffrage. These activities both increased her prominence within the movement and provided her with a much needed income.

Wallace was by no means a pioneer in the fight for suffrage equality. As far back as 1851, there was enough interest in the cause to warrant the formation of the Indiana Woman’s Rights Association. Unfortunately, though, the movement had stagnated due to the Civil War. In March 1878, May Wright Sewell, probably Indiana’s most prominent suffragist, discreetly circulated a summons to Hoosiers with “advanced ideas” about women’s rights to a meeting where a new organization would be formed. Ten people, including Zerelda Wallace attended that first, rather secretive meeting. The only matter decided, though, was the name; The Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association, a name which the group agonized over, debating whether to state their goal openly in the name or to mask their intentions. Obviously, they decided on the first option and set another meeting for April, in Wallace’s living room.

That second meeting was much more fruitful; the 26 attendees drafted a constitution and elected Zerelda Wallace president. Unsurprisingly, this new organization shunned the more radical approaches taken by other entities, such as open protest and rabble-rousing speeches. Rather, they worked within the established system, one which Wallace became familiar with through her late husband. The Association turned to lobbying, organized letter-writing campaigns, well-reasoned speeches, and projected an overall reserved version of the suffrage movement in order to achieve their goals.

In 1881, their calm determination paid off; The Indiana General Assembly voted in favor of woman’s suffrage. However, the proposed amendment required the resolution to pass in the next General Assembly and by 1883, the close connection between suffrage and temperance swayed enough assembly members away from the cause that the measure failed to pass. With that great disappointment behind her, Wallace kept at her work on both the state and national level.

In the late 1880s, the national suffrage movement was split over ideology. On one side, there was the National Woman Suffrage Association, or NWSA, which sought a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. The NWSA also campaigned for other issues, not directly related to suffrage. On the other side was the American Woman’s Suffrage Association, or AWSA, which fought solely for suffrage on a state to state basis. Until this point, Wallace and the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association had stayed apart from any other suffrage group but, perhaps due to the continued failure of the group, despite monumental effort, to get suffrage passed in Indiana, it was decided that The Association would join the NWSA in the fight for a constitutional amendment in 1887. Soon after, Wallace was elected the vice-president of the NWSA. In a speech at the National Suffrage Convention of 1887, Wallace made quite the impression, saying:

Voice actor reading from Wallace: It took a hundred years and a Civil War to evolve the principle in our nation that all men were created free and equal. Will it require another century and another Civil War before there is secured to humanity the God-given inalienable right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?’” “Men say women are not fit to govern because they cannot fight. When men live upon a very low plane so there is only one way to manage them and that is to knock them on the head that is true. It probably was true of government in the beginning, but we are able to grow up out of this low state.” “I have nothing but pity for that woman who can fold her hands and say she has all the rights she wants.

Beckley: Wallace continued to travel the US speaking in favor of universal suffrage until she was forced to retire to her daughter’s home near Cloverdale, in Putnam County after collapsing on-stage in 1888.

Unfortunately, Wallace did not live long enough to see the actualization of the two causes she had dedicated her life to as she died on March 19, 1901. On January 1, 1920, the United States of America went dry after the passage of the 18th amendment. Less than a year later, on November 2, 1920, the first presidential election in which all Americans, regardless of gender, could legally vote, was held.

Wallace’s republican motherhood-esqe take on the suffrage issue may not fit well into today’s views of women’s roles in politics, but her measured, thoughtful, and principled approach to the subject is what made her such an effective advocate. She could, and did, go into a room full of anti-suffragists and give a speech appealing to their hearts, to their minds, and, most importantly, to their morality and leave some changed opinions in her wake. Someone more radical, who pushed more boundaries, may not have had such success.

After Wallace’s 1901 death, a “meeting of women” was organized to pay tribute to the respected reformer. One speaker explained how she was able to accomplish so much: “This woman, with her wonderful clearness of vision, was able to see the end from the beginning. She organized, encouraged, and inspired her comrades. She infused loyalty into the ranks by her own loyalty – loyalty to husband, children, loyalty to the thing she believed…loyalty in Christ.”

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been talking Hoosier History. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, in this episode, she had her voice acting debut as Zerelda Wallace. And thanks to Justin Clark, the voice of all newspapers here on the podcast. Remember you have a chance to win a FREE book by taking our survey. You can find the survey at in.gov/history/talkinghoosierhistory. Stay connected on by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Books

Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Pg. 1708-1409

Cady, Elizabeth and Anthony, Susan. History of Woman Suffrage, Volumes I-V. Rochester: Anthony, 1887-1902.

James, Edward. Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. Pg 535-536.

Riker, Dorothy. Messages and Papers of David Wallace. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1963.

Rudolph, L.C. Hoosier Faiths: A History of Indiana’s Churches and Religious Groups. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Pg 61-106.

Articles

Kerber, Linda. “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment: An American Perspective.” American Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Summer, 1976): 187-205

Vogelgesang, Susan. “Zerelda Wallace: Indiana’s Conservative Radical.” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Vol4 No. 3 (Summer 1992): 34-41

Other

Zerelda G. Wallace Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau

Special Thanks

                Jill Weiss

                                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. In this episode, Jill also played the part of Zerelda Wallace, making her voice acting debut.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes

Featured Historical Songs:

Edwin Christie, “Daughters of Freedom,” performed by Music for the Nation Singers, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1871.7102334

Jimmie Rodger and Andrew Jenkins, “A Drunkard’s Child,” Victor Records, Discography of American Historical Recordings, accessed https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/800027555/BVE-56618-A_drunkards_child

Other Audio:

Hyde, “Acoustically Driven Instrumental,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube https://goo.gl/2j3R1K

Joakim Harud, “Say Good Night,” Audio Library – No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube https://goo.gl/h8FWhz

Myuu, “You,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube https://goo.gl/2j3R1K

Crimson Mourn, “Your Heart Beats Like Mine,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube https://goo.gl/2j3R1K

OrangeHead, “Acoustic Inspiring,” No Copyright Music, Royalty Free Music, accessed YouTube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWWppImxYnk

AShamaluevMusic, “Cinematic Background Music,” No Copyright Music, accessed Soundcloud http://bit.ly/2jIWObD

Roby Ardiyansah, “Cinematic Film Scores” Framelens AudioVisual, accessed YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x4cdpTwPck

Huma-Huma, “Clouds,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube http://goo.gl/YmnOAx

Jingle Punks, “The Story Unfolds,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube http://goo.gl/YmnOAx

Kevin MacLeod, “Americana,” Free Music Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IaMpW7Op-AI

THH Episode 8: Haunted Hoosier History: Ghost Stories for the Pages of History

Transcript for Haunted Hoosier History: Ghost Stories from the Pages of History

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from original research

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss:

[Wind howling, fire crackling]

Lindsey Beckley: Ghost stories go back…way way back into the depths of history. All the way back through oral traditions and to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. In the Torah, King Saul has the witch of Endor summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel. And Roman Author Pliny the Younger of the first century A.D. penned one of the earliest widely known ghost stories.

[Creepy music]

Beckley: In the late 19th and early 20th century, American newspapers were one means of spreading popular ghostly tales. With the rise of spiritualism, which is a belief in the possibility of communication between the world of the living and that of the dead, interest in paranormal activity in general was on the rise, making ghost stories very popular with readers. In this episode of Talking Hoosier History we will share just a few of the many tales of terror hidden in the pages of historical newspapers.

[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 guiding you through some of history’s ghost tales…if you dare…

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Now, before we get started, I wanted to give a bit of a warning. I’ll be telling some rather spooky stories in this episode and a few do include violence. If you don’t like scary stories, perhaps this episode isn’t for you. If you do like scary stories…well, get some popcorn and shut off the lights and brace yourself for some historical horrors!

[Whispering]

Beckley: Let’s turn the clock back to the late nineteenth century. First, we visit the The Society for the Advancement of the Belief in Ghosts, in Montgomery County, Indiana. Otherwise known as the Crawfordsville Ghost Club. The following account of the club was found in the October 31, 1891 issue of the Sacramento, Record-Union.

The society was founded on All Hallows eve in 1887. Every year, new members were inducted on the anniversary of its founding, and each new member had to meet one qualification: they had to swear to have seen, with their own two eyes, an apparition…a spook…a specter…a haunt…a ghost. At the meetings, held every two weeks, club members gathered to hear a new tale of a spectral encounter recited by one of their fellows. As if the topic of the talks wasn’t eerie enough, the club-room or “ghost lounge” as they called it, was downright spine-chilling. Walls, floors, ceilings, and even windows were covered in white. In contrast, every piece of furniture was “black as midnight.” In each corner of the room there was a skeleton and in the skull of each skeleton, a lamp glowed red. These ghastly watchmen provided the only light of the chamber.

It was in these ominous surroundings that believers shared stories of ghosts and poltergeists. One member shared a story of a haunted mill in Yountsville. Through a series of unfortunate events, a man had been separated from his hunting partners and caught in a storm. He took refuge in an old abandoned mill. The Record-Union relayed what happened next in vivid detail:

Voice actor reading account from Record-Union: “It must have been almost midnight when I was awakened by hearing my horse in the room below give a terrified scream which sounded almost human. Before I was fairly awake I heard him tearing from the mill-room out into the night. The rain had ceased to fall, and the last beams of the declining moon lighted up the large room through its one great window with an unearthly glow. Startled by the commotion made by my horse, I sat up in my corner, and was in the act of raising my hands to rub my eyes when I fell back in a helpless heap, for coming up the stairway from below I saw a ghost!

An old man with a set and care-worn face, a fierce, haunted light shining in the eyes, which seemed to see nothing, a trembling hand which drew tightly around his slight, bent form a bright scarlet cloak – that was a ghost. Overpowered with conflicting emotions I sat breathlessly watching my strange companion from another sphere. He saw me not, but, murmuring and gibbering to himself, began to pace the room. I could not distinguish all his speech, but “ruin! Ruin! Ruin!” was the burden of the self-communication. At first he passed quite close to me as he walked about the musty wareroom but gradually his circle became smaller and smaller as he nearer the center. Finally he paused almost at the edge of the chute and groaned. I was gazing intently at him, when suddenly he took a forward step, and like a flash shot down the chute with a shriek, which still is ringing in my ears. This cry broke the spell which bound me, and leaping to my feet I rushed down the stairs and fled out through the bushes, which were dripping with water, and which cut and chilled me as I brushed them hurriedly aside. I paused not until I reached out camp, and fell almost fainting among my companions, who had been awakened by the arrival of my horse some time before, and who were just preparing to set out in search of me.

Beckley: The next day, the narrator returned to the mill with two companions. Upon examining the room where the episode occurred, they found the scarlet cloak discarded on the floor. One of his companions declared that it had been no ghost but a distraught and deranged man the narrator had encountered. Looking for proof, he prodded a stick down the chute. He encountered an obstruction, which he investigated further by prying open the chute. There, long dead and mummified, they found the corpse of the miller, his skin yellowed and his face still bearing the traces of the agony which filled him in the last moments of his life.

In our next story, we visit another hunting party. But unlike the narrator of our last story, this party is hunting not game…but ghosts. But first, let’s take a quick break.

 

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: If you’d like to read stories similar to those we’re sharing today, you can find many many more with Chronicling America, the Historic American newspaper digitization program from the Library of Congress. For example, the article “How We Explored a Haunted House” appears in the October 25, 1919 issue of the Richmond Palladium. This, along with over 12 million pages of newspapers can be keyword searched, online for free at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. That’s chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. Read yesteryear’s news today.

[Advertisement music]

[Thunder and ominous music]

Beckley: In January, 1909, the town of Goshen, Indiana was plagued by a spectral being, or perhaps even a host of them, as the descriptions of the so called “specter spook” varied wildly in different telling’s. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette covered the story. First reports described the phantom as a tall woman dressed all in white. Residents claimed that when they addressed the apparition, it would respond in a “subdued and quiet manner.” Later, the wraith returned clad in black with a fashionable head covering upon her head. Many residents claimed to have witnessed her nighttime prowling’s; one newspaper headline even declared “Hundreds Saw the Goshen Ghost.” Two Goshen locals had such a close encounter with the visitor, they were able to describe her to The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette as: “a short woman, heavy set, of dark complexion, with neat-fitting clothing, and prominent nose, with sharp, black eyes.”

Later, the citizens of Goshen banned together for a ghost hunt:

Voice actor reading from the Journal-Gazette: Wednesday night was moonlight and the young men and boys organized for a ghost hunt. They surrounded the district and closed into a common center, a pair travelling through every alley and street. Two saw the ghost…both fired point blank at it. Others drawn by the shots and shouts joined in the pursuit in vain. The ghost led the crowd a chase of five blocks, making no sound, and disappeared.

Beckley: Perhaps the hunt succeeded in driving the ghost away as there were no further reports of ghostly activity in the Journal-Gazette. But the Hoosier hauntings continued elsewhere.

[Whispering]

Beckley: The citizens of Goshen weren’t the only ones who thought gunshots could solve their ghostly problems. Next, we visit a farm on the outskirts of Yorktown in Delaware County where the paranormal activity was a daily occurrence for the 1901 residents.

[Ominous music]

Beckley: That November, two newspapermen from the Indianapolis News were discussing the topic of ghosts. In their conversation, a house where “all kinds of funny things” happen was brought up and decided that that was just the sort of place they needed to visit for their next story.

[Thunder]

Beckley: Upon their arrival at the infamous home, which was located about a mile from the village of Yorktown, they saw one of the handsomest buildings in the area, despite it being rather lonesome looking.  They introduced themselves to the Burgess family, a young couple and their 6 year old son. The family had lived there for over 6 years and had amassed quite the collection of spooky stories in that time.

Long before the young family took up residence in the home, a village doctor named Cyrus Black lived there. The story of the doctor’s death, which was printed in the newspaper, is too graphic for us to share here; it is enough to know that his life came to a tragic end at his own hand in that rather lonesome, yet stately house near Yorktown. However, the doctor never left the home. The Burgesses told reporters,

Voice actor reading from newspaper account: There are a lot of people around here that have seen the ‘haunt’ and they all believe in it. Of course, I don’t know what it is, but some strange things have happened since we have lived here… I have heard groans coming from that room upstairs, and I have heard things rolling over the floor and the sound of music, just like someone was playing the violin. And I have heard people laugh and foot-falls on the stairs as of someone were coming down, but no one ever appeared.

[Violin music and thunder]

Beckley: Aside from these occurrences, there was a more physical reminder of the tragic event which occurred in the home. At the top of the narrow, dark, winding stairway, there was a storeroom. The investigators gathered in the dimly lit room and Mr. Burgess stated that it was in that very room that the tragic events unfolded on that night so long ago, and it was from that room that most of the sounds emanated. Pulling back an old mattress, a large, dark stain was revealed. Burgess claimed that the stain was from the lifeblood of the good doctor pooling on the hardwood floors.

[Creepy sound effects]

Reports of a headless horseman in Yorktown were also connected with the death of good doctor Black, although he was buried with his head still attached so it’s unclear how he came to be a headless haunt, so perhaps the rider was a different spirit altogether. When asked if he had ever seen the headless horseman, Mr. Burgess replied

Voice actor reading newspaper account: A number of times…I have shot at him often, but I never have been able to hit him. He rides a sort of dark horse, just like the doctor used to ride, and he is sort of thin and misty like, and has no head. He generally starts at the barn, but I have seen him out in the road there in front of the house.

Beckley: When the newspapermen asked if he or his family are afraid of the ghostly entities he answered:

Voice actor reading newspaper account: Not a little bit. A ghost can’t hurt anyone, and as long as I know it can’t hurt anyone I am not afraid of it.

Beckley: It seems to me, though, that a man so confident that a spirit cannot hurt him would not waste good bullets shooting after a galloping ghost.

Another haunting that originated with a tragic death can be found in the pages of The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in 1907.

Well known Hartford city farmer Edward Preston Sanderson went missing on October 22, 1904. Nine days later, on October 31st, fittingly enough, his body was found in a nearby pond, weighed down with stones. Several people were arrested, charged, and convicted of his murder, but that’s not where his story ended. Over 2 years after his untimely death, reports of a haunting began to surface.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Sunday night at about 1:30 George Upton… and a young lady were returning in a buggy from a visit to friends in the country. When they reached the place, near the water street bridge, where shortly after the finding of Sanderson’s body in the Croninger pond spots of blood showed the body had been dragged in order to reach the pond, Upton saw what seemed to be a man crouching down by the fence at the side of the road. Before he reached the bridge he saw the man standing erect at the roadside but as he came opposite the figure it crouched down as if to escape observation.

Beckley: He may have thought nothing of the incident, except for the fact that his companion, sitting right next to him, saw nothing of the figure lurking in the dark.

Voice actor reading from newspaper fades in: Upton was positive that he saw it and the more he thought of it, the more mysterious it seemed. What made him the more confident that his eyes had not deceived him was that his horse shied at the object and came near running away.

Beckley: Once Upton came told of his experiences, several other residents came forward with similar stories; they were riding at night and passed a lurking figure that seemingly only one person in the group could see. Two different theories were put forward to explain these experiences. One, the restless spirit of Edward Sanderson was returning to the place his body was dragged across the road. And two, the figure was actually a human being, Sanderson’s murderer who escaped justice while others were tried for his crimes. He was returning to the scene of the crime either in remorse or in order to relive his crime. Either way, I’d certainly stay off that stretch of road in the wee hours of the morning.

[Creepy music]

That’s all the time we have today for spooky stories; remember, you can read more ghost stories from the pages of history with the newspaper digitization program Chronicling America at chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, and to Justin Clark, the voice of all newspapers here on the podcast. If you want to stay connected, you can find us on facebook at Talking Hoosier History and on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist that’s H-I-S-T. And if you want to help us grow, please subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Haunted Hoosier History: Chost Stories from the Pages of History

Newspapers

                “Body Found in Pond and Weighted Down.” The Star Press, November 1, 1904.

“Death Frees Cook From Reformatory.” Muncie Evening Press, April 6, 1907.

“Tale of a Hoosier Haunted House.” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901.

“The Ghost Club.” The Record-Union, October 31, 1891.

“The Haunted Farm-House.” The Indianapolis Journal, July 24, 1892.

“Hundreds Saw The Goshen Ghost.” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, February 7, 1909.

“See Pres Sanderson’s Ghost?” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, March 3, 1907.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the outstanding sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. From selecting awesome music and sound effects to setting up equipment to uploading content, Jill is a Jack of all trades!

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. Justin is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. In this episode, you heard his very best Vincent Price impression! If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

THH Episode 7: Spanish Influenza: The Dead Malady Hits Indiana

Transcript for Spanish Influenza: The Dread Malady Hits Indiana

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Military music and marching]

Lindsey Beckley: Imagine this: it’s the year 1918. You’ve got a job, a family, a home. You’ve put down roots in an Indiana town. Suddenly, there are reports of an unexpected threat looming on the horizon. At first, public officials downplay the danger but you can hear the whispers of coming attacks. You read newspaper reports on how best to keep you and your loved ones safe. You see reports of the first casualties. Next, you hear the call to service. Knowing all too well the dangers involved, you answer that call. You leave your home, your family. You wear a uniform to serve your county. The nation is at war, but you’re no soldier. You’re a nurse. And the enemy isn’t a mass of men in some foreign land. It’s the flu. And it has come to Indiana. On this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll discuss the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Indianapolis.

[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.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: In his memoirs, Doctor Victor C. Vaughan wrote that

Voice actor reading from Vaughan:[Influenza] encircled the world, visited the remotest corners, taking toll of the most robust, sparing neither soldier nor civilian, and flaunting its red flag in the face of science.

Beckley: While his words are accurate, they fail to capture completely the death and destruction wrought by this malady. It’s hard, really, to convey the magnitude of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic. The numbers are almost too high to comprehend; even conservative estimates say 50 million people succumbed to the flu itself or to the pneumonia that often followed in its wake.  That’s almost 5 times the number of military deaths in all of World War 1, in just half the time.

Not only unique for the extraordinarily high number of people it killed, the 1918 strain of influenza was also unusual for who it killed. Historically, influenza is only deadly to the very young, the very old, and those already weakened by another illness. In contrast, the 1918 strain often killed healthy individuals from 20 to 40 years old, making it seem as though no one was safe from the ravages of the disease. This unique characteristic had another consequence; those men and women who were tasked with caring for the sick and dying were themselves susceptible to the illness.

Scientists now believe that the origin of the pandemic was most likely at a crowded army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. As the troops from that camp were shipped out to join “the war to end all wars” they came into close contact with other soldiers, spreading the virus throughout Europe.

While the governments of most European nations censored reports of the outbreak, Spain did not. As a result, newspaper reports made it seem as if Spain was particularly hard hit by the first of the three waves of the virus, Thus, the strain was dubbed “The Spanish Flu.” Indiana was untouched by that first wave of the pandemic, which started in March 1918. We wouldn’t be so lucky during the next wave.

[Somber music]

Beckley: In August 1918, the War Department announced that the majority of Fort Benjamin Harrison, just 9 miles north east of Downtown Indianapolis, would be converted into General Hospital 25. Workers began to make accommodations for the care of a few hundred soldiers who would be returning from the European front wounded and “shell shocked.” But those beds would not be filled with causalities of war. Instead, they began to fill with soldiers who were falling ill.

On September 26, the Indianapolis News reported influenza outbreaks at 2 Indianapolis area military training detachments; 125 cases were reported at the detachment station at the State School for the Deaf and 60 cases at Fort Benjamin Harrison. While the Deaf School was quarantined, state and city officials reassured citizens that this was not the deadly Spanish influenza, and that an epidemic was not feared. While those reassurances were on the front page, page 22 of the same paper told a bleaker tale.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: [Spanish Influenza] is not yet epidemic in Indiana – only a few mild cases reported and no deaths. It has invaded several of our training camps and will doubtless become epidemic in civil life.

Beckley: And just below that, the secretary of the State Board of Health, Dr. John Hurty, gave advice on how to prevent the flu:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Don’t worry, don’t feast, don’t hurry, don’t fret…Eat only plain foods avoid riotous eating of flesh.

Beckley:  Despite such advice and the efforts made to stop the epidemic before it started, the city would be teeming with infected individuals in just a matter of weeks. Newspaper reports provide a near daily account of the epidemic in the city and in nearby military camps throughout September and October 1918. Each day, the reports from the Indianapolis News grew more dire.

Day one – September 26, 1918 – Fort Benjamin Harrison reports 60 cases. No infected Indianapolis citizens.

Day two – September 27, 1918 – Indianapolis Mayor Charles Jewett directs preventative measure be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.

He ordered:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  All public places – hotel lobbies, theatres, railway stations, and street cars – placed at once in thorough sanitary condition by fumigation and cleansing.

Beckley: He also directed the Indianapolis police chief to strictly enforce an ordinance against spitting on the sidewalks, a practice thought to spread influenza. Despite city officials’ best efforts, the flu had spread to the civilian population.

Day 5 September 30, 1918 – Four civilian influenza cases are reported in Indianapolis; 500 cases of “respiratory disease,” which may be influenza are reported at Ft. Benjamin Harrison:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Dr. Herman G. Morgan, secretary of the city board of health, said the reporting of only a few cases should convince the public of the urgent need of co-operating with the health authorities to the fullest extent in the effort to keep the disease from spreading.

Beckley: Dr. Morgan urged the public to avoid crowds and called on anyone who developed a cold to take steps to cure it “before it gets to the stage where influenza germs have easy sailing.”

At Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Military officials reported a shortage of trained nursing staff to newspapers. With 500 cases of “respiratory disease”, the hospital was already well over their 300 bed capacity and was pulling from the ranks of medical personnel stationed at the base to care for the sick since only 20 nurses were left in the camp; the others had been sent to help at a different camp which was also in the throes of the epidemic.

Day 6 – October 1, 1918 – 10 new civilian influenza cases reported, bringing the total to 14. At Ft. Benjamin Harrison, officers are confident that the outbreak is under control. Citizens rush to buy disinfectants to combat the spread of disease.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Medical officers were confident the disease is under control and will soon be overcome. There have been no deaths. In fact, many of the cases recorded as influenza, under other circumstances would be regarded bad colds.

Beckley: A mere one percent drop in newly reported cases prompted the officers at Ft. Ben to release that statement to the Indianapolis news, most likely to reassure the civilian population that all was under control and to quell their fears. Although no deaths had been publicly reported in the city or even in the fort, Indianapolis newspapers ran stories of uncontrollable outbreaks of disease in other cities, outbreaks which often started at an outbreak at a military base. And the reports were starting to hit close to home; Hoosier soldiers stationed at a base in the Great Lakes region had contracted the flu, and several had already died.  Perhaps it was understandable, then, that community leaders were attempting to keep people calm while encouraging them to take steps to protect themselves. Unfortunately, the methods used were not up to the task of warding off the escalating crisis.

Day 12 – October 7, 1918 – Death tolls begin to rise. Public meetings are forbidden. Civilian nurses volunteer to treat the sick at Ft. Harrison

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  A sweeping order prohibiting public gatherings of five or more persons was issued today…as part of the program to prevent an epidemic of influenza in Indianapolis.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: As the number of cases increased and death tolls rose, the city board of health took action by banning public gatherings. This was a bold move which affected theatres, churches, and even schools. Learning from the mistakes other cities had made, Indianapolis city officials took decisive, cohesive action in the face of mounting tragedy. While their actions almost undoubtedly saved lives, at least 10 civilians had died by this point as well as 41 soldiers in the military camps. Ten of those deaths occurred all in a single night at Fort Harrison.

The medical staff shortages were becoming more problematic as more and more young people fell ill. The Indianapolis News reported that “soldier boys are dying for lack of trained help.” To try to fill the void, newspapers began to print pleas for trained nurses to volunteer at Fort Harrison and other military bases. Many Indiana women responded to that call.

[Inspirational music]

Beckley: Student nurses from the Lutheran hospital in Fort Wayne were among the first to answer the call, as reported in the Fort Wayne Sentinel.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Willing to risk their lives in the nation’s service in helping combat the ravages of Spanish Influenza, ten Lutheran hospital nurses left the city…for Fort Benjamin Harrison…where they will enter service in the military base hospital, which is very urgently in need of qualified nurses…as fifteen of the army medical officers…are stricken with the dread malady.

Beckley: The story of these nurses who volunteered to care for the sick, knowing full well that they risked their lives doing so, must have been a familiar one to readers of the day – indeed, thousands of young people were doing just that when volunteering for the war effort – but to me, this is perhaps the most poignant moment in this story. Dozens of young women were willing to jeopardize their lives to help the sick. In fact, two of the 10 nurses from that article did lose their lives to the “dread malady.”  Yet, while soldiers returned home to parades in the streets, these women quietly returned to their lives. They weren’t the only ones to stand against the flu. Regular citizens from across the state banded together to combat the illness. But before we get to that, let’s take a quick break.

[Advertisement music]

If you’re listening to this, you probably love Hoosier history as much as we do. Can’t get enough? Check out our blog, Blogging Hoosier History for compelling, informative posts covering a wide range of topics. If you want to read more about the Spanish Influenza in Indiana, look no further. Much of the content of this episode comes from the post “War, Plague, and Courage: Spanish Influenza at Fort Benjamin Harrison & Indianapolis.” If you’re interested in other affects the epidemic had on Indiana, “Guns, Germs, and Indiana Athletics, 1917-1920: How Did the Great War and the Great Pandemic Affect Indiana Sports?” might be the post for you! Find those posts and more at blog.history.in.gov. Now back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

[Transitional music]

Day 13 – October 8, 1918 – “Citizens Join Hands to Stamp out Flu.” Officials are optimistic that compliance with meeting ban will keep illness in check.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: They believe the situation is well in hand and it is felt that the prohibition of all meetings and gatherings will be a definite step toward arresting the epidemic.

The citizens of Indianapolis banded with the city officials in the efforts to stave off the epidemic. Normal life in the city must have ground to a halt with so many establishments closed. Bulletins printed by the Indiana State Board of Health contained useful recommendations and give a glimpse into what it must have been like to be ill in Indianapolis at the time. Here is an example of such a bulletin:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:   INFLUENZA: How to avoid it – How to care for those who have it. The Following suggestions of the Indiana State Board of Health may prove of immeasurable value to any man or woman who will read, remember and act upon them in the present great emergency…What to do until the doctor comes: If you feel a sudden chill, followed by muscular pain, headache, backache, unusual tiredness and fever GO TO BED AT ONCE…

Open all windows in your bedroom and keep them open at all times, except in rainy weather.

Take medicine to open the bowels freely.

Take some nourishing foods such as milk, egg-and-milk or broth every four hours.

Stay in bed until a physician tells you that it is safe to get up.

Allow no one else to sleep in the same room,

Insist that whoever gives you water or food or enters the sick room for any other purpose shall wear a gauze mask, which may be obtained from the Red Cross or may be made at home…

Beckley: These instructions were posted in public places, reprinted in newspapers, and even reproduced in pocket sized folders to be distributed throughout the state and country. While many are good suggestions, the contagion, it seemed, could not be stopped.

Day 17 – October 12, 1918 – 6000 cases of influenza in the state. Restrictions of businesses increase. The influenza epidemic is peaking in Indianapolis.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: All retail stores in the district bounded by North, South, East, and West streets…will open at 9:45 a.m. and close at 6:15 p.m.….under orders issued today by the city board of health…the purpose of the order is to prevent crowding of the street cars

Beckley: With the plague still spreading, Indianapolis officials expanded the ban on public meetings to so called “dry saloons” which were Prohibition Era gathering spots. All businesses, with the exceptions of wartime production plants, grocery stores, and pharmacies, had their hours restricted in order to stagger arrival and departure times of commuters to the city; factory workers, grocers, and druggists would arrive first, followed by retail workers and shoppers. Stores were forbidden to have sales, yet another measure to prevent crowding in the city. At this point in the epidemic, Indiana State Board of Health officials also started carrying cards reading “Quarantine, Influenza,”, and would post them on the doors of the sick. While the cards did not put the homes under a strict quarantine, as was done in some other cities, they did serve as a warning to anyone contemplating a visit.

Day 24 – October 19, 1918 – Civilian and military deaths continue to mount

Voice actor reading from newspaper:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  The Influenza-pneumonia record among the civilian population of Indianapolis and in the army camps in and near the city follows, the figures on new deaths and new cases being for the last 24 hours: Civilian population: New cases: 252. Total: 2,942; new deaths; 28. Total: 198. Ft. Benjamin Harrison; New cases: 12. Total: 2948; new deaths, 4. Total: 165.

Beckley: Day 29 October 24, 1918 – First signs of the end of this wave the epidemic surface, despite rises in new civilian cases.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: A decrease in the number of new influenza patients admitted at Fort Harrison was shown for the 24 hours ending last night, only four being reported.

[Hopeful music]

Beckley: Finally, there appeared a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Fort Benjamin Harrison reported a vast decrease in the number of new cases reported. Since the Fort was struck before the city, citizens must have looked to this as a sign of hope. Still, the malady persisted; while only 4 new cases and 4 new deaths had been reported at the fort, the city reported 275 new cases and 12 new deaths. Ever cautious, city health officials urged flu victims to stay at home for treatment if possible. With hospitals overburdened and rooms crowded with as many beds as possible, it was often more safe and more comfortable to be cared for in the home…as long as proper precaution was taken by caregivers, of course.

Day 35 October 30, 1918 – Bans and restrictions are lifted. New case numbers dwindling.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  The ‘flu’ ban will be lifted in Indianapolis tomorrow morning and business will resume its normal course with only the minor health rules enforced.

Beckley: Twenty-four days after the ban was first instituted, residents of Indianapolis were free to go about business as normal after the ban on public gatherings was lifted on November first. For the most part, the lifting of the ban signaled the end of the epidemic. There were some small resurgences of the illness in the coming months but nothing near as devastating as the October 1918 calamity. Just days later, the war which, at least in part, had facilitated the rapid spread of this dreaded disease, ended on November 11, 1918.

As the city began its return to normalcy, the damage was assessed. In just one month, Indiana had lost 3,266 lives to influenza. More than half of these people died in their prime, many with spouses and children. As a result, 3,020 children were orphaned in the state during the month of October.

While those numbers are grim, they could have been much worse. City leaders, business owners, and common citizens of Indiana and Indianapolis came together in a time of crisis, put away their differences and worked towards two common goals; keep people from contracting the flu when they could and treat those who had the flu as well as they could. This resulted in Indianapolis having one of the lowest epidemic death rates in the nation.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. This episode was based almost exclusively on the work of Jill Weiss. You can read her Blog Post “War, Plague, and Courage: Spanish Influenza at Fort Benjamin Harrison & Indianapolis” online at blog.history.in.gov. Jill also does all of the recording, editing, and mixing on the show. Basically, without her, I’d just be in a room talking to myself about Indiana History. Also, a thank you goes to Justin Clark of Hoosier State Chronicles who is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. And thanks to you for listening! If you haven’t already, please subscribe, rate, and review us on iTunes. It really helps us get our name out there!

Show Notes for Spanish Influenza: The Dread Malady Hits Indiana

Newspapers

                “Body Found in Pond and Weighted Down.” The Star Press, November 1, 1904.

“Death Frees Cook From Reformatory.” Muncie Evening Press, April 6, 1907.

“Tale of a Hoosier Haunted House.” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901.

“The Ghost Club.” The Record-Union, October 31, 1891.

“The Haunted Farm-House.” The Indianapolis Journal, July 24, 1892.

“Hundreds Saw The Goshen Ghost.” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, February 7, 1909.

“See Pres Sanderson’s Ghost?” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, March 3, 1907.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the outstanding sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. From selecting awesome music and sound effects to setting up equipment to uploading content, Jill is a Jack of all trades!

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. Justin is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. In this episode, you heard his very best Vincent Price impression! If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes

 

Indiana State Fair Highlights: Velocipedes, Lady Aviators, and “Better” Babies

Map of the 1852 Indiana State Fairgrounds. The first State Fair was held in what is today Military Park in downtown Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of “Indiana’s Best: An Illustrated Celebration of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.”

Indiana is, and always has been, an agricultural state. Nearly 50% of men were listed as farmers on the 1850 census and nearly thirteen million acres of farmland stretched across the Hoosier state. In order to foster the advancement of agricultural techniques, Governor Joseph Wright urged the Indiana General Assembly to establish the State Board of Agriculture, which it did in 1852. “An Act for the Encouragement of Agriculture” was approved on February 17, 1852 and read, in part:

“Be It Enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana…that it shall be the duty [of the societies formed under the provisions of this act] to offer and award premiums for the improvement of soils, tillage, crops, manures, improvements, stock, articles of domestic industry, and such other articles, productions and improvements, as they may deem proper…”

In order to “offer and award premiums,” the board needed to establish somewhere for farmers across the state to gather and display both their skills and the products of their skills. To this end, the first Indiana State Fair was held from October 20 to October 22, 1852. While the fair was established for the advancement of agriculture, many other attractions have graced state fair bulletins in the 165 years since that first state fair. Here, we explore just a few.

Velocipedestrianism


Illustration demonstrating the various forms of velocipedes in the late 19th and early 20th century. Image from Brockhaus’ Conversations-Lexikon: allegemeine deutsche, Volume 16. Accessed google books.

In 1869, one of the attractions found on the fairgrounds was “Velocipedestrianism.” A velocipede is any human-powered vehicle with wheels. Today, we might call them bicycles, though there were velocipedes with anywhere from one to five wheels. Early forms required the rider to propel the vehicle with their feet, but in the 1860s pedals were added, making them faster. There were nine entries in the “Mile Trial” at the 1869 state fair. The winner, W.V. Hoddy of Terre Haute, finished in 8 minutes, 45 seconds and took home a $50 premium for his efforts. There was also a competition for the “Most Artistic Management of [a] Velocipede” which only had three entries. Unfortunately, there is no mention of what made Willie Domm’s management of his velocipede so exceedingly artistic.

Illustration of 1860s Velocipede. The Plymouth Democrat, January 28, 1869, page 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

Mr. McGowan’s High Diving Horses


Advertisement for “World’s Famous” high diving horses. The Indianapolis Journal, June 1, 1901, page 6. Accessed Newspapers.com.

“Mr. E. J. McGowan was present and presented a bill for extra expense in connection with the diving horses contract.” This is the only hint found in the State Board of Agriculture Report of one spectacle which occurred at the 1904 Indiana State Fair: high diving horses. Newspapers give the story a bit more color; local business man Hugh McGowan bought two horses, named King and Queen, who had been trained to dive from a forty-five foot platform into a pool of water.

According to one article, “the method of training the animals was unique. When sucking colts, each was placed on a bluff overlooking a pond, on the other side of which were placed their mothers. At dining times, they were glad enough to make the leap and they have had to keep up the practice ever since.” The horses were a regular attraction at Fairview Park in Indianapolis as early as 1901 and were still doing regular dives as late at 1907.

Example of high diving horses. While this photo was not taken at the State Fair, the set-up was similar to that of the 1904 fair. Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Ruth Law: “Lady Aviator”


Newspapers announced the arrival of Ruth Law, an early American aviator, for the 1915 state fair with headlines like “Ruth Law, Lawless Skimmer of the Sky.” Most articles concentrated on her gender, noting that “she is just an ambitious, darling, feminine little slip . . . ” Unarguably ambitious, Law was one of only two female pilots in 1915 and had earned her flying certificate less than ten years after the Wright brother’s famed first flight. In fact, she bought her first biplane from Orville Wright himself. At the 1915 fair, she put on a grand show, performing “loop-to-loops,” daring dives, and buzzing the audience. She brought with her George Mayland, the “miraculous human fly,” who would accompany her on her flights to jump from the plane at a height of 2,000 feet and float to the ground on a parachute, to the amazement of the crowd. Law went on to break several flying records in her career, challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging a new generation of women to take to the skies.

Newspaper announcement of Ruth Law’s presence at the Indiana State Fair. The Brookville Democrat, August 12, 1915, page 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Better” Babies for Indiana


Better Babies Building on the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Today the building houses Hook’s Historic Drug Store and Pharmacy Museum. Photo courtesy of IUPUI.

The state fair of the 1920s facilitated the Better Babies Contest, overseen by the Board of Health and managed by Dr. Ada Schweitzer. These were not the baby contests of today, where babies are judged on their personalities and appearance. Rather, they were meticulously scored based on health and hygiene criteria. In her 2007 article “’We Cannot Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear’ Eugenics in the Heartland,” Alexandra Minna Stern described the contests:

“Before the event, infants were separated into groups based on age (12-24 months or 24-36 months), sex, and place of residence. Those categorized as city babies lived in places with 10,000 inhabitants or more, and those remaining were rural entrants. Once their children were registered, parents-usually mothers-came to the contest building at a designated time. As the mothers entered the building they handed their enrollment form to an attendant, who recorded their names. Then the baby was whisked to the next booth, where its overall health history was taken by a nurse. Mental tests designed for each age group followed, as psychologists observed if infants could stand, walk, speak, how they manipulated blocks and balls, and responded to questions such as “How does the doggie do?” and “Who is the baby in the mirror?” Mental tests completed, the babies were then undressed and their clothes placed in a paper bag and tagged. Identically robed in shaker flannel togas, each toddler was now weighed and measured. From here the baby was examined by an optometrist, a pediatrician, and an otolaryngologist, then weighed and measured a second time, and lastly, presented with a bronze medal on a blue ribbon, courtesy of the Indianapolis News.”

Doctors complete the physical examination of prospective better babies, 1931. Photo courtesy of Indiana Archives.

The scoring was scrupulous; each baby began the process with 1000 points and along the way, points were deducted for “physical defects” such as scaly skin, delayed teething, and abnormal ear size. Awards were given to those babies who scored the highest. Most “best babies” scored over 990. The highest score ever given was to Alma Louise Strohmeyer in 1923; she scored a whopping 999.92813.

Better Baby Contest advertisement, 1930. Courtesy of the Indiana State Library, accessed Indiana Memory.

On the surface, Dr. Schweitzer and the Indiana State Board of Health had admirable goals: to “lower infant and maternal death rates and to convince Indianans of the importance of scientific motherhood and child rearing.” However, underlying implications are less admirable. Through these contests, Dr. Schweitzer hoped to “breed” a new, better generation of Hoosiers. Many of her ideas came directly from the eugenics movement, which was popular across America in the early 20th century. The exclusion of African American and immigrant babies from the contests endorsed the widespread nativist and xenophobic ideas of the time. The assumption that socioeconomic standing was determined by genetics, and not environment, was central to sterilization laws implemented in the state. While Better Baby Contests ended in 1933, the eugenics movement persisted in the state for decades; Indiana’s last compulsory sterilization law was not repealed until 1974.


For more snippets of Indiana State Fair history, check out Episode 6 of Talking Hoosier History, “Stories from the Indiana State Fair.” In it, we explore five fair occurrences: when farmers gathered in 1852 to learn about the latest innovations and compete for prizes; the Victorian moral controversy behind treating people like objects via sideshows; the 1964 Beatles performance; Jessop’s Butterscotch Corn and the young woman who built the business out of the back of a wagon; and Hook’s Drug Store Museum.