Art and Controversy: Thomas Hart Benton, Herman B Wells, and the Indiana Murals

Content Note: This video reproduces a panel of art depicting the Ku Klux Klan. It appears at 10:55 in the video and continues to 11:55. Viewer discretion is advised.

Thomas Hart Benton, one of America’s premier artists during the twentieth century, painted series of murals about Indiana for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. A controversial collection of artworks, the Indiana Murals engaged viewers in a dialogue about Indiana’s complex history—a dialogue that continues to this day. The murals stayed in storage of the Indiana State Fairgrounds until someone believed they deserved a new home. That someone was Herman B Wells, the newly elected president of Indiana University.

Learn more Indiana History from the IHB: http://www.in.gov/history/

Search historic newspaper pages at Hoosier State Chronicles: www.hoosierstatechronicles.org

Visit our Blog: https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/

Visit Chronicling America to read more first drafts of history: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

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Credits:

Written and produced by Justin Clark. 

Music: “Fresno Alley” by Josh Lippi & The Overtimers, “Lazy Boy Blues” by Unicorn Heads, “Progressive Moments” by Ugonna Onyekwe, “Creeping Spiders” by Nat Keefe & BeatMower, and “Plenty Step” by Freedom Trail Studio

Continue reading “Art and Controversy: Thomas Hart Benton, Herman B Wells, and the Indiana Murals”

“Oh Boy! She’s Coming to Richmond”: Mamie Smith Brings the “Crazy Blues,” 1921

talking-machine-jan-1921
The Talking Machine World, January 15, 1921, 27, accessed archive.org.

Historians of blues music and folk culture consider Mamie Smith to be the first African American woman to record blues vocals.  In 1921, only a year after this historic recording, Smith performed to sold-out crowds in Indiana.  Newspapers covered the release of Smith’s records and her Indiana performances extensively. We were interested especially in a spring 1921 performance by this African-American star in Richmond, Indiana, a Ku Klux Klan stronghold at the time.

Before 1920, African American entertainer Mamie Smith, who was born in Cincinnati,  worked in Harlem as a chorus girl and cabaret singer. Here she met the black pianist, singer, and composer Perry Bradford who had found success in theater and minstrel circuits in New York.  Bradford, who was interested in preserving African-American musical traditions in recordings, convinced Fred Hager, recording director of the obscure label OKeh Records to take a chance on recording Mamie Smith.  Bradford convinced Hager that African American music lovers were an untapped market and that “they will buy records if recorded by one of their own, because we are the only folks that can sing and interpret hot jazz songs just off the griddle correctly.”

"A studio headshot portrait of American blues singer Mamie Smith," photograph, circa, 1923, Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images accessed "Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market," All Things Considered, NPR, http://www.npr.org/2006/11/11/6473116/mamie-smith-and-the-birth-of-the-blues-market
“A studio headshot portrait of American blues singer Mamie Smith,” photograph, circa, 1923, Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images accessed “Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market,” All Things Considered, NPR.

In February 1920, Smith recorded “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” for OKeh Records. Blues music historians consider this to be the first blues recording by an African American woman. Record producer Hager received boycott threats if he recorded Smith or any other African American singer. In the face of the controversy, Bradford convinced Hager to continue backing Smith, as opposed to the white singer Sophie Tucker, who Hager was alternatively considering.  Bradford recalled:

Mr. Hager got a far-off look in his eyes and seemed somewhat worried, because of the many threatening letters he had received from some Northern and Southern pressure groups warning him not to have any truck with colored girls in the recording field. If he did, OKeh Products – phonograph machines and records – would be boycotted. May God bless Mr. Hager, for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerves and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which would echo aroun’ the world. He pried open that old ‘prejudiced door’ for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn – and shout with her strong contralto voice.

Smith recorded another set of songs penned by Bradford for Okeh in August of 1920. The track “Crazy Blues” became massively popular and in less than a year the record sold over a million copies. According to long-time music writer Jas Obercht, Smith’s “Crazy Blues” “could be heard coming from the open windows of virtually any black neighborhood in America.” Okeh Records called it “a surprise smash hit.” According to New Orleans jazz musician Danny Barker:

There was a great appeal amongst black people and whites who loved this blues business to buy records and buy phonographs.  Every family had a phonograph in their house, specifically behind Mamie Smith’s first record.

Image of "Crazy Blues" on OKey Records accessed: Jas Obrecht, "Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues," http://jasobrecht.com/mamie-smith-the-first-lady-of-the-blues/
Image of “Crazy Blues” on OKey Records accessed: Jas Obrecht, “Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues,”

This was certainly true in Indiana.

Indiana newspapers ran ads for Mamie Smith’s records not long after the release of “Crazy Blues.”  Often the ads for Smith’s records were also attempts to sell phonographs as Barker mentioned in the above quote. A downtown Indianapolis music store ran this advertisement in the Indianapolis News in November:

Indianapolis News, November 30, 1920, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles
Indianapolis News, November 30, 1920, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The C. W. Copp Music Shop ran an advertisement in the South Bend News-Times in December for the hit “Crazy Blues,” but also let an interested public know that they stocked other Mamie Smith records. Hoosier interest in Smith’s records continued into the new year.  In March of 1921, the same South Bend music shop ran several advertisements for five new Smith records and the Hammond Times ran an advertisement for Okeh Records releases, featuring Smith, and to sell listeners the phonograph  to play them on:

Hammond Times, March 4, 1921, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles
Hammond Times, March 4, 1921, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

According to Obrecht, Mamie Smith recorded 22 songs this year and “between sessions, she kept a grueling schedule of concert appearances.” The Talking Machine World magazine reported that Smith and a revue of entertainers were going to perform in all the major U.S. cities. By April 1921, many Hoosier music fans were familiar with Mamie Smith, as we can see from the newspaper ads.  So when the news broke that she was booked to play in Indiana, the coverage continued almost daily until the performance.

According to the Talking Machine World she performed in Indianapolis and Evansville on this tour, but a search of Hoosier State Chronicles and our recent work to digitize the Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram shows that she also performed to sold out crowds in Richmond and South Bend. This is especially interesting considering 1920s Richmond was only about 5% African American, while perhaps as many as 45% of white males belonged at some point to Whitewater Klan #60, an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. We wondered, what brought Smith to Richmond and how was she received?

The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram ran a notice of Smith’s Saturday, April 23, 1921 performance at the Coliseum for weeks before the date.  Here are some great examples:

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921, 7.
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

And:

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 19, 1921, 7.
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 19, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

On April 21, 1921 alone there were three ads for Smith’s upcoming performance and records, including this extensive listing of popular songs:

Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram, April 21, 1921, 3.
Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram, April 21, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.
"Famous Colored Star Sings Here Saturday," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. 9
“Famous Colored Star Sings Here Saturday,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Advertisements were not the only coverage of Smith’s upcoming appearance in Richmond. On April 18, 1921 the Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram reported on the “forthcoming appearance here of Mamie Smith, the popular phonograph star of the colored race, and her All-Star Jazz Revue next Saturday night at the Coliseum,” and called it “the greatest jazz concert that has ever been sent on tour.” The newspaper called Smith “a phonograph star of the first rank” and claimed that she “has done more than any other singer perhaps in America to popularize the genuine ‘blues’ song of the day.” The writer continued to laud Smith for her ability to make songs into “living, potent things charged with a pulsing and individual rhythm.” The paper reported that the popularity of her record had made Richmond residents excited to see her perform live and that they were expecting a “sold-out house when she reaches this city.”

Jazz Revue Seats On Sale Wednesday," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921, 4.
Jazz Revue Seats On Sale Wednesday,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Perhaps the most interesting article in the Palladium was the one that appeared the following day, April 19, and covered not Smith but the revue company traveling with her. Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds were the headlining, crowd-drawing act, but her tour included other acts as well: dancers, vaudevillian comedians, and minstrel performers. The appearance of a newly-minted  blues and jazz star on the same stage as the historically popular minstrel performers marks and intersection of trends in African American music and performance history. While minstrel performers had both conformed to stereotypes out of employment necessity and defied them through their self-presentation (learn more), Mamie Smith’s rise to stardom ushered in a new era of music divas who presented themselves as upper class, educated, rich, and demanding of respect.

Obrecht writes:

While blues music had been performed in the American South since the very beginning of the twentieth century, no one had made recordings of it before, largely due to racism and the assumption that African-Americans couldn’t – or wouldn’t – buy record players or 78s. “Crazy Blues” changed all that, sparking a mad scramble among record execs to record blues divas. The stars they promoted in this short-lived era of “classic blues” were not the down-home country singers who’d record later in the Roaring Twenties, but the glittering, glamorous, and savvy veterans of tent shows, minstrel troupes, and the vaudeville stage. These mavericks defied stereotypes…

"Colored Star Wears Exprensive Creations," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 22, 1921, 11.
“Colored Star Wears Exprensive Creations,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 22, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

As if in response to this very idea, on April 22 the Palladium followed the coverage of the revue with an article detailing the glamorous appearance and presentation of Smith. The newspaper stated that through her record royalties “the popular young colored star is enabled to indulge her fancy in the latest creations both from Paris and New York, and in each city in which she has appeared a gasp of astonishment has greeted her every appearance, for her gowns are described as riots of color and beauty.”

In a telling sentence, the article called Smith “one of the most gorgeously dressed stars of the musical comedy world.”  This notes both the respect for her appearance and success and a misunderstanding of her role in music history.  While African American music fans were connecting to Smith’s sincere and authentic portrayal of the blues music that they grew up with, this white Midwestern newspaper still saw her as part of the vaudeville and perhaps even minstrel genres — understandably perhaps since it was marketed as such.  While Smith had come from such a tradition, through her work with the blues and and jazz performers she had transcended her past.  Black newspapers understood her importance much earlier than white newspapers.  On March 13, 1920, the Chicago Defender wrote:

Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records . . . but we have never – up to now – been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the OKeh Phonograph Company has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardner Smith.

Similarly, the African American gospel, jazz, and blues music Thomas A. Dorsey explained, “Colored singing and playing artists are riding to fame and fortune with the current popular demand for ‘blues’ disk recordings and because of the recognized fact that only a Negro can do justice to the native indigo ditties such artists are in demand.”

There were African American audience members at the Richmond performance, who likely had a better understanding of the significance of Smith’s success.  The Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram reported: “The best seats are selling fast from the plat at Weisbrod Music company as white and colored folk alike are wager to see and hear the ‘Queen of the Blues,’ a capacity house is predicted for Saturday night.”

Unfortunately, there are no extant issues of the historic African American newspaper the Indianapolis Recorder for this period. It would be interesting to explore the differences in the coverage of Smith’s performances between a white and black newspaper and perhaps this could be accomplished using the Chicago Defender, but is outside the scope of this post.

As expected, Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds sold-out the Richmond Coliseum, which held 2,500 people, for the April 23, 1921 performance.  The next year, the KKK also sold-out the same venue.  The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram reported on December 12, 1922 that a crowd awaiting a Klan rally “taxed the space at the Coliseum waiting for the ceremonies quite a long time before the Klansmen finally arrived.”  So how was the white population of Richmond able to enjoy an African American musician one year and then attend a Klan rally the next?

While this contradiction may seem surprising, there was (and some argue still is) a tendency for white Americans to de-contextualize African American music from African American culture.  That is, the white residents of Richmond were able to appreciate black music while continuing to oppress black people.  There has been much written on this topic (two good places to start are Imamu Amiri Baraka‘s The Music: reflections on Jazz and Blues and Perry Hall’s “African American Music: Dynamics of Appropriation and Innovation“) and an extensive analysis of Smith’s career through this lens is outside the scope of this post.  However, advertisements continued after her performance, from which we can draw that she was a hit regardless of why.  Notice the advertisement claims that there was “a capacity audience.”

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 25, 1921, 5
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 25, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

While we were unable to find an article reviewing the Richmond performance or the crowd’s reception, it likely went well because she returned to Indiana the next month.  On May 31, 1921, she performed to another capacity crowd at the Oliver Theater in South Bend.  The South Bend News-Times covered her performance in much the same manner as the Richmond Palladium.  The paper noted in various articles, her fame, her genius, and her status as “the first colored girl artist to attain world-wide fame as a singer and phonograph record star.”

Mamie Smith’s importance to music history is hard to overstate, according to a story on NPR’s All Things Considered for which famed activist Angela Davis (now a professor at University of California/Santa Cruz ) was interviewed.  Davis summed up Smith’s importance succinctly:

“The recording of ‘Crazy Blues’ led the way for the professionalization of black music, for the black entertainment industry, and indeed for the immense popularity of black music today.”

Search Hoosier State Chronicles for yourself to find more on Mamie Smith in Indiana. For more on Mamie Smith’s long career see Jas Orbrecht’s well-researched article, “Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues.”

Outlaws, Pinkertons, and Vigilantes: The Reno Gang and its Enemies

The Reno Gang, often credited with the “first train robbery in America,” were a gang of outlaws that roamed the Indiana and Missouri countryside in the 1860s, stealing loot from banks and county treasuries.

While their crimes became legendary, the community’s response proved equally legendary. Local sheriffs, Allan Pinkerton’s men, Canadian detectives, and the Jackson County Vigilance Committee all strove to exact justice on the Renos and their accomplices.

In this  video, we will uncover the trail of destruction left behind, not only by the Reno Gang, but by those who punished them.

Search historic newspaper pages at  Hoosier State Chronicles  and Chronicling America to read more first drafts of history.

Continue reading “Outlaws, Pinkertons, and Vigilantes: The Reno Gang and its Enemies”

“The Best of the Season:” Mark Twain’s Indiana Lectures

"America's Best Humorist," Mark Twain. Lithograph by Joseph F. Keppler, 1885. Library of Congress.
“America’s Best Humorist,” Mark Twain. Lithograph by Joseph F. Keppler, 1885. Library of Congress.

From James Whitcomb Riley to Kurt Vonnegut, Indiana is well-known for its literary heritage. This heritage developed, in-part, through personal appearances, where authors read from their works and shared new material with audiences. Of the lecturers, one of the most successful during the Gilded Age was Mark Twain. Born in Missouri as Samuel L. Clemens, Mark Twain became one of the late-19th century’s most popular and acclaimed authors. Alongside his successful career as a novelist and cultural critic, Twain crisscrossed the country, regaling packed theaters with stories, readings from new written material, and plain-old good jokes.

Map highlighting Mark Twain's lectures in the Midwest. Mark Twain Project.
Map highlighting Mark Twain’s lectures in the Midwest. Mark Twain Project.

One of his first visits to Indiana as a lecturer was January 4, 1869, when he performed a reading of “The American Vandal Abroad.”  As reported by the Indianapolis Daily Sentinel:

We caution our readers not to forget the treat prepared for them this evening by the Library Association. Mark Twain, one of the real humorists of the day, will deliver his lecture entitled “The American Vandal Abroad,” and his merits entitle him to a large audience. The lecture will be delivered at Metropolitan Hall, and reserved seats may be secured without extra charge at Bonham’s Music Store.

Mark Twain, circa 1860-1880. Indiana Memory,
Mark Twain, circa 1860-1880. Indiana Memory,

While the exact content of his performance from that night was not reported, he had repeatedly given the lecture through 1868-69, and a compiled version was published by literature scholar Paul Fatout, in his book, Mark Twain Speaking. In this lecture, Twain referred to the “American Vandal” as someone who “goes everywhere and is always at home everywhere . . . His is proud and looks proud. His countenance is beaming. He does not fail to let the public know that he is an American.” Twain’s lecture, like his broader work, represents an American voice that spoke to the Midwest, especially places like Indiana.

Indianapolis News, January 1, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, January 1, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1872, Twain returned to Indiana and gave a lecture sharing snippets from his then-upcoming work, Roughing It. According to the Indianapolis News, Mark Twain gave his lecture at the Y.M.C.A. Association hall on January 1, 1872, at a cost of 50 cents at the door, 75 cents for reserved seats (what a bargain!).  As the News reported:

Mark Twain, the noted humorist and author, lectures here to-night [sic] on “Passages from Roughing It.” Mr. Twain has a national reputation and should appear before a hall of people; besides the Y. M. C. A., under whose auspices he lectures, are in absolute want through lack of means. Let Association Hall be crowded to-night [sic].

This lecture was a marked departure from “Vandal,” both in style and in subject. Twain shared with audiences his experiences out west, from camping in the outskirts of Carson City, Nevada to riding colt horses and getting in duels.

Terre Haute Evening Mail, January 6, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Terre Haute Evening Mail, January 6, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Twain’s stories were printed in newspapers during his time in Indiana in 1872 as well. For example, the Terre Haute Evening Mail published an article entitled “Mark Twain on His Travels.” Among the witty stories than were shared by the Mail, this one is golden:

When we got to Rochester I called for a bowl of bean soup. I send you the receipt for making it: “Take a lot of water, wash it well, boil it until it is brown on both sides; then very carefully pour one bean into it and let it simmer. When the bean begins to get restless sweeten with salt, then put it in air-tight cans, hitch each can to a brick, and chuck them overboard, and the soup is done.”

The above receipt originated with a man in Iowa, who gets up suppers on odd occasions for Odd Fellows. He has a receipt for oyster soup of the same kind, only using twice as much water to the oyster and leaving out the salt.

However, not everyone was taken with Twain’s sardonic lectures. The Indianapolis People wrote that “It is the decided opinion of all we heard speak of Mark Twain’s lecture that it read better than it was spoken.”

George W. Cable. Library of Congress.
George W. Cable. Library of Congress.

When Twain returned to Indiana in 1885, he came with a traveling lecture partner. George W. Cable, novelist of the southern-creole experience and an influence on William Faulkner, shared selections from his novels while Twain shared early pages from Huckleberry Finn as well as stories like “The Golden Arm.” Twain and Cable couldn’t have been more different. Twain was described by the Indianapolis Sentinel as “awkward and lanky” whereas Cable was more reserved. As Fatout observed, Twain often bristled as Cable’s religiosity and rigorous commitment to formality while Cable scoffed at Twain’s unorthodox and scattered disposition. To get a sense of their differences, review this blurb from the Indianapolis News: “Mr. Cable eats chocolate ice cream at midnight, after his readings, and still lives. His yoke-fellow, Mark Twain, hurls his bootjack at St. John, and uncorks a bottle or so of pale ale.”

Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 7, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 7, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Nevertheless, their joint appearance at Plymouth Church in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 7, 1885 was greatly lauded. The Indianapolis Sentinel reported that their performances was “the best of the season” and the Indianapolis News wrote that it was “one of the finest audiences that could be gathered.” The Greencastle Times even reported that efforts were underway to bring the two over to Greencastle to perform (alas, it was not to be).

Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 8, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 8, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

That evening, Twain shared with the audience his short story, “Dick Baker’s Cat,” a short tale about a special cat who had a propensity for mining. Here’s a short snippet from the story:

‘Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which you’d ‘a’ took an interest in, I reckon—, most anybody would. I had him here eight year—and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a large grey one of the Tom specie, an’ he had more hard, natchral sense than any man in this camp—’n’ a power of dignity—he wouldn’t let the Gov’ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in his life—’peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining. He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever, ever see. You couldn’t tell him noth’n’ ’bout placer-diggin’s—’n’ as for pocketmining, why he was just born for it.’

The rest of story involves a hilarious scenario where the mining-savvy cat gets stuck in a quartz shaft, which explodes, and he flies out of there all covered in soot and his whiskers burned off. It was exactly the kind of zany, improbable yarn that Twain was so gifted at and the audience at Plymouth Church agreed.

Twain’s and Cable’s appearance would be the last time they would appear together in Indiana and Twain’s last lecture in the state. Over the next 20 years, Twain continued to travel the county and the world, going so far as India and New Zealand, to share his lectures and stories. His last known lecture, according to the Mark Twain Project, was a reading for Mary Allen Hulbert Peck on the Island of Bermuda on March 27, 1908. Mark Twain died on April 24, 1910 at the age of 74 from heart failure, at his home near Redding, Connecticut. An obituary in the Plymouth Tribune complimented Twain’s success as a novelist, humorist, and lecturer. It also cited the loss of much of his family, particularly his daughter, and friends as one of the main reasons for his passing.

Plymouth Tribune, April 28 1910. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Plymouth Tribune, April 28 1910. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Reflecting on what was referred to as the “American style” of humor, Mark Twain shared his thoughts to a reporter from the Detroit Post, later reprinted in the Terre Haute Express:

“Is the American taste for humor still growing, in your opinion?”

“Yes, I think so. Humor is always popular, and especially so with Americans. It is born in every American, and he can’t help liking it.”

“Is it true that the American style of humor is becoming very popular in England?”

“Yes, the liking of American humor over there has become immense. It wakens [sic] the people to new life, and is supplanting the dry wit which formerly passes for humor. American humor wins its own way, and does not need to be cultivated. The English come to like it naturally”

In his lectures in Indiana and elsewhere, Twain exhibited the type of natural humor “born in every American” that characterizes the American cultural identity.

Mark Twain, 1907. Library of Congress.
Mark Twain, 1907. Library of Congress.

“Go West, Young Man”: The Mystery Behind the Famous Phrase

Go west
Go West, Young Man! Movie Poster, Binged.com.

Newspaper history is full of myths, “viral” stories, and tall tales. Folklore and journalism are often close cousins, especially the colorful “yellow journalism” that sold outright lies to rake in subscriptions.  In the annals of Hoosier and American journalism, one persistent, tantalizing tale continues to baffle the sleuths at the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Who wrote the famous slogan “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country”?  It’s one of the great catch phrases of Manifest Destiny, an exhortation that echoes deep in the soul of Americans long after the closing of the frontier.  But when you try to pin down where it came from, it’s suddenly like holding a fistful of water (slight variation on a Clint Eastwood theme) or uncovering the genesis of an ancient religious text — especially since nobody has ever found the exact phrase in the writings of either of the men who might have authored it.

“Go west, young man” has usually been credited to influential New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley.  A New Englander, Greeley was one of the most vocal opponents of slavery.  Antebellum Americans’ take on “liberal” and “conservative” politics would probably confuse today’s voters:  a radical, Greeley famously opposed divorce, sparring with Hoosier social reformer Robert Dale Owen over the loose divorce laws that made Indiana the Reno of the nineteenth century.  A religious man, he also promoted banning liquor — not a cause “liberal” politicians would probably take up today.  Greeley helped promote the writings of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau and even took on Karl Marx as a European correspondent in the 1850s.  (Imagine Abraham Lincoln the lawyer reading the author of The Communist Manifesto in the Tribune!)  In 1872, the famously eccentric New York editor ran for President against Ulysses S. Grant, lost, and died before the electoral vote officially came in.  Greeley won just three electoral votes but was a widely admired man.


Horace Greeley -- Matthew Brady circa 1860
Greeley around 1860. Daguerreotype by Matthew Brady.

Though Greeley was always interested in Western emigration, he only went out west once, in 1859 during the Colorado Gold Rush. Originally a utopian experimental community, Greeley, Colorado, fifty miles north of Denver, was named after him in 1869. The newspaperman often published advice urging Americans to shout “Westward, ho!” if they couldn’t make it on the East Coast.  Yet his own trip through Kansas and over the Rockies to California showed him not just the glories of the West (like Yosemite) but some of the darker side of settlement.

“Fly, scatter through the country — go to the Great West,” he wrote in 1837.  Years later, in 1872, he was still editorializing:  “I hold that tens of thousands, who are now barely holding on at the East, might thus place themselves on the high road to competence and ultimate independence at the West.”

“At the West” included the Midwest.  Before the Civil War, Indiana was a popular destination for Easterners “barely holding on.”

A major cradle of Midwestern settlement was Maine, birthplace of John Soule, Greeley’s competitor for authorship of the mystery slogan.  As the logger, writer, and popular historian Stuart Holbrook wrote in his 1950 book Yankee Exodus, Maine’s stony soil and the decline of its shipping trade pushed thousands of Mainers to get out just after it achieved statehood in 1820.  The exodus was so bad that many newspaper editors in Maine wrote about the fear that the new state would actually be depopulated by “Illinois Fever” and the rush to lumbering towns along the Great Lakes — and then Oregon.


JBL Soule
J.B.L. Soule, courtesy Blackburn College Archives.

One Mainer who headed to the Midwest in the 1840s was John Babson Lane Soule, later editor of The Wabash Express.  Born in 1815 in Freeport, Maine — best known today as the home of L.L.  Bean — Soule came from a prominent local family.  His brother Gideon Lane Soule went on to serve as president of Phillips Exeter Academy, the prestigious prep school in New Hampshire.  Though the Soules were Congregationalists, a likely relative of theirs, Gertrude M. Soule, born in nearby Topsham, Maine, in 1894, was one of the last two Shakers in New Hampshire.  (She died in 1988.)

J.B.L. Soule — whom an 1890 column in the Chicago Mail claimed was the man who actually coined the phrase “Go west, young man” in 1851 — was educated at Bowdoin College, just down the road from Freeport.  Soule became an accomplished master of Latin and Greek and for decades after his move west published poems in New England literary magazines like The Bowdoin Poets and Northern Monthly.  A poem of his called “The Wabash” came out in Bowdoin’s poetry journal in August 1840, so it’s safe to assume that Soule had moved to Terre Haute by then.  By 1864, he was still writing poems with titles like “The Prairie Grave.”

The Wabash 1840 -- soule
Excerpt from “The Wabash”, Google Books.

While Soule’s conventional, classical poetry might be hard to appreciate today, he was hailed as “a writer of no ordinary ability” by the Terre Haute Journal in 1853. Additionally, Soule and his brother Moses helped pioneer education in Terre Haute, helping to establish the Vigo County Seminary and the Indiana Normal School (precursor of Indiana State University) in the 1840s. J.B.L. Soule taught at the Terre Haute Female College, a boarding school for girls.  The Soule brothers were also affiliated with the Baldwin Presbyterian Church, Terre Haute’s second house of worship.

John Soule later served as a Presbyterian minister in Plymouth, Indiana;  preached at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, during the Civil War; taught ancient languages at Blackburn University in Carlinville, Illinois; then finished his career as a Presbyterian pastor in Highland Park, Chicago.  He died in 1891.

He seems like a great candidate to be the author of “Go west, young man,” since he did exactly that.  But it’s hard to prove that Soule, not Horace Greeley, coined the famous appeal.

In November 1853, the Soule brothers bought the Wabash Express from Kentuckian Donald S. Danaldson, who had acquired it in 1845.  Danaldson tried to make the paper a daily in 1851, but it failed in less than a year.  John Soule and Isaac M. Brown worked as editors on Danaldson’s paper from August to November 1851, when it went under the name Terre Haute Daily Express.  By the time J.B.L. Soule’s name appears on its front page for the first time on November 16, 1853, the paper was only being printed weekly and was called The Wabash Express.  Soule, who also edited the Courier in nearby Charleston, Illinois, served as editor of The Wabash Express for less than a year.


Wabash Express 11-16-1853
The Wabash Express, under Soule’s leadership, was “Devoted to the Whig Policy, News, Commerce, Literature, and Good Morals.” A piece written in first-person by Horace Greeley on the front page of Soule’s very first issue suggests that the New York Tribune editor might have visited Tippecanoe County in 1853 to see the Indiana State Fair. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Four decades later, in October 1891, an anonymous writer in the Chicago Mail reported a tale from an equally anonymous “old-timer,” told in an anonymous Chicago bar.  The “Dick Thompson” of this story is Richard Wigginton Thompson.  Originally from Culpeper, Virginia, Thompson moved out to Bedford, Indiana, to practice law, and settled in Terre Haute in 1843.  During the Civil War, Dick Thompson commanded Camp Dick Thompson, a training base in Vigo County.  Oddly for a man from almost-landlocked Indiana, he served as Secretary of the Navy under President Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877 to 1880.  He died in Terre Haute in 1900.


Richard W. Thompson
U.S. Navy Secretary and Terre Hautean Richard W. Thompson around 1880. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Supposedly based on Thompson’s own memory, the story showed up in a column called “Clubman’s Gossip” in the June 30, 1890, issue of the Chicago Mail.

“Do you know,” said an old–timer at the Chicago club, “that that epigrammatic bit of advice to young men, ‘Go west,’ so generally attributed to Horace Greeley, was not original with him? No? Well, it wasn’t. It all came about this way: John L.B. Soule was the editor of the Terre Haute Express back in the 50’s, and one day in ’51, if I remember right, he and Dick Thompson were conversing in the former’s sanctum. Thompson had just finished advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country and was praising his talents as a writer.

“‘Why, John,’ he said, ‘you could write an article that would be attributed to Horace Greeley if you tried.’

“‘No, I couldn’t,’ responded Mr. Soule, modestly, ‘I’ll bet I couldn’t.’

“‘I’ll bet a barrel of flour you can if you’ll promise to try your best, the flour to go to some deserving poor person.’

“‘All right. I’ll try,’ responded Soule.

“He did try, writing a column editorial on the subject of discussion—the opportunities offered to young men by the west. He started in by saying that Horace Greeley could never have given a young man better advice than that contained in the words, ‘Go West, young man.’

“Of course, the advice wasn’t quoted from Greeley, merely compared to what he might have said. But in a few weeks the exchanges began coming into the Express office with the epigram reprinted and accredited to Greeley almost universally. So wide a circulation did it obtain that at last the New York Tribune came out editorially, reprinted the Express article, and said in a foot note:

“‘The expression of this sentiment has been attributed to the editor of the Tribune erroneously. But so heartily does he concur in the advice it gives that he endorses most heartily the epigrammatic advice of the Terre Haute Express and joins in saying, ‘Go west, young man, go west.'”

Though the story shook the foundations of the slogan’s attribution to Greeley, even on the surface the Chicago Mail piece is doubtful.  What would Dick Thompson — no literary man — have to get J.B.L. Soule (a graduate of Phillips Exeter and Bowdoin College and one of the best writers in Terre Haute) to get over his modesty? The story also makes Thompson out to be a patriarch giving advice to the young.  In fact, he was only six years older than Soule.  It’s hard to imagine Thompson acting the father figure and “advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country” while they sat in a “sanctum” in Terre Haute — which was the West in 1851.  Soule, from Maine, had already come farther than Thompson, from Virginia.  And he kept on going.


Greenfield Daily Reporter, October 16, 1939. Newspapers.com.

The bigger problem is that there’s only a few surviving copies of the Terre Haute Express from 1851, and nobody has ever actually found the exact phrase “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country” in its pages or in any of Horace Greeley’s extensive writingsIt would be understandable if the “old-timer” of the Chicago Mail or Richard W. Thompson got the date wrong after forty years, but researchers who have scoured all extant copies of the Terre Haute papers and Horace Greeley’s works have never found a single trace of the famous slogan in its exact wording.

J.B.L. Soule got mentioned in East Coast papers at least once:  the Cambridge, Massachusetts Chronicle lauded his wit in their September 30, 1854 issue.  So it’s plausible that a “Go west” column by him could have made it back East from Terre Haute.  If so, it hasn’t appeared.

The exact phrase probably never got written down at all, but entered popular memory as short-hand for Greeley’s exhortations to migrate. Iowa Congressman Josiah B. Grinnell, a Vermont expatriate, used to be identified as the “young man” whom Greeley urged to get out of New York City and go west in 1853.  But Grinnell himself debunked claims that he got that advice from Greeley in a letter.  Even the oral advice Greeley gave Grinnell wasn’t the precise phrase we remember him for.  Instead, he said “Go West; this is not the place for a young man.”

Wherever the phrase originated, as late as 1871, a year before his death, Greeley was still urging New Englanders and down-and-out men tired of Washington, D.C. to hit the western trails.  However, the editor himself mostly stuck close to the Big Apple, venturing only as far as his Chappaqua Farm in Westchester County, New York during the summertime. While only at the big city’s edge, Greeley continued to play the role of western pioneer.

Greeley at Chappaqua Farm, 1869
Horace Greeley at Chappaqua Farm in New York, 1869. Wikimedia Commons.

“America First:” The Ku Klux Klan Influence on Immigration Policy in the 1920s

This article was originally published, in revised form, on June 20, 2019 at the Hoosier State Chronicles blog.

United States immigration laws reflect a long history of debate over who should be included and excluded in differing visions of American identity. In 1924, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act or the Immigration Act of 1924, “a measure which was a legislative expression of the xenophobia, particularly towards eastern and southern European immigrants, that swept America in the decade of the 1920s.”[1] This legislation drastically limited immigration to the United States through a quota system that targeted specific groups for exclusion. While the annual quota for German immigrants was set at over 51,000 people, the quota for Syrian immigrants, for example, was 100 people.[2] Thus, U.S. policy officially distinguished between races and backgrounds of people included or excluded as future Americans. The Ku Klux Klan was crucial to the passage of this legislation, which had dire consequences for those seeking asylum in the U.S. over the following decades in which the quota system remained in place.

Fiery Cross, April 25, 1924, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In the 1920s, the Klan spread across the United States and especially thrived in Indiana. Historian James Madison explains that the Klan was especially successful at recruiting Hoosiers. As many as one in four white Protestant men born in the state were Klan members by one estimate. And some of these men were in positions of political power. In considering past debates over immigration, it’s worth re-examining the Klan’s stance on the subject. Why? Because the Klan of the 1920s was an influential mainstream movement. And those Hoosiers who put on robes and lit up the night with their fiery crosses were representative of the feelings of much of the population of the state.[3]

The first Klan, which emerged after the Civil War was a Southern terrorist organization led by former Confederate soldiers aimed at suppressing African Americans with intimidation and violence. The Klan that reemerged in the 1920s purposefully evoked the imagery of the Reconstruction Era Klan to instill fear in its “enemies,” but was much different. It was not a band of rogue vigilantes, but a nationwide organization composed of average white, Protestant Americans. It included farmers, bankers, railroad workers, suffragists, ministers, mayors, and governors. The second Klan also largely abandoned violence for civic action. They dressed their anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, antisemitic message in patriotism and Christian righteousness. Wearing their white robes and masks, they held picnics and parades, attended church and funerals. For many white Protestant Americans, the Ku Klux Klan was a respectable pastime for the whole family. [4]

Fiery Cross, December 21, 1923, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Because the Klan published their newspaper, the Fiery Cross, for several years in Indianapolis, we know a lot about who joined, what exactly they believed and feared about immigration and race, and what they did to prevent people from certain countries from becoming Americans. The Fiery Cross served both as an official mouthpiece of the national organization and as a source for local Klan news. The Indiana State Library also has a large collection of Klan documents. In conversation, these sources paint a clear picture of Klan beliefs and influence on both Indiana and national policy.

Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Kloran, 1916, United Klans of America Collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, Indiana State Library. Also accessible digitally at Archive.org.

In an early KKK handbook, called the Kloran, the national organization suggested ten questions that must be answered satisfactorily before “naturalizing” a new member. Most of them asked about the potential member’s allegiance to the U.S. government and Christian principles with questions such as:

Do you esteem the United States of America and its institutions above any other government, civil, political or ecclesiastical, in the whole world?

The “ecclesiastical” reference in this question is to the Roman Catholic Church. The Klan claimed that Catholic immigrants to the U.S. served the Pope who headed a conspiracy to undermine American values. Thus they were not loyal American citizens. This anti-Catholic sentiment and rhetoric was especially strong in the Midwestern Klan, as seen in the pages of the Fiery Cross. However, not all of the membership questions veiled their hateful message. One question asked potential members bluntly:

Do you believe in and will you faithfully strive for the eternal maintenance of white supremacy?

In their minds, the white supremacy the Klan valued so dearly was presently under attack. Like the earlier Reconstruction Klan, the 1920s Klan viewed African Americans as members of an inferior race. In Indiana, members worried about the mixing of white and black races, especially as young Hoosiers gained access to cars, jazz clubs, and Hollywood movies. [5] In 1922, the Fiery Cross blamed jazz for “inflaming the animal passions of romance-seeking youth.” And in 1924, the newspaper declared, “At this time the whole civilized structure is being threatened by the mixing of the white and black races.” It continued:

It is God’s purpose that the white man should preserve purity of blood and white supremacy in this country. Those who would have it otherwise or show leniency toward the mixing of white and colored races do not deserve the respect of anyone, much less of those who are trying to preserve American institutions, ideals and principles. A mongrel race and a mongrel civilization mean decay and ruin.

Fiery Cross, May 16, 1923, 3, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Thus, throughout Klan literature, any reference to Christian virtue or Protestant values, should be understood as being imbued with white supremacy. The Klan believed that God valued people of Anglo-Saxon, German, and Scandinavian decent more than people of other backgrounds. And they believed that it was their sacred duty to protect white domination of the U.S. For the Midwestern Klan, the main obstacle to this goal was not African Americans. Many Indiana towns had small numbers of Black residents, and there were plenty of institutionalized practices and laws in place by the 1920s to suppress African Americans. The Klan helped to keep these as standard practice. However, they saw immigrants, mainly Catholics but also Jews, as the main threat to a white, Protestant America. [6]

Fiery Cross, September 21, 1923, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

D. C. Stephenson, the recently appointed Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, clearly laid out the organization’s stance on immigration in a September 1923 speech to Hoosier coal miners. The Fiery Cross printed Stephenson’s address in its entirety under the headline “Immigration is Periling America.” First, he distinguished between “old” and “new” immigrants. The old immigrants were the Anglo-Saxon, German, and Scandinavian “progenitors of the Republic of America” who brought their strong work ethic and “social, moral, and civic ideals” to the new land. Omitting any mention of native peoples or the contributions of the many other immigrant groups who helped found the United States, Stephenson continued to provide the history of an imagined past created solely by and for white people.

William Arthur Swift, “Ku Klux Klan Gathering of Muncie Klan No. 4,” photograph, 1922, W. A. Swift Photographs Collection, Ball State University Libraries, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/swift/id/700

Second, Stephenson plainly identified the enemy of white Protestant America as the “new” immigrants who were arriving in “greater in numbers” than the “old” immigrants.  These “new” immigrants were “from the races of southern and eastern Europe.”

Third, he cited the various ways that the “new immigrant has been shown to be much inferior to the older type and to the native American stock.” By “native American,” Stephenson meant white European people who immigrated in previous generations, not the native Indian peoples who originally called North America home. Using examples based in the (later discredited) pseudo-science of eugenics, Stephenson furthered his argument about the inherent inferiority of  the “new” immigrants.[7] Eugenicists assumed that some traits like mental illness or poverty could be prevented by limiting reproduction of people demonstrating such traits in order to breed a better race of humans.[8]

For Klan leaders, however, the language of eugenics gave them “scientific facts” to present as evidence for the need for blocking immigration. In his speech, Stephenson presented reports from eugenicists claiming that the “new” immigrants were less intelligent and more prone to mental disorders and criminal tendencies. Stephenson cited a report by influential eugenicist Harry H. Laughlin, who was essential in shaping both eugenics legislation and immigration restriction. [9] Stephenson used Laughlin’s “elaborate statistics” throughout his speech, claiming:

In reference to feeblemindedness, insanity, crime, epilepsy, tuberculosis and deformity, the older immigrant stocks are vastly sounder than the recent.

and

The countries which ran lowest in crime are those which have contributed most to the elementary foundation of the population of the United States – such as Great Britain, Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands . . . Those immigrant groups that run high in crime are from the countries of southern and eastern Europe’

The conclusion he intended his listeners to draw from such reports was that these  people must be excluded from the country. Stephenson stated:

My friends, the significance of authoritative statements like these can hardly be overestimated. Unrestricted immigration would appear to result in a gradual contraction of our native American stock.

Fourth, Stephenson claimed that English, German, and Scandinavian “old immigrants” spread out across the country, establishing farming communities. On the other hand, the “new” immigrants settled only in already congested cities and refused to assimilate. And finally, Stephenson claimed, in these cities, the immigrant was to blame for a decreased standard of living and reduction in wages. He continued:

There is no assimilation to American standards and ideals, in the case of the great majority of the newer immigrants. Masses of human beings of inferior races, ignorant of all the ideals which Americans hold dear, are poured into our factories as so much raw material – and they are not ‘digested.’ The new immigrant comes here as a foreigner and he remains a foreigner – a citizen of a lower class, who, just as the negro, is a constant menace to the standards of civilization which Americans hold dear.

The solution was clear. The powerful Klan, with its millions of members, demanded in 1923 that “the next Congress must adopt a permanent immigration law.” Stephenson concluded his speech to the Indiana coal miners:

So the unchecked importation now of hordes of southern Europeans will bring its inevitable harvest in fearfully deteriorating the character of the American nation of the future. The immigration policy which we adopt today will not produce its vital effects at once; these will come a generation or two later, and the American citizenship, American standards of living and American qualities of manhood and womanhood of that time will be largely dependent upon the character of the racial stock that today we permit to become the percentage of the nation.

William Arthur Swift, “Ku Klux Klan Women’s Auxiliary Rally in New Castle, Indiana,” photograph, 1923, W. A. Swift Photographs Collection, Ball State University Archives and Special Collections, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/swift/id/622.

Hoosier Klan members were on board with this message, despite the fact that Indiana’s own immigration history proved the racist claims false at every turn. For example, Jews like John Jacob Hays, an Indiana agent for the U.S. government, were among the first of European descent to settle in the Northwest Territory. Jewish Hoosier Samuel Judah settled in Vincennes in 1818 began the first of his five terms in the state legislature in 1827.[10] Black Hoosiers were also among the first to clear and farm Indiana land in communities across the state, building thriving communities like Roberts Settlement by the 1830s.[11] Catholic immigrants to Indiana like Saint Theodora Guerin in 1840 braved the wilderness and prejudice to establish schools and orphanages.[12] And at the same time the Fiery Cross claimed that immigrants were responsible for draining the economy, Terre Haute newspapers praised the Syrian immigrants to their community on the Wabash River for stimulating the local economy.[13] The examples of immigrant contributions to the Hoosier state are endless. But despite the local lessons to be learned, many Hoosiers held on to their prejudices. And the Indiana Klan gave them an outlet.

William Arthur Swift, “Ku Klux Klan Initiation and Cross Burning,” photograph, 1922, W. A. Swift Photographic Collection, Ball State University and Special Collections, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/swift/id/724

How do we know that the average Hoosier who joined the Klan, actually supported this message of white supremacy? One way Indiana Klan members made their support public and highly visible was through large and elaborate parades. In September 1923, the Fiery Cross reported that between 1,200 and 1,500 Klansmen marched in a “huge parade” through the main streets of Terre Haute. They were led by the Terre Haute No. 7 Klan band. Signs on floats read “Uphold the Constitution” and “America First.” Local police helped handle traffic and a traction company provided “special cars” to transport Klansmen and women to “the Klan grounds, north of the city.” Here there were speakers and new member initiation ceremonies for “several hundred candidates.” While these new Hoosier Klan members took their oaths of allegiance, “a fiery cross was lighted.”

Fiery Cross, May 23, 1924, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In July 1923, the Fiery Cross reported on a huge Ku Klux Klan gathering in Kokomo. The city hosted “a throng in excess of any ever before entertained by an Indiana city, not excepting Indianapolis on Speedway day,” with Klan members coming from surrounding states as well. At this meeting Klan leaders announced “the establishment of a stated organization for the Hoosiers” and “charters granted to each and ever county in Indiana” for local Klan “klaverns.” The Fiery Cross continued:

Americanism has engulfed the Hoosier state and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana has been as a tidal wave.

In October 1923, the Fiery Cross claimed 10,000 people turned out for a Klan parade in Bloomington organized by the Monroe County Klan and the Women of the Ku Klux Klan. In November, Klan members held a similar event in Fort Wayne. And the Fiery Cross estimated that 100,000 would attend the night parade of Klansmen in May 1924 in Indianapolis, marching from the State Fairgrounds, to  Monument Circle, led by Klan bands and drum corp.

Fiery Cross, June 27, 1924, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan grew their membership in other ways too. Donning robes and masks, they marched into churches and made donations to grateful ministers. They held picnics and social events. They showed Klan propaganda movies.[14] Klan bands recorded albums and Indianapolis even had a KKK  record store, the American Record Shop. Members advocated for prohibition of alcohol and supported prayer in school, issues that especially interested women. Thus, the number of women’s Klan groups increased across the state as well.

Fiery Cross, September 21, 1923, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Not all Klan members hid behind costumes. Many felt comfortable taking off their hoods in pictures or running an ad for their business in the Fiery Cross. While some business owners advertised in order to avoid boycott, others proudly proclaimed that their business was “100 per cent American” or incorporated the letters “KKK” into the ad.

Fiery Cross, December 21, 1923, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles
Fiery Cross, February 23, 1923, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Some mainstream newspapers, such as the Indianapolis Times, were harsh critics of the Klan. But others ran ads for Klan gatherings or speakers on “the principles of 100 per cent Americanism.” Some mainstream newspapers may have even ran more subtle versions of the “100 Per Cent” ads for businesses sympathetic to the Klan that ran regularly in the Fiery Cross.

Greencastle Herald, September 21 [left] and November 17, 1923 [right], Hoosier State Chronicles.
These efforts to build membership, influence, and solidarity were successful in Indiana and across much of the country. By 1924, the Klan was a powerful force. They gave white Protestants an organization dedicated to defending the perceived threat to their political and cultural dominance. The more enthusiastic Klansmen used intimidation techniques such as burning crosses on front lawns or stopping cars to search for illegal alcohol.[15] However, they mainly focused their intimidation into written and verbal attacks on immigrants using stereotyping, dehumanizing language, and eugenic pseudo-science. Cloaking their hateful message in patriotism and virtue made it palatable to many.

Cartoon from Denver Post reprinted in Fiery Cross, May 9, 1924, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Klan’s championing of white supremacist principles had real world consequences. To many Indiana politicians, the people had spoken. The Indiana Republican Party was the most sympathetic, but there were Democratic supporters as well. Most politicians were complicit in their failure to denounce the Klan for fear of losing votes, as opposed to any direct participation in the organization. But the Klan did influence Indiana elections. Stephenson openly revealed that the Klan would distribute sample ballots to members with candidates who were favorable to the organization clearly marked.[16] Several candidates won seats directly because the Klan proclaimed their support. Others sympathetic to the Klan won offices perhaps because the Klan had disseminated so much propaganda that voters did not know what to believe. As the Klan accused opposing candidates of various indiscretions, voters may have become confused and apathetic.[17] Regardless of how it was gained, directly or indirectly, their influence prevailed for some time. In fact, Stephenson released the names of several politicians who were Klansmen themselves, including John L. Duvall, the Mayor of Indianapolis, and Ed Jackson, the Governor of the State of Indiana.

Indiana’s congressmen who neither joined nor denounced the Klan still furthered the organization’s “America first” agenda. For example, as governor, Samuel Ralston proved to be a fairly progressive-minded democrat, advocating for women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and workman’s compensation. When he was elected to the U. S. Senate in 1922, he tried to avoid talking about the Klan altogether. Like most moderate Hoosier politicians Ralston was not a Klan member, but he also he never publicly denounced the organization.[18] However, when the Senate voted on the Immigration Act of 1924, Ralston voted in favor of restriction as did his counterpart James Watson.[19] All of Indiana’s representatives had also voted in favor of the bill.[20] President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill into law May 24, 1924. The President told Congress, “America must be kept American.”[21]

The Immigration Act of 1924 and its quota system remained in effect until 1952. The legislation had dire consequences in the 1930s for the hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution who applied to the United States for immigration visas. Jews were specifically targeted in the legislation as undesirable candidates for refuge and only a handful were admitted. As newspapers reported on the escalating violence and injustices perpetrated by the Nazis, some Americans called for a loosening of the restrictions. However, while the Klan may have disappeared by the 1930s, the nativist and xenophobic attitude of many Americans remained the same as it had been when they wore masks and robes. Fortune magazine took a large poll in 1938 and found that only 5% of Americans wanted to allow “political refugees to come into the United States.”[22] Even a bill requesting a temporary easing of the quotas to rescue child refugees of Nazi terror failed in the Senate. The persecuted Jews of Europe would not find refuge in the United States. Many of those denied entry were murdered in the Holocaust.[23]

With each new shift in demographics throughout American history, certain groups have feared losses of power or wealth. However, those groups who rally around nativism and hate, as powerful as they might grow for a time, lose out to the more powerful vision of America as a leader in justice and democracy. Eventually, eugenics was discounted and its practice outlawed, the quota system overturned, and the Klan was made a laughing stock. Even so, the Klan’s vision of white supremacy and exclusion still simmers beneath the surface of American politics. Vigilant Hoosiers are needed to make sure that never again will we “fear difference and demand a conformity that contradict[s] . . . the state’s best traditions.”[24] According to UCLA’s Re-Imagining Migration project, we live in an age of mass migration and immigration. When we understand that migration is “a shared condition of our past, present, and future” we can “develop the knowledge, empathy and mindsets that sustain inclusive and welcoming communities.”

Update: The Midwest History Association keynote by James Madison cited below is now available to watch: https://www.c-span.org/video/?460982-1/ku-klux-klan-1920s-midwest

Notes

[1] United States House of Representatives, “Historical Highlights: The Immigration Act of 1924,” History, Art & Archives, https://history.house.gov/Historical-Highlights/1901-1950/The-Immigration-Act-of-1924/.
[2]  American Social History Project at City University of New York and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University “Who Was Shut Out? Immigration Quotas, 1925-1927,” History Matters, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/expansion.html.
[3] James Madison, “Flappers and Klansmen Challenge Traditions: The 1920s,” in Hoosiers (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press and Indiana Historical Society Press, 2014), 234-253; James Madison, “Who’s an American? The Rise and Fall of the Klan in the Midwest,” Plenary Address, Fifth Annual Midwestern History Conference, Grand Valley State University, May 31, 2019. In his 2019 address, Madison clearly stated that the 1920s Klan was a mainstream movement at the center, not margins, of the nation’s history.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7]PBS, “Eugenics Movement Reaches Its Height,” A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dh23eu.html.
[8] Indiana Historical Bureau, “1907 Indiana Eugenics Law,” State Historical Marker Text and Notes, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/524.htm. The pseudo-science of eugenics led to mass sterilization in Indiana and elsewhere before it was determined to be a violation of human rights by state and federal courts [
[9] University of Missouri, “Harry Laughlin: Workhorse of the American Eugenics Movement,” Controlling Heredity: The American Eugenics Crusade: 1870-1940, University of Missouri Special Collections and Rare Books, https://library.missouri.edu/exhibits/eugenics/laughlin.htm; Andrea Den Hoed, “The Forgotten Lessons of the American Eugenics Movement,” New Yorker, April 27, 2016, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-forgotten-lessons-of-the-american-eugenics-movement.
Laughlin’s influence was lasting. He later praised Hitler for understanding that the “central mission of all politics is race hygiene.” The Reichstag modeled their eugenics laws after Laughlin’s model and the American eugenicist continued to give support for the Third Reich throughout his life.
[10] American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, “Indiana Jewish History,” Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/indiana-jewish-history.
[11] Stephen A. Vincent, “History,” Roberts Settlement, http://www.robertssettlement.org/history.html.
[12] Indiana Historical Bureau, “Saint Theodora Guerin,” Indiana State Historical Marker Text and Notes, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4330.htm.
[13] Indiana Historical Bureau, “Little Syria on the Wabash,” Indiana State Historical Marker Text and Notes, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4404.htm.
[14] Madison, Plenary Address, 2019.
[15] Madison, Hoosiers, 247.
[16] Jill Weiss Simins, “Complicity in Neutrality? Samuel Ralston Denies Klan Affiliation, Hoosier State Chronicles Blog, July 17, 2018, https://blog.history.in.gov/samuel-ralston-denies-klan-affiliation/
[16] Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 7: Child Refugees, Hoosier Resistance,” Hoosier State Chronicles Blog, January 25, 2019, https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/tag/immigration-quotas/.
[17] Madison, Hoosiers, 253.
[18] Simins, “Complicity in Neutrality? 2018.
[19] Senate Vote #126 in 1924 (68th Congress) “To Agree to Report of Conference Committee on H.R. 7995 . . .  A Bill to Limit the Immigration of Aliens into the United States, https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/s126.
[20] House Vote #90 in 1924 (68th Congress) “To Agree to the Report of Conference Committee on H.R. 7995, to Limit the Immigration of Aliens into the United States,” https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/h90.
[21] University of Virginia, “Harding, Coolidge, and Immigration,” July 6, 2016, Miller Center, https://millercenter.org/issues-policy/us-domestic-policy/harding-coolidge-and-immigration.
[22] Jill Weiss Simins, “History Unfolded Part 7: Child Refugees, Hoosier Resistance,” Hoosier State Chronicles Blog, January 25, 2019, https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/tag/we-remember/.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Madison, Hoosiers, 238.

When Jimmy Hoffa Met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Growing Alliance of Labor and Civil Rights

Detroit, Michigan, March 30, 1965. Two men meet at a small press conference before the funeral of a slain civil rights activist. Their meeting seems like an unlikely pairing for us today—one a slick haired, brash, and controversial labor leader and the other a measured, eloquent, and inspirational pastor who had galvanized the civil rights movement. The former was there to present a check for $25,000 for the latter’s work on racial equality. Their stories varied tremendously but, at this moment, they intersected, manifesting all the complicated and contradictory impulses of American life during the middle of the twentieth century. Those two men were Jimmy Hoffa and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Credits: Written and produced by Justin Clark.

Music: “The Things That Keep Us Here” by Monomyth, “Almost A Year Ago” by John Deley and the 41 Players, “Crate Digger” by Gunnar Olsen, “Crimson Fly” by Huma-Huma, “Dreamer” by Hazy, “Eternity” by Lahar, and “I Am OK” by Vishmak

Continue reading “When Jimmy Hoffa Met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Growing Alliance of Labor and Civil Rights”

Will Hays and the Hollywood Production Code

At just 110 pounds, Sullivan, Indiana-native Will Hays was not exactly the imposing figure you’d expect to be the film industry’s regulator, but he nevertheless left a substantial mark on the movie industry during the first half of the twentieth century.

To learn more about Will Hays and the MPPDA, check out Stephen Vaughn’s article from the Indiana Magazine of History.

Learn more Indiana History from the Indiana Historical Bureau: http://www.in.gov/history/

Search historic newspaper pages at Hoosier State Chronicles: www.hoosierstatechronicles.org

Visit our Blog: https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/

Visit Chronicling America to read more first drafts of history: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

Learn more about the history relevance campaign at https://www.historyrelevance.com/.

Please comment, like, and subscribe!

Credits:

Written and produced by Justin Clark.

Footage of Will Hays and Irene Dunne courtesy of the Indiana State Library. 

Music:  “Days Are Long”, “7th Floor Tango”, and “Time Stops” by Silent Partner

Continue reading “Will Hays and the Hollywood Production Code”

How Gary American Editor Edwina Whitlock Crusaded for Equality

Edwina Whitlock, circa 1940s, found in Edward Ball’s The Sweet Hell Inside, p. 320, accessed Internet Archive.

Gary American editor Edwina H. Whitlock wrote in the California Eagle in 1961, “I might perhaps be forgiven for posing as a political authority, but those who know Indiana must acknowledge that basketball and politics are monkeys on the backs of every Hoosier.”[1] The life of Edwina Whitlock, the first and only female editor of the Gary American, is a story that evokes critical insights into the most influential periods in Black history and showcases Black women’s dedication to the long Civil Rights Movement. Whitlock illuminated the rise of the “Black bourgeoisie” and their advocacy for equal rights between the 1920s and into the 1980s, herself having grown up among the small community of Black elites in Charleston, South Carolina. She witnessed the vibrancy of the Harlem Renaissance through her adopted father, strove to emulate W.E.B. DuBois’s ideals regarding Black excellence, and utilized her class privilege to advocate for civil rights and equality through journalism and activism.

The Early Life of Edwina (Harleston) Whitlock

The Black side of the Harleston family held deep roots within the American South, which defined early on by issues of race and class. Edwina Harleston Whitlock’s ancestors were enslaved. Her maternal great-grandmother Kate Wilson lived in bondage and bore eight of the plantation owner’s children. Harleston never married, and upon his death in 1835, the mixed-race Harleston children, who were denied their inheritance, were pushed back into Black society, and refused inheritance from white relatives. Despite these circumstances, the Harleston’s blossomed in the Jim Crow South, utilizing their status as “mixed-race” in order to toe the line of segregation to make a name for themselves.[2] Together, the family integrated into the small, middle-class population of Black Elites in Charleston, South Carolina.

Gussie Harleston in 1924, photographed by her adoptive mother Elise Forrest Harleston, found in Edward Ball’s The Sweet Hell Inside, p. 318, accessed Internet Archive.

Originally named Gussie Harleston, Edwina was born in Charleston on September 28, 1916, to Kate Wilson’s grandson, Robert O. Harleston and his wife, Marie Forrest. When she was just two and half years old, Edwina and her sister Slyvia were sent to live with their uncle, Edwin A. “Teddy” Harleston, after their parent’s contracted tuberculosis.[3] However, after the passing of both their parents, the girls were adopted by Teddy and Elise so they could raise them as their own. Teddy Harleston proved to be an inspiring innovator to the girls. As a young boy at the Avery Normal Institute, Teddy developed an interest in painting portraiture and scenes associated with Southern Black culture, which would define his career for the remainder of his life. He went on to attend Atlanta University, where he studied under Black sociologist and activist W.E.B Du Bois.[4] Du Bois and Harleston became life-long friends, and he encouraged Teddy to use his elite social standing to precipitate equality.

Du Bois’s influence permeated the Harleston family. Later in adulthood, Edwina Harleston describes that the family reared their children according to Du Bois’s theory of the “talented tenth,” a concept that emphasized the necessity of higher education to develop the leadership skills among the “most able 10 percent of Black Americans.”[5] They also instilled a work ethic in their children, reflecting Booker T. Washington’s theory that “African-Americans must concentrate on educating themselves, learning useful trades, and investing in their own business.”[6] She contributed her success to these two ideologies, and what ultimately led to Harleston’s academic drive and early involvement in journalism and newspapers.

The Herald Sun, November 4, 2001, accessed Newspapers.com.

As a young girl, Gussie’s uncle, Reverend Daniel J. Jenkins, ensured that she was always working in some capacity at the orphanage that he ran in Charleston with his wife, Eloise “Ella” Harleston. She recalls that she had a choice: work on the orphanage farm and dig sweet potatoes, or work on the orphanage’s newsletter, The Messenger. She wrote local updates, which spearheaded her interest in journalism.[7] Harleston began calling up different people and groups– churches, community leaders, and businessmen – to ask them questions about their daily activities so she could write up reports regarding what was going on around town. Tragedy struck in 1931, when Edwin “Teddy” Harleston passed away at the young age of forty-nine.[8]  To honor these men, fifteen-year-old Gussie Harleston changed her first name to Edwina.

As a high school student, Edwina Harleston remained a veteran writer for The Messenger.[9] During the height of the Great Depression, Harleston’s familial wealth offered her the rare opportunity to attend a university.  In 1934, she went on to attend Talladega College, an HBCU, where nearly “all of the students came from light-skinned African American families in urban centers.”[10] Historian Joy Ann Williamson-Lott explained that, for many Black Americans at this time, advanced study at Black institutions remained rare. However, these environments provided a rich opportunity for Black scholars to educate themselves. Edwina was a part of an emerging generation of educated Black Americans, dubbed “The New Negro,” which celebrated Black history, life, and culture through educational advancement.[11] She majored in English literature, taking classes in Chaucer and Shakespeare, while becoming president of her sorority Delta Sigma Theta. She maintained an active social life in school, even forming a secret society with other young women called Sacred Order of Ancient Pigs (SOAP), where the members got together on slow school nights to
gossip.[12]

F.B. Ransom Family Portrait, circa 1935. A’Lelia is on the far left, standing next to her father, accessed Indiana Historical Society.

It was through this group that Harleston met A’Lelia Ransom, daughter of Indianapolis lawyer Freeman Briley Ransom (better known as F.B.).[13] Ransom’s father served as legal counsel to Madame C. J. Walker and her company. A’Lelia and Edwina became great friends, making their own secret club called “Ain’t-Got-Nothing Club.” Every week, A’Lelia’s father would send the girls newspaper clippings from Indianapolis, along with a dollar or two, and they would read the news and spend A’Lelia’s allowance.[14] A’Lelia Ransom would later become the last president of Walker Manufacturing in 1953.[15]

Harleston graduated from Talladega in 1939 and upon her mother’s suggestion applied to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. By the fall of 1940, after spending her whole life in the South, she moved to Chicago to attend graduate school, working towards a master’s degree in journalism. Harleston reveals that this was her first time encountering real racism:

In Charleston, I had been sheltered from it, because the white world and the black world were parallel, never touching. Then I got to Northwestern, the so-called great Methodist Institution. Two things happened that surprised me. The star football player, who was black, was meeting the requirements of his major, but he was not allowed to swim in the university pool. . . . There was also the policy of this supposedly religious university that prevented black students from living in the dormitories on campus. . . . Once I was studying for finals with a friend who wasn’t black. I was invited to her dorm room, but at midnight was told by the matron I had to leave because I was colored. I was frightened and furious and had to stumble back across the railroad tracks to my room at the minister’s house.[16]

Northern racism became a constant obstacle and prominent topic of discussion in her work as a female journalist.

While working towards her master’s degree, Harleston worked as a reporter and editor for the Chicago Defender and the Negro Digest.  Her experience in writing for newspapers would play a critical role in the next seventeen years of her life. After meeting Henry Oliver Whitlock at Northwestern, the couple married in April of 1945 and Whitlock found herself moving to the booming, deeply segregated City of Gary, Indiana. A year earlier, Henry had taken over operations of his father’s newspaper, the Gary American – one of the largest Black newspapers in Northwest Indiana. By 1947, Edwina Whitlock would appear on the masthead as Lead Editor as the couple oversaw the dissemination of the publication.

The Gary American: Northwest Indiana’s Early Guardian of Northern Equality

Map of Gary, Indiana in 1929, Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library, accessed Indiana Memory.

Forty-five minutes from the southside of Chicago and situated next the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan, the United States Steel Company built Gary’s foundations in 1906. Other businesses followed suit. Between 1910 and 1920, Gary’s population jumped from 16,802 to over 55,000.[17] Gary garnered attention, earning the nickname the “Magic City,” as Eastern and Southern Europeans flocked to the area for industrial jobs. However, World War I largely disrupted European migration, and steel companies turned to the Southern portion of the U.S. for labor. The resulting Great Migration drew Black Southerners to Gary’s mills, where they were paid disproportionately low wages.[18]

The influx of Black residents in Gary did not go unnoticed by whites, especially those returning home from World War I to find their jobs had been “taken over” by Black Southerners. In fact, 1920s Indiana was a hotbed for Ku Klux Klan activity, with approximately 300,000 members.[19] Valparaiso, Indiana – only 30 minutes from Gary – became a center for Klan activity in the Northwest region, with the Klan nearly purchasing Valparaiso University (then Valparaiso College). Racism and terror within the region, coupled with the growing Black population, culminated in the creation of the Gary’s own Black newspaper. The publication would disseminate Black news and highlight instances of inequality that did not appear in mainstream publications. In 1927, Arthur B. Whitlock, David E. Taylor, and Chauncey Townsend headed the formation of the Gary American Publishing Company. On November 10, 1927, the Gary Colored American began as a weekly African American paper, publishing its first issue with Townsend as editor and Whitlock as manager.

Postcard Roosevelt High School, Gary, Indiana, circa 1949, accessed the Indiana Album.

In its first year of publication, the Gary Colored American led reports on the 1927 Emerson School walkout, when white students and parents protested the integration of six Black students into the school. As a result, the school board decided to reinforce existing de facto segregation, transferring the children out of Emerson, and agreeing to build Roosevelt High School, an all-Black school in the Midtown neighborhood. Gary’s Black population remained divided on this issue, with some advocating for total desegregation and others celebrating the decision to create a new school. The Gary Colored American advocated for the construction of Roosevelt High School to serve Gary’s African American children, citing it as an achievement for Black excellence. [20]

In 1928, the Gary Colored American changed its name to the Gary American, quickly becoming one the city’s most prominent Black newspapers, paving the way for publications like the Gary Crusader. While initial circulation numbers are unavailable, in 1928, the Gary American claimed a readership of nearly 2,000 readers. In 1929, its masthead asserted that the Gary American was an “independent paper” devoted to Black interests in Northern Indiana.[21]  The paper columns reflected the upsurge of white supremacy in the 1920s and 1930s, culminating in Jim Crow terrorism that plagued Black communities across the U.S. In 1934, the front page of the Gary American showcased an extensive article about the NAACP’s report that approximately 28 known lynchings occurred the previous year in the U.S. This marked nearly a 200% increase in white terror from 1932 to 1933.[22] By the end of that year, the Gary American published a message to readers, stating, “the Negroes of Gary can look only to The Gary American, their own and only newspaper, for all the news primarily of interest to them and concerning their activities,” claiming that they were the servant of Gary’s Negroes during this tumultuous time period.[23]

Editor Arthur Whitlock left the company in 1938 and attorney F. Louis Sperling was elected editor and acting manager. His legal influence filtered through the Gary American as a plethora of articles featured race and legal rulings within in the U.S. criminal justice system. The Gary American drew attention to a Richmond Times-dispatch editorial in 1937 about the federal Anti-Lynching Bill of 1937:

Now that the rest of the week is apparently available for debating the anti-lynching bill, is it too much to hope that the Southern senators will discuss this measure on its merits, instead of consuming days in flamboyant and bombastic posturing, in apostrophies to the fair name of Southern womanhood, in hysterical outbursts concerning the future of Southern civilization? [24]

The bill passed in the House of Representatives, but was held up in the Senate during a filibuster, where First Lady Elanor Roosevelt sat in the Senate Gallery to silently protest those participating in the blockade. Ultimately, the Anti-Lynching Bill failed to pass in the Senate, despite the Gallup poll revealing that nearly three in four Americans (72%) supported anti-lynching legislations and called for it to become a federal crime.[25]

Additionally, in 1938, Editor Sperling released an open letter to Indiana Governor M. Clifford Townsend on the front page of the paper to draw his attention to corruption that was happening within the city. Sperling claimed that a public official, who was responsible for distributing “hundreds of thousands of dollars of the taxpayers’ money” to majority Black families receiving government assistance, was withholding funds to coerce them to vote for her candidate for mayor, Dr. Robert Doty, and for her trustee candidate, P. D. Wells. Sperling wrote, “and what is much worse, [she] has entered into a deliberate campaign to intimidate both colored and white voters of this city who are already on relief rolls, telling them that they will have to support her ‘program’ or be they will be cut off relief rolls.”[26]

Champion of Local Activism and the Civil Rights Movement

Henry O. Whitlock and Edwina Whitlock, with their son Henry Whitlock Jr., posing next to the 1949 Christmas Release of the Gary American, found in Edward Ball’s The Sweet Hell Inside, p. 322, accessed Internet Archive.

In the following decade, the Whitlock’s returned to the Gary American. Arthur’s son, Henry O. Whitlock, became manager in 1944 and his wife, Edwina, becoming editor in 1947. She was a mother and teacher at Froebel High School by day and a journalist by night. The family thrived under the post-war conditions that encouraged a growing middle-class, so much so that they hired a live-in nanny for their children and bought a vacation home in South Haven, Michigan.[27] She saw herself a part of the elusive “Black Bourgeoisie,” which highlighted the white American ideals – Black men worked professional jobs, while the women kept the home with the children. Along with running the Gary American, Henry Whitlock worked as an investigator in the Lake County prosecutor’s office.[28]  Following in her adoptive father’s footsteps, Edwina exceeded the realities of Black life, promoting the middle-class lifestyle that many Black Americans lacked, because they did not share her fair skin or generational wealth. But the Gary American gave her unlimited access to disseminate her own ideas about family, Black excellence, and how in Gary’s Black community could fight for self-determination.

During the burgeoning Civil Rights Era, the Gary American focused on issues like discriminatory education funding, the creation of Gary’s first Black Taxicab Company, and the local boycott against Kroger Stores for refusing to hire minority employees.[29] Whitlock published her own column, First Person Singular, for many years. Her editorial topics varied, ranging from marriage and childrearing issues to discussions of race and education. One editorial, appearing in October of 1948, discussed her husband’s opinion that “women dress for other women.” She challenged her readers to question their own partners on the matter to determine if purchasing clothing was self-indulgent as society moved away from the wartime economy and the rationing system.[30] Another editorial, appearing in 1946, was simpler and to the point, “No brains, no hearts – is it any wonder that the Ku Kluxers are also stooges? Right now, they’re stooges for a few racketeers who are clipping them for ten spots or so for the privilege of going around with pillowcases on their heads.”[31] She tackled both the complexities of womanhood and race, offering an intersectional lens to the history of the growing Black population in Gary.

Following World War II, more Black Americans moved to the city, and as a result, they were forced into the central, downtown district, but the city’s boarders grew too slowly to keep up with the expanding population. Rents increased as investments in building repairs dropped, and landlords became virtually unresponsive to Black tenants. By 1940, the U.S. Census reported that only thirty percent of Black families lived in one-family homes, and the remainder lived in apartment houses or small homes converted into apartments, with multiple families living under one unit.[32] Additionally, the Gary Housing Authority – despite its role in maintaining segregated neighborhoods – reported that in 1950, 11,582 families were living in substandard homes or slums, approximately 1,000 more than existed ten years prior to the GHA organizing.[33]

In 1949, she gave birth to the first of four children, whom she raised during her editorial career.  That summer, Whitlock addressed her concerns about congestion of the Central District and the strains it imposed on families via poor living conditions and warned about the urge to fall into consumerism rather than focusing on the preservation of the natural world. Her solution was simple – Whitlock proposed an eight-day living week and a thirty-hour work week. She suggested supermarkets offer prepared meals so breadwinners could save money on groceries and utilize the funds for the necessities, like owning a home. Whitlock saw the value in equal payment for all laborers, Black or white, and advocated for the spreading of wealth to relieve the crowded living quarters of the Gary’s Central District. These statements were made during the height of the McCarthy-era, in which rampant persecution of left-wing individuals took center stage of the American political scene. Whitlock did not care. “I sound like a Communist, you say? Well, if Communism means subscribing to a theory that every man’s labor is worth as much as every other man’s,” Whitlock wrote, “having the conviction that the color of a man’s skin should be no deterrent in selecting a place to live – then, come on Revolution. H. O., hand me your shotgun.”[34]

Towards the end of the 1950s, white residents fled to suburban areas like Merrillville due to the city’s increased Black population. Middle-class white families moved away from Gary’s downtown metropolitan center, depleting it of a tax base which thrusted Gary into a state of decline. Black residents, however, were barred from following suit. Once again, housing was featured prominently in Whitlock’s editorials. In 1959, Whitlock discusses her opinions on housing, and the refusal of banks to provide loans to Black locals. Edwina wrote:

Chatted a while today with one of the leading mortgage brokers and I suggested that he and his cohorts could clean up this whole mess with one broad sweep. Instead of refusing to lend money to Negroes who seek better accommodations for themselves by moving to late fringe areas, they should refuse to loan money to the whites who try to run away. If a white family has decent housing in a decent community and the broker suspects that they’re trying to run away from their colored neighbors just let the family do their own financing.[35]

As Edwina pointed out, Black residents struggled to secure access to well-built homes and a welcoming community. However, segregated housing projects were not new – the development could be seen in Gary during the 1930s, and the Gary Housing Authority, established in 1939, continued to segregate residents by placing Black families in the central district, and white families outside of the downtown area.

The Gary American also took a vested interest in the desegregation of the city’s parks, particularly Marquette Beach. Federal programs during the Depression years expanded Gary’s Park system and as a result, U.S. Steel provided the city with a lake-front area. The WPA transformed it into a large park, equipped with a beach, picnic area, and a pavilion. Early editorials reveal how Whitlock felt about lack of community beaches, saying: “But to be continually denied even the elementary right to take a dip in Lake Michigan without having to travel 15 miles to do so, strikes me as being a pretty rotten deal.”[36] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the city took it’s time when it came to the construction of the new de-segregated section of the beachfront, and many Black residents grew frustrated. Whitlock offered another revolutionary solution: staging a sit-in picnic right on the whites-only beaches. “Getting a few heads bashed in would only be a small price to pay,” Whitlock urged, “for providing our youngsters with an example of forthright action on the part of real men and women.”[37]

Even after Marquette Beach came to fruition, white beachgoers used harassment and violence to keep the sand segregated. However, forced integration occurred only after an uproar in the late 1950s.[38] In fact, Marquette Beach had been a center of white terrorism against local Black beachgoers, with the Gary American reporting in 1949 that a peaceful protest for integration, known as “Beachhead for Democracy,” turned violent when “white hoodlums” hurled bricks, bats, and pipes against vehicles of those who were attending the protest. Police arrived twenty minutes later, closing the beach to demonstrators, which caused the white attackers to disperse.[39] However, the Gary American reported that the protest fueled KKK activity for the next three nights – with white residents burning crosses on the shores of Marquette beach, attacking the homes of “ring leaders” with rocks, bricks, and firing holes into windows with guns, even leaving notes telling residents to leave town.[40]

The protests led to the desegregation of Marquette Beach Marquette Beach remained a contentious site. In the summer of 1961, the Gary American produced extensive coverage over the beating of 21-year-old Murray W. Richards. On Memorial Day, Richards and three female friends were enjoying their time at the beach, when fifteen to twenty drunk white men approached the group and demanded that Murray and his friends leave the beach. After refusing, they attacked Richards unprovoked, hitting him in the jaw with a beer bottle, bashing his face with a baseball bat, and striking him with 2×4 plank. One of the young ladies was dragged toward the water under the threat that the gang of men would drown her. Richards explained to the American that “he feared they would carry out their threat to kill him if he were to fall down.” It was revealed that Richards saw one policeman, Officer George Stimple, standing by his squad car, watching the attack, but did nothing to stop it, even after being informed of what was happening by a young white girl.

Richards was left with lacerations on both ears and his scalp, fractures in his jaw and skull, and multiple contusions on his face, arms, chest and back which needed stitches.[41] Only one of his attackers was taken into custody and prosecuted. The beating fueled unrest across Gary, with the paper reporting that more than 500 citizens packed the Council Chambers on June 6, protesting the inaction of Officer Stimple. Charles Ross, First Vice President of the NAACP, stated that the police department had consciously and deliberately refused to provide the minimum protect to Gary’s Black citizens.[42] The protest led to an investigation into Officer Stimple, but on July 7, the Gary American reported that, after a five-hour hearing, Stimple was found innocent by the civil service commission on the charges that he failed to aid Murray Richards. Commission secretary Thomas G. Kennedy claimed, “The evidence presented in support of the charges was inconclusive.”[43] A little over a month later, the Gary American reported on another white attack against Black citizens at Marquette.[44]

Exposing and challenging racism in Northwest Indiana became the goal for Whitlock and her husband. In an interview with Edward Ball, an American author who focuses on history and biography, she recalled just how influential the Gary American was when it came to dismantling segregation in her community:

The American was a local paper, and we fought to get black bus drivers in Gary, when there were none. We fought the electric utility to hire black women because they didn’t have any. Henry’s father, who started the paper, was on the board of the Urban League, and tried to get certain jobs in the steel mills opened to Negroes, because not all of them were. All our circle and all our friends belonged to the NAACP and attended annual meetings.[45]

The Gary American never reached the status of the Chicago Defender, which was in production less than an hour away, but its influence within The Region was wholly felt.

Living History

Henry Whitlock died on May 5, 1960, and the Gary American announced his death on May 13, saying “Henry Oliver Whitlock . . . gave his all to the community. He was for modern, efficient government. He was for the complete integration of Negroes into all facets of American life.”[46] Edwina continued to run the Gary American by herself until February of 1961, when she sold the publication to Edward “Doc” James and James T. Harris, Jr. The Gary American continued to operate until the 1990s, and even expanded its publication beyond Gary into East Chicago/Indiana Harbor.[47]

That same year, Whitlock moved south of Los Angeles with her four children on the edge of Watts, a predominately Black neighborhood that had been isolated from white California. The area faced intense poverty and inequality. Whitlock took on a job in public relations at Watts Savings & Loans. But in August of 1965, Whitlock found her family thrusted into turmoil when the Watts Uprising gripped the neighborhood. Stepbrothers Marquette and Ronald Frye were pulled over right outside their house by a white California Highway Patrol officer while driving their mother’s car, where Marquette was arrested after failing a sobriety test. Back up was called from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and a crowd of Black locals formed and watched the arrest unfold, causing one officer to pull his gun out. As a result, Frye’s mother, who witnessed the event unfold outside her house, went to defend her son. All three were arrested, enraging the residents of Watts, who took to the streets to protest police profiling and the conditions of their neighborhood.[48]

Getty Image, courtesy of “Looking Back on the Watts Riots, 55 Years Later: In Photos,” WSLS, accessed https://www.wsls.com/features/2020/08/11/looking-back-on-the-watts-riots-55-years-later-in-photos/.

Between August 11 and 16, Black residents engaged in a massive protest, confronting the LAPD and taking items from local stores to acquire the goods they were often unable to afford due to pay disparities. In the end, the United States dispatched in 14,000 National Guard troops to Watts, forcing protesters back into their homes. The movement took thirty-four lives and led to over 4,000 arrests. For Whitlock, however, the uprising only motivated her get back into the community, and she quit her banking job to train as a social worker. She told biographer Edward Ball, “I studied for the ‘War on Poverty,’ which is what the Lyndon Johnson administration called it. I guess I was one of those advanced soldiers in the war . . . they were idealists, and we all believed in what President Johnson promised about finding jobs for Blacks.”[49] After passing the civil service exam, Whitlock became a social worker, traveling throughout the city into both Black and white neighborhoods to help families less privileged than her.  Along with her new career, she continued her work in journalism with articles appearing in publications like the California Eagle.[50]

By the end of Whitlock’s life, encountered her long-lost cousin, white author Edward Ball, that she finally got the opportunity to tell the world about her family’s contributions to Black history.[51] After an extensive interview process, combing through letters and photographs and outlining her family lore, Ball and Edwina worked together to publish The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South in 2001. One year later, Edwina passed away Atlanta, Georgia in November of 2002, at the age of eight-six.[52] Edwina Whitlock’s dedication to highlighting issues of inequality illuminates many of the forgotten Black women at the heart of the long Civil Rights Movement. Through her work as a journalist and her continuous involvement in her community, she utilized her own privilege to promote and sustain equality. The Gary American will soon be digitized and incorporated into the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America database and IHB’s own Hoosier State Chronicles, to give historians the chance to uncover Northwest Indiana’s often discounted, but rich Black history and unveil more stories like Edwina Harleston Whitlock’s.

 

Notes:

[1] Edwina H. Whitlock, “Gary, Ind., Negroes Help Run City Gov’t,” California Eagle, October 19, 1961, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] William’s and Kate’s son, Edwin G. “Captain” Harleston proved to be an American pioneer, establishing a successful funeral business that allowed his five children to thrive. His son, Edwin A. “Teddy” Harleston, became a successful painter and renowned portraitist. Another son ran an orphanage, whose young Black children became musical prodigies in the group Jenkins Orphanage Band.

[3] Robert Harleston and Edwin A. “Teddy” Harleston were two of Edwin “Captain” Harleston’s seven children. Captain Harleston was Kate Wilson’s fifth child with white plantation owner, William Harleston. In Charleston, Captain ran a profitable funeral business that serviced the Black community.

[4] E. Rudwick, “W.E.B. Du Bois,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed Brtannica.com.

[5] Edward Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South, New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 297, accessed Internet Archive.

[6] “Booker T. Washington,” Teach Democracy, accessed crf-usa.org; Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 297.

[7] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 297- 298.

[8] Teddy’s father, Captain Harleston, died in April of 1931, after catching pneumonia. A few days after his father’s funeral, Teddy caught pneumonia as well. Later in her life, Edwina recounted to Edward Ball that the doctor reported that Teddy had a good chance of recovery. However, the grief of losing his father superseded his will to fight the infection. Teddy Harleston passed one month later, on May 10th, 1931; [8] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 286-287, accessed Internet Archive

[9] Edwina was also a singer in the Avery glee club and president of her high school class; Ibid, 298.

[10] Ibid, 303.

[11] Joy Ann Williamson-Lott, Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order (New York: Teachers College Press, 2018), p. 21-22, accessed Google Books.

[12] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 308.

[13] “Freeman Briley Ransom,” Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, accessed indyencyclopedia.org.

[14] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 308-309.

[15] Douglas Martin, “A’Lelia Nelson, 92, President Of a Black Cosmetics Company,” The New York Times, February 14, 2001, accessed The New York Times; “Mrs. Nelson Heads Madam Walker Firm,” The Indianapolis News, February 10, 1951, accessed Newspapers.com.

[16] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 319-320.

[17] “Indiana City/Town Census Counts, 1900 to 2020,” StatsIndiana: Indiana’s Public Data Utility, accessed https://www.stats.indiana.edu/population/PopTotals/historic_counts_cities.asp; Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 328.

[18] Neil Bretten and Raymond A. Mohl, “The Evolution of Racism in an Industrial City, 1906-1940: A Case Study of Gary Indiana,” The Journal of Negro History, 59, no. 1 (Jan 1974): 52, accessed https://doi.org/10.2307/2717140.

[19] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 328.

[20] “Lay Foundation For First Unit to Roosevelt School, New Addition Will Be Ready Late in 1930,” The Gary American, July 2, 1929.

[21] The Gary American, April 5, 1929.

[22] “28 People Lynched in 1933, Says NAACP; One Freed by Jury,” The Gary American, January 5, 1934.

[23] “The Gary American Message,” The Gary American, November 30, 1934.

[24] Editorial: “Debating the Lynching Bill,” The Gary American, November 26, 1937.

[25] Justin McCarthy, “Gallup Vault: 72% Support for Anti-Lynching Bill in 1937,” May 11, 2018, accessed Gallup News.

[26] “An Open Letter to Hon. M. Clifford Townsend Governor of Indiana,” The Gary American, April 8, 1938.

[27] Ibid, 331.

[28] “Heart Attack Claims Publisher,” The Times, May 5, 1960, accessed Newspapers.com.

[29] “Pass Up Roosevelt High: Negro School to get No Funds for Facilities,” The Gary American, September 29, 1944; “Negro Taxi-Cab Company in Operation with 3 Cabs, Fleet of Five Cars Expected to be in Service Next Week,” The Gary American, November 23, 1945; “Continue Boycott of Kroger Stores, Attempts to Arbitrate Fail,” The Gary American, October 3, 1958.

[30] Edwina Whitlock, “First Person Singular,” The Gary American, October 8, 1948.

[31] Whitlock, “First Person Singular,” The Gary American, July 26, 1946.

[32] Bretten and Mohl, “The Evolution of Racism,” 59.

[33] Gary Housing Authority, The First Twenty Years: Report of the Gary Housing Authority, 1939-1959, n.d., 14, accessed HathiTrust.

[34] Whitlock, “First Person Singular,” The Gary American, July 1, 1949.

[35] Edwina Whitlock, “First Person Singular,” The Gary American, December 24, 1959.

[36] Whitlock, “First Person Singular,” The Gary American, July 19, 1946.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Gary Housing Authority, The First Twenty Years, 56.

[39] The Gary Post Tribune stated that the demonstration at Marquette Beach seemed “pointless” as there were no legal restrictions against Blacks utilizing the facilities there. This is just one example of the stark differences between white reporting and Black reporting within the city; The Terre Haute Star, August 31, 1949, accessed Newspapers.com.

[40] “Beach Project Leads to Violence: KKK Becomes Active,” The Gary American, September 4, 1949.

[41] “Youth Brutally Beaten at Marquette Beach, Girls Scream for Help as Police Stand By,” The Gary American, June 2, 1961.

[42] “500 Jam-Pack Council; Protest Actions of Police,” The Gary American, June 9, 1961.

[43] “Stimple Found Not Guilty,” The Gary American, July 7, 1961.

[44] “Hoodlums Attack Again At Marquette Park,” The Gary American, August 11, 1961.

[45] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 329-330.

[46] “The Death of Henry Whitlock,” The Gary American, May 13, 1960.

[47] “An Open Letter to 9,000 People,” The Gary American, March 24, 1961.

[48] Casey Nichols, Watts Riot (August 1965), published October, 23, 2007, accessed BlackPast.org.

[49] Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside, 338.

[50] “President John Kennedy, Gov. Pat Brown Electrify 600 Attending Links Inc., Affair,” California Eagle, November 23, 1961, accessed Newspapers.com.

[51] Whitlock’s experience as a journalist spurred a desire to document her rich family history. In 1970, after her daughter Sylvia wrote a term paper on Teddy Harleston, Edwina’s interest in genealogy was re-ignited.  She spent years going through the large collection of the Harleston family papers, photographs, and letters. While researching, she attended lectures at institutions like Mann-Simons Cottage to talk about her adoptive mother, Elise Forrest Harleston, one of the first Black female photographers in the US.  Whitlock’s goal, however, was to publish her family history.

[52] “Whitlock,” The Atlanta Constitution, November 22, 2002, accessed Newspapers.com.

The Raiderettes: The Women Who Built Evansville’s P-47 Thunderbolts

Sometimes when you think back over your old history texts, and remember that the accounts there relate the deeds of men- not women- doesn’t it give you a marvelous feeling to realize that the greatest chapter of history of mankind is being written today, and that you women are going to have your names in the headlines?

-LaVerne Heady, columnist for Republic Aviation News

Reliable, versatile, and fast, the P-47 Thunderbolt is considered one of the most important fighter-bombers in World War II. Manufactured by Republic Aviation Corporation and debuted in 1943, the P-47 served in both the European and Pacific theaters and quickly became the Allied Forces’ main workhorse. By the end of the war, Republic Aviation produced 15,683 Thunderbolts, which performed more than half a million missions, shooting down more Luftwaffe aircrafts than any other Allied fighter. What’s more impressive than its statistics, however, is the pilots’ testimonials on the durability of these planes, which quickly gained a reputation for their ability to deliver a pilot safely home after sustaining otherwise catastrophic amounts of damage.[i] One of the most dramatic examples of the Thunderbolts’ durability occurred in 1945, when the entirety of a P-47s right wing was sheared off during a bombing mission. The pilot returned to base unharmed, and the plane was reportedly repaired and flown for another 50 missions.[ii]

Headshot of Heady, Republic Aviation News, Indiana State Library.

Military history often focuses on aircraft design and the pilots who flew them. However, who built these planes is equally intriguing. Almost half of the manpower behind P-47 production were women. Known as “Raiderettes,” these women served in a wide array of positions at Republic. This piece will examine the lived experiences of the Raiderettes at the Republic plant in Evansville, Indiana and how their hard work, sacrifices, and patriotism contributed to the production of over one-third of the Thunderbolts manufactured during World War II.


ON THE ASSEMBLY LINE: WOMEN’S ROLES AT REPUBLIC AVIATION

Evansville played a major role in the home front effort throughout the war. In total, fifty different Evansville companies received over $580 million in defense contracts. This included Sunbeam, Serval Inc., Chrysler, and the Missouri Valley Bridge & Iron Co. Shipyard, which produced critical defense industry products such as ammunition, tracer rounds, and landing ship tanks. This booming industry nearly tripled Evansville’s manufacturing workforce and revitalized the previously struggling city. [iii] In 1942, Republic and the U.S. War Department announced they would build a second P-47 factory south of the Evansville Regional Airport. The first facility was located in Farmingdale, New Jersey. Construction commenced at a rapid pace and the plant was finished in August of 1943, three months ahead of schedule. However, P-47 construction was already underway before the factory was even finished, with newly hired workers manufacturing parts in garages, rented factory spaces, and other facilities. Evansville’s first P-47 dubbed “The Hoosier Spirit” flew from the plant on September 19, 1942. The Hoosier Spirit marked the first of over 6,000 Thunderbolts manufactured in Evansville during the span of three years.

Hoosier Spirit P-47 Thunderbolt, September 19, 1942, Evansville Courier and Press, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.

From the beginning, Republic sought to hire a substantial number of women workers because men were fighting overseas. Republic recruited women through newspaper advertisements and provided free, educational opportunities. Evansville College (now the University of Evansville) partnered with Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Education to offer twenty-two-night classes in engineering, science, mathematics, aircraft drafting, and other industrial skills. Notably, the Evansville Press wrote that, for the night classes, “Women especially are urged to enroll… The War Manpower Commission estimates that at least two million more women must enter war industries this year.”[iv] Soon after night classes began, Evansville College and Purdue began to offer daytime classes as well to fulfill the needs of night shift workers at Republic and other defense companies. E. C. Surat, district manager of the Purdue war training program, told the Evansville Courier and Press that “Women with mathematical training may be placed at once” in factory positions and urged that women seeking a defense industry job “enroll in the qualifying mathematics course.”[v]

The Evansville Mechanic Arts School also recruited women for their industrial classes. Previously, the school designed courses solely for men, but, upon the outbreak of the war, opened to women “without a halt.” The school especially appealed to homemakers and unemployed women to enroll.[vi]  In her article, “Diary of a Riveter,” Raiderette Mary Ellen Ward describes the challenges of these types of training courses and adjusting to the “nerve wracking” noise as they learned drilling techniques, how to measure rivets, and built physical strength to rivet for fourteen plus hours a day.[vii]  The City of Evansville and the Republic Aviation Corporation recognized early on the integral role women would play in the home front effort and began recruiting them and providing key training and education for them to succeed in manufacturing roles.

Women from the “tri-state” area of Illinois, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana performed a diverse number of roles, including managerial positions, across the Republic plant. Raiderettes could be found working side by side with men in machining parts, welding metal, wiring electrical components, inspecting aircrafts, and transporting supplies. This makes it impossible to describe a singular, definitive experience among the Raiderettes. However, women across the plant embraced their roles, seeing it as a patriotic duty, and exceeded the expectations of the public. The Muncie Evening Press reported that, in some tasks, women workers across the country exceeded men’s production output by 10 percent or more.[viii] Day-to-day life in the plant consisted of 10 to 14-hour shifts across various departments and, for many, included long commutes of up to 80 miles away a day. Beyond production work, women actively participated in work-adjacent roles, leading the charge on key social services for all Republic employees. Given the amount of time spent at both work and Republic-related events, almost all Raiderettes experienced World War II primarily through the lens of their position at the Evansville plant, making it a key experience to analyze in order to better understand the Indiana home front during World War II.

Article showcasing “Who’s Who” among the Raiderettes and their various positions at Republic, January 29, 1943, Republic Aviation News, photo cropped by IHB, accessed via the Indiana State Library.

One Raiderette, Mildred F. Harris, participated in an oral history interview in 2002, providing key insight into the subjective experience of women at Republic. A schoolteacher, Harris entered war work when her husband was drafted in 1943, commuting 55 miles a day, six days a week from her home in Kentucky to work at the Evansville plant. Harris was placed in a supervisory role managing other aircraft inspectors and supervising factory operations. She stated that men respected her and other female inspectors’ position of authority “as long as the inspectors had this army badge on,” and that they recognized the need for women to work in factories as “they couldn’t get enough men to do it.” Despite this, Harris still experienced sexism in the workplace with some of the men calling her nicknames like “Rose,” “Buttercup,” or “Daisy,” despite her position supervising them. Harris largely ignored these nicknames and kept to herself while she performed her job. Like many women, Harris felt a duty to support both her country and male relatives who served in the war, underlining the importance of her position as an aircraft inspector and the pressures of such long days and high stakes. Her experiences also demonstrated that, simply because women now appeared in “male roles,” that sexism and gender roles still pervaded most Raiderettes experiences. [ix]

Harris in 1943, courtesy of Mildred F. Harris, courtesy The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Women also contributed to the company culture at Republic, actively participating in clubs, the company newspaper, and sports leagues for basketball, softball, bowling, golf, and ping pong. Republic’s clubs competed against other manufacturing companies in Evansville. In addition, women led the charge on hosting social functions like skating nights, formal dances, and even a holiday musical production called “Flying High.” A daycare service was provided for working mothers at the reduced price of 50 cents per week.[x] This proved to be critical as women often found themselves to be “two-job” workers, working at Republic for fourteen hours a day while also continuing to maintain the domestic sphere and raise children, often without the support of their spouse who may have been drafted. Women also formed the “war matrons club,” which catered specifically to older Raiderettes whose sons were serving overseas. This club tracked soldier’s birthdays, wrote to them, and provided a support system for mothers separated from their children due to the war.[xi] While easily overlooked, these services provided necessary social outlets during a period of great change and anxiety in the United States and fostered a strong sense of community for all Republic employees. They also provided workers, many of whom had family members serving overseas, with vital social connections and filled a key gap in societal recreation and relaxation.

Members of the War Matrons Club, June 18, 1943, Republic Aviation News, accessed the Indiana State Library.

Republic Aviation News. v. 6 n. 3-v. 11 (1944-1945): 3, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive.

While women were praised for their patriotism and largely welcomed into the plant, gender roles still defined the Raiderettes’ wartime experiences. Often, the work of women was more heavily scrutinized than men’s and feminine traits characterized as a detriment to wartime production. This can be seen in Republic Aviation News through warnings against “super-sensitiveness” in the workplace and constant reminders that a woman must uphold or surpass the standards of the men who worked alongside them.[xii] Additionally, extra emphasis was placed on women’s fashion and social life with an entire column called Strictly Feminine. The column reported on social news, like who danced with whom at the canteen, what women were wearing to social functions, and other, non-work related, news. Women were often expected to meet their position’s expectations and perform social and emotional labor while doing so. Republic Aviation News paints a more nuanced picture than that of the one-dimensional and patriotic “Rosie the Riveter,” who flawlessly steps into a traditionally male position just as a man would. Women’s positions and experiences in home front factories were distinct and laced with gender roles and bias as they were expected to do a “man’s job” but in a traditionally feminine manner.

A major point of friction between women and men in the factory was whether women would continue working after the war concluded or if their jobs ought to be relinquished back to male workers. Inspector Harris, upon reflecting on the closure of the plant, stated “Now, what they [the male factory workers] expected them to do, what they wanted them to do when the war was over, [was] to go back home and wash dishes like they had been doing.”[xiii] This attitude is reflected in the fact that, after the government cancelled their wartime contracts with Republic, women disproportionately lost their jobs compared to male workers.[xiv] While it is debated whether women truly desired to return home or sought to continue working in the factories- likely a mix of both- they unilaterally faced unfair obstacles in remaining in the workforce post-war.

Pictured is restricted radio operator Naomi Johnson, September 3, 1943, Republic Aviation News, accessed the Indiana State Library.

Despite the continued presence of gender bias in the factory, Raiderettes pushed against and broke the glass ceiling in various ways. For example, Naomi Johnson was notable for being the first woman restricted radio operator- a position that allows users to utilize advanced aircraft radios to communicate and direct pilots- in the region. Originally from Marion, Kentucky, Johnson moved to Evansville in 1937 and earned her operator license in 1940 from the Federal Communications Commission. Johnson originally tested police radios in cars but, upon the outbreak of the war, transitioned to Republic Aviation. She began working on electrical equipment but, after nine months, was transferred to a radio control board, where she communicated with pilots flying and landing P-47s at the Evansville Regional Airport. Due to her strong interest in and advanced knowledge of aviation, she was made an honorary member of the Civil Air Patrol. When interviewed by Republic Aviation News, Johnson expressed her strong passion for her work, stating, “The thing I like best about radio work is the fact that it’s something you can never learn enough about. You can just keep studying and studying. But I wouldn’t mind being called a book-worm if I could read about radio.”[xv]

Reclamation agent Eunice Hall, January 7, 1944, Republic Aviation News, accessed the Indiana State Library.

Another woman, Eunice Hall of Newburgh, Indiana, became the first “reclamation agent” at the Evansville plant, a new position that encouraged the conservation of factory materials to reduce waste in the various plant divisions. Working with the Utility Shop division, Hall also served as the division’s Safety Council representative. While Republic Aviation News minimized her position by comparing it to a “housekeeping” role, Hall excelled at leadership by defining this new company role and taking the lead on both shop safety and material conservation, a key aspect of the home front’s defense industry economy.[xvi]

Other women broke into aviation and flew P-47s domestically. The Women Airforce Service Pilots, (WASPs) were elite civilian pilots who supported the war effort by ferrying, testing, and transporting planes. Described as “polished” and having perfect uniforms, the WASPs visited the Evansville plant numerous times to transport Thunderbolts to military bases.[xvii] On October 10, 1943, Theresa James and Betty Gillies landed in Evansville to deliver two Thunderbolts and transport two others. Gillies is notable as the first ever woman to fly a P-47 aircraft.[xviii] In 1944, WASPs regularly began transporting P-47s from the Evansville plant, with Republic Aviation News stating that 85 women would participate and, each month, 16 of them would fly to the Evansville plant to ferry completed planes to military bases.[xix]  While the activities of the WASPs generated much interest both in the news and amongst factory workers, it is reported that the WASPs largely stayed separated from the rest of the factory and focused on their positions.[xx]

Raiderettes continue to work after the announcement of V-E Day, Republic Aviation News, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive.

As evidenced by the previous examples, women held diverse roles within Republic Aviation and navigated their new, public-facing roles in a variety of ways. Some women, like those in the War Matrons club or Eunice Hall, embraced social responsibilities at the plant by serving on committees and clubs and embracing a more “traditionally feminine” role at Republic. Meanwhile, others, such as the WASPs or Harris, were more reserved in their roles and attempted to ignore or minimize gender roles and bias. However, the common thread of all of these women is that they collaborated with both male workers and one another, pushing against traditional gender roles to best serve the United States during World War II. Their sacrifices were largely recognized and praised by the public. However, it was also expected that they would revert to traditional roles upon the end of the war which, generally, is what occurred. Despite this, these women successfully navigated a challenging period in American history to provide a vital service on the home front and ought to be remembered for their work.


Republic Aviation News. v. 6 n. 3-v. 11 (1944-1945): 6, accessed Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive.

On August 21, 1945, Republic Aviation announced they would be ending all production at Evansville and the plant was soon listed for sale. Upon its closure, the plant had produced over one-third of all the P-47 Thunderbolts in the world, hired thousands of employees, and infused millions of dollars into the local economy. In addition, the plant had gained national recognition, earning three Army-Navy E awards for “excellence in production.”[xxi] This prestigious award was granted to 5% of all eligible plants and represented the top echelon of home front production.[xxii] The plant’s production was considered so outstanding, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt even visited the plant on April 27, 1943 as part of a 17-day, 20-state tour of America’s defense industry, presenting awards to multiple employees.[xxiii]

Without the thousands of women who worked at the Republic plant, these national honors would not have been achieved. Similarly, the quality and reliability of the P-47, which is world-renowned and contributed to Allied Forces’ air superiority during WWII, would not have been possible without the dedicated hands that constructed the planes at an unprecedented pace. While the lives and roles of the Raiderettes at the Republic factory did not ascribe to the simplified “Rosie the Riveter” archetype, they were critical to the defense effort nonetheless, and ought to be commemorated as both Indiana and national heroes.

 

Notes:

[i] “Republic P-47 Thunderbolt,” National Museum of World War II Aviation, accessed https://www.worldwariiaviation.org/aircraft/republic-p47-thunderbolt; National Air and Space Museum, “Republic P-47D-30-RA Thunderbolt,” Smithsonian Institution, n.d., accessed https://www.si.edu/object/republic-p-47d-30-ra-thunderbolt%3Anasm_A19600306000.

[ii] Dario Leone, “The Story of the P-47 that Safely RTB after it Had a Wing Sheared off Against a Chimney during a Strafing Run and its Tail Damaged by Spitfires that Mistook it for a German Fighter,” The Aviation Geek Club, September 20, 2023, accessed https://theaviationgeekclub.com/the-story-of-the-brazilian-p-47-that-safely-rtb-after-it-had-a-wing-sheared-off-against-a-chimney-on-a-strafing-run-and-its-tail-damaged-by-spitfires-that-mistook-it-for-a-german-fighter/.

[iii] James Lachlan MacLeod, Evansville in World War II (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015); David E. Bigham, “The Evansville Economy,” Traces of Indiana And Midwestern History 3, no. 4 (Fall 1991): 26-29, accessed https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/p16797coll39/id/7111/rec/3; Hugh M. Ayer, “Hoosier Labor in the Second World War,” Indiana Magazine of History 59, no. 2 (June 1963): 95-120, accessed https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/8960/11634.

[iv] “College to give Classes in War Work,” Evansville Press, September 12, 1943, accessed Newspapers.com.

[v] “Day War Training Classes Planned,” Evansville Courier, October 15, 1943, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vi] “These Doors Never Close: Mechanic Arts School Has Prominent Part in War Work Training Program,” Evansville Courier and Press, July 2, 1942, accessed Newspapers.com.

[vii] Mary Ellen Ward, “Diary of a Riveter,” Republic Aviation News, February 12, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[viii] “Two-Job War Worker: She Does a Man-Sized Job on Production Line Plus ‘Women’s Work’ of Maintaining a Home,” Muncie Evening Press, November 5, 1942, accessed Newspapers.com.

[ix] James Russell Harris, “Rolling Bandages and Building Thunderbolts: A Woman’s Memories of the Kentucky Home Front, 1941-1945,” The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, (Spring 2002): 167-194, accessed JSTOR.

[x] “New Plan for Child Care Offered: Play Center Fills Need Before and After School,” Republic Aviation News, November 26, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xi] “War Mothers Organized at Republic Plant,” Evansville Press, April 29, 1943, accessed Newspapers.com.

[xii] “A Message from Ellen J. Dilger,” Republic Aviation News 100, no. 2, January 29, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xiii] Harris, “Rolling Bandages,” 182.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] “First Woman Restricted Radio Operator in This Region is Republic’s Naomi Johnson,” Republic Aviation News, September 3, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xvi] “Utility Shop Girl Becomes First Official Reclamation Agent at Indiana Division,” Republic Aviation News, January 7, 1944, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xvii] Harris, “Rolling Bandages,” 184-185.

[xviii] “First Woman Ever to Fly a Thunderbolt is One of Two Girls Landing Here in P-47s,” Republic Aviation News, October 15, 1943, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xix] “First Squadron of Girl Pilots Here to Fly P-47’s,” Republic Aviation News, August 1, 1944, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xx] Harris, “Rolling Bandages,” 184-185.

[xxi] “Raiders Win Army-Navy ‘E’ I.D. [Indiana Division] Gains Highest Production Honor,” Republic Aviation News, May 5, 1944, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library; “Your Army-Navy ‘E,’” Republic Aviation News, May 5, 1944, p. 2, accessed Indiana State Library; “Army, Navy Honor Raiders,” Republic Aviation News, May 26, 1944, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library; “Raiders Win 2nd ‘E’ Award: Achievement lauded by Marchev,” Republic Aviation News, November 3, 1944, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library; “I.D. Earns 2nd Army-Navy ‘E’ for Outstanding Work,” Republic Aviation News, November 3, 1944, p. 2, accessed Indiana State Library; “Raiders Win 3rd Army-Navy “E,” Republic Aviation News, May 25, 1945, p. 1, accessed Indiana State Library.

[xxii] “Army-Navy E Award,” Naval History and Heritage Command, September 15, 2020, accessed https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/a/army-navy-e-award.html.

[xxiii] “Camera Highlights of the President’s Visit to the Indiana Division on Tuesday, April 27,” Republic Aviation News, May 21, 1943, p. 4-5, accessed Indiana State Library; “Roosevelt visits Evansville; Sees P-47 Dive at 500 M.P.H,” Indianapolis News, April 29, 1943, p. 1, accessed Newspapers.com; “Evansville Aircraft Plant Receives Visit of President,” Muncie Evening Press, April 29, 1943, p. 9, accessed Newspapers.com.