Republican Game-Changer: 1908 Taft Rally in Indiana

Today, we expect presidential candidates to come to us. They speak on the capitol steps, at memorials, and in high school gyms. They shake hands, meet local leaders, and in Indiana at least, make sure they’re seen eating a homemade pie or pork tenderloin of local renown. Beyond these appearances, however, campaign ads, emails, and social media posts bring candidates into our living rooms, our inboxes, and our daily lives.

President Ronald Reagan Eating Peach Cobbler at Mac’s in Mooresville, Indiana, June 19, 1985, photo located in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Justin Clark for his research into Reagan’s visit.

This was not always the case, however. In fact, for much of U.S. history, such active campaigning was seen as power hungry, uncouth, and beneath the dignity of the office. While they didn’t hit the campaign trail, the candidates were still working hard to win over voters with events and promotional material. If we start our story in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1888 and close it twenty years later in Brook, Indiana, we see a sea change in Republican Party campaign tactics. And believe it or not, our modern barrage of presidential politicking owes a lot to the 1908 presidential campaign of William Howard Taft.

Republican Politics from the Front Porch

“Harrison and Morton Campaign Ball,” 1888, Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, accessed University Library, IUPUI.

During the 1888 presidential campaign, Hoosier candidate Benjamin Harrison and incumbent President Grover Cleveland mostly stayed home. That’s not to say they weren’t politicking. Harrison ran a “front porch” campaign, speaking to crowds that gathered at his Indianapolis home and the reporters he invited to cover the event. Political organizations produced “posters, political cartoons, speeches, rallies, parades, brass bands, and torchlight demonstrations” in support of their candidates (Miller Center). And while Harrison stayed in Indianapolis, his supporters took the campaign on the road for him with a memorable publicity stunt. Inspired by a gimmick used for his grandfather William Henry Harrison‘s successful 1840 campaign, a Maryland supporter built a steel and canvas ball and rolled it 5,000 miles across the country to Benjamin Harrison’s home. In an attempt to draw comparisons between the two Harrisons, the campaign slogan became, inevitably, “Keep the Ball Rolling.” Harrison won the presidency, losing the popular vote, but carrying the electoral college. During the rematch in 1892, Cleveland declined to campaign out of respect for Harrison’s wife’s illness and Harrison made only a few public appearances. However, the Republican Party only tenuously backed Harrison because of “his failure to resolve three national issues,” and Cleveland won easily in 1892. (more here: Miller Center).

“Photograph of Campaign of 1888 in Front of House,” 1888, Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, accessed University Library, IUPUI.

In 1896, the Democrats, with the support of the Populist Party, ran former U.S. Representative William Jennings Bryan for president. (Remember him; he’ll be back later). Bryan was a dynamic speaker and hit the campaign trail with enthusiasm, covering 18,000 miles in three months. Still, the Republican candidate and former Governor of Ohio William McKinley stayed home. Having raised four million dollars mainly from business and banking interests, the party organization dumped money into the printing and distribution of campaign pamphlets. Meanwhile, McKinley delivered 350 speeches to 750,000 people – all from his front porch- resulting in his election. McKinley won easily again in 1900, bringing New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt with him to the White House as his vice president.  (Miller Center)

Library of Congress Caption: “Theodore Roosevelt, Joseph Cannon, members of the Republican Nomination Committee, and guests in front of Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, N.Y.,” Underwood & Underwood, publisher, c. 1904, August 4, accessed Library of Congress.

After McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt served out McKinley’s presidential term and was the clear choice of the Republican Party to run in 1904. (Roosevelt picked Indiana Senator Charles W. Fairbanks as his running mate.) The Democrats selected New York Supreme Court Judge Alton B. Parker as a safe choice for presidential candidate, appealing to those who opposed TR’s progressive domestic politics and expanding foreign agenda. Parker refrained from campaigning as was the norm, but heavily criticized his opponent in the press. TR made a thirty day tour of Western states after his nomination was announced, but also refrained from actively campaigning for election. By the summer of 1904 he began speaking from his Sagamore Hill front porch at Oyster Bay, New York. Like McKinley, large campaign donations helped  TR secure the presidential office. (Miller Center)

Taft V. Bryan: The Game Changer

William Howard Taft doesn’t get a lot of love as a president. He was indecisive, easily railroaded by Congress, and never wanted the office as badly as his wife or TR wanted it for him. However, the strategy crafted by Taft and his advisers to win the 1908 election was brilliant and the fierce showdown of the two major party candidates changed campaigning forever. And for the Republicans, it started just outside tiny Brook, Indiana.

Muncie Evening Press, June 24, 1908, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

Taft was TR’s handpicked successor to the presidency and thus had the backing of a beloved president and the powerful Republican political machine. He easily won the nomination at the June 1908 Republican National Convention in Chicago. However, Taft had an image problem – one that could lose him the essential votes of farmers, laborers, and African Americans. As an U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, he made several anti-labor decisions. In 1894, Taft had ruled against the railroad workers of the Chicago Pullman Strike. Taft’s Democratic opponent William Jennings Bryan, (remember him?) on the other hand, was a Populist who appealed to laborers and farmers by promising to protect their interest from the Republicans, who were backed by exploitative big business.

During the 1908 campaign, Bryan, now on his third presidential run, again stormed the U.S. like an evangelist, talking directly to the people and criticizing Taft’s anti-labor record. This time, it seemed, the Republican candidate was not going to be able to stay home. Taft needed to defend his record, assure workers that the Republican Party backed their interests, and smile and shake as many hands as possible.

Library of Congress caption:
Mitchell, S.D. (1909) [i.e. 1908] Wm. Howard Taft shaking hands
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.
Bryan should really get credit for launching the whistle stop campaigning that became standard practice. He had been touring the country for some time advocating for the silver standard. However, it wasn’t until Taft began actively campaigning on the road – in order to rehabilitate his image and make himself likable to voters, as opposed to simply spreading an educational message – that we get the kind of spectacle politics we recognize today. [Bourdon, 115-6.]

The campaign was strikingly modern in other ways too. Speeches by presidential candidates were traditionally quite long – an hour of expounding on the party platform was not unusual. However, Taft kept it short, speaking for thirty minutes at major events, but sometimes spending only five minutes joking with crowds on train platforms. Bryan, known for lengthy rhetoric, was not to be outdone. He recorded a series of two minute speeches on a wax cylinder for Thomas Edison’s National Phonograph Company. Of course, Taft then had to do the same. Thus, we get the modern sound bite. [Listen here: NPR]

George Ade: Reluctant Republican Ringleader

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the Republican Party was in danger of being torn apart over temperance (prohibition versus local option). Leaders thought that a visit from a national candidate could unify the party at least for long enough to push through a Republican state ticket. Charles S. Hernly, Chairman of Indiana’s State Republican Committee, could see that the base needed a flamboyant event to generate enthusiasm for the Party. Recalling a promising conversation from the previous spring, he formed a plan. It involved George Ade, a native of Newton County, a beloved Indiana author, and a dabbler in local politics.

By this time, Ade had achieved financial success as the writer of clever and observant fictional stories for books and newspapers. He gained fame as the wit behind several popular comedic Broadway plays. Ade was known for using humor and rustic, slangy language and was often compared to Mark Twain. He had done well for himself and wisely trusted his brother William to invest his money in real estate.

“George Ade,” photograph, n.d., Indiana State Library Photograph Collections, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

In 1902, William secured 417 acres near the small town of Brook for his brother to build a cottage as a writer’s retreat. George named the estate “Hazelden.” By 1904, when he began to stay at Hazelden more regularly, “it had grown into an Elizabethan manor house . . . complete with cow barn, greenhouse, caretaker’s cottage, dance pavilion, several smaller outbuildings, swimming pool, softball diamond, and forty foot water tower,” plus extravagant landscaped gardens. (Indiana Magazine of History)

Town of Brook, “Historic George Ade Home,” http://www.brookindiana.com/historic-george-ade-home/

When Ade awoke at Hazelden the morning of August 20, 1908 and settled in to read the day’s Indianapolis Star, he received somewhat of a shock. The front page headline read, “Ade’s Farm Rally Will be Big Event.” Ade later wrote that he recalled a casual conversation with Chairman Charles Hernly about the possibility of a political picnic. However, they had not had formally planned any kind of function, let alone one that Hernly described to reporters as “the biggest Republican event Indiana will see this campaign.”

Indianapolis Star, August 20, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Hernly had colorfully expounded on the day’s details for reporters. He listed the names of prominent state and national politicians who would likely speak, “all the big guns,” and promised a meal of “roast beef, potatoes, bread and butter and coffee” for the Midwestern farmers who were invited to attend. Hernly emphasized that Ade was “enthusiastic in his support of the Republican ticket,” and the reader assumed, the event to take place at his estate. “The only thing that is bothering Mr. Ade is the fact that it is going to take forty of his best beef cattle to satisfy the hunger of the crowd,” Hernly claimed.

Ade was now in an impossible position. He would have liked to “have headed off the barbecue idea,” but was also an enthusiastic Republican who wanted to help his party. [Indiana Magazine of History] He had served as a visible delegate to the Republican National Convention where Taft was nominated – a fact that made headlines even in the New York Times – and as a member of the notification committee that formally told Taft of his nomination. Ade was a respected figurehead for the party. If he were to refuse to host this now public event, he risked further demoralizing the already troubled Indiana Republican Party. If Hernly meant to force Ade’s hand, it worked. The “biggest Republican rally of the coming campaign” would be held in George Ade’s backyard.

The Taft Special to Ade Station

Through the summer Taft was hanging back, assessing the political climate, trying to determine how best to campaign. By September 1908, however, it was clear that he was going to have to defend his labor record from Bryan’s attacks. Taft needed to align himself with the more progressive agenda of the Republican Party as announced at the June convention. He had also been briefed on the tenuous situation in Indiana and knew he needed to appeal directly to Hoosier farmers if he wanted to win the state. The rally planned at Ade’s farm was an opportunity the candidate could not pass up. Taft accepted the invitation sent to him by Chairman Hernly.

New York Times, September 17, 1908, 3, accessed https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1908/09/17/issue.html

On September 16, the Taft campaign announced the tour itinerary. The candidate would leave Cincinnati the morning of September 23 to travel though Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas over several weeks. The New York Times reported:

Judge Taft’s first address on his Western speaking tour will be made at Brook, Ind., on Sept. 23. It will be at a big Republican rally on the farm of George Ade, the Hoosier humorist and politician.

Notably, the newspaper reported that Taft would be following the route that William Jennings Bryan had undertaken in his campaign.

The morning of September 23, Taft and his staff boarded a five car train dubbed “The Taft Special” and headed for Indiana. The train stopped briefly in Indianapolis, where Taft shook hands with local politicians and waved to the approximately 200 people gathered to greet him. He joked with the crowd, forgoing a formal speech. The Taft Special stopped again briefly in Lafayette and switched tracks at Sheff before arriving at Ade station just west of Brook. Ade and a welcome committee arrived in a six car caravan to take Taft, staff, and guests to Hazelden.

Library of Congress caption: Crowd to greet Wm. H. Taft, De Witt, Nebraska, 1908,
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

As the caravan drove through Brook, a large sign made of evergreen reading “Welcome” framed in marigolds and goldenrod greeted them. “Triumphal arches” also made of evergreen spanned the main street and supported large pictures of Taft and the other Republican candidates. Newspapers around the country described the scene in detail. The New York Times reported:

All forenoon, from miles around the countryside, buggies, family carryalls, hay racks, and farm vehicles of every description crowded the roads leading to Hazelden, the country home of George Ade. When the candidate, seated in the humorist’s automobile, reached the farm he was driven through a veritable gauntlet of vehicles hitched to telephone poles, fence posts, trees, or anything else calculated to restrain the horses.

Indianapolis News, September 24, 1908, 4, Newspapers.com.

The Indianapolis News described the scene that greeted Taft upon his arrival at Ade’s estate:

Before the arrival of the Taft party there was a concert by the Brook Band and later by the Purdue Military band, followed by short speeches from some of the local statesmen. At noon the Second Regiment Band, of Chicago, gave a great display of daylight Japanese fireworks. When the Taft party appeared in sight down the road, a dozen bombs were hurled in the air the explosions resembled a salute by a gun squad and the air was filled with smoke as if from a battle.

The spectacle of this political theater was not lost on the Indianapolis News. The newspaper referred to the rally as a clever “stunt” and a “big play” put on by Ade. It continued to draw comparisons between the playwright’s craft and the political event:

The frameup of Ade’s latest act was all that could be desired. It was elaborately staged, and the scenery was all that nature could do for one of the prettiest places in northern Indiana, and the actors were of a pedigree out of the ordinary.

Upon arrival, the official party had lunch in the Ade home while the crowd purchased “full dinner pails,” a reference to the 1900 Republican slogan that appealed to the labor vote and helped William McKinley defeat William Jennings Bryan. At 1:15 p.m., Ade and Taft appeared on the decorated speaker’s platform. Ade introduced the candidate, and Taft officially kicked off his campaign.

Brook Reporter, September 25, 1908, 1, Newspapers.com.

Taft had not only remembered Ade from the notification committee, he was a fan of the writer’s work, “The Sultan of Sulu,” which was set in the Philippines. Taft had presided over the U.S. commission overseeing the new U.S. protectorate of Philippines under McKinley and spent a great deal of time there. National newspapers reported that Taft referred to Ade as “the Indiana Sultan of Sulu” and stated that “the Philippine original had no advantage over Ade.” Then, Taft got down to brass tacks.

He looked out at the faces of the farmers, the constituents that brought him to Indiana, and addressed them directly. He wanted this point to hit home, stating:

I was told if I came here I should have the privilege of meeting 10,000 farmers of the State of Harrison and [former Indiana Governor Oliver P.] Morton, and I seized the opportunity to break my journey to Chicago to look into your faces and to ask you the question whether your experience as farmers with Mr. Bryan and your recollection of his course since 1892 is such as to command him to you as the person into whose hands you wish to put the executive power over the destinies of this nation for four years.

Library of Congress Caption: Taft Crookston, Minn. [Minnesota], Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
In other words, Taft implied: I came here to talk to you directly and honestly, unlike Bryan, who didn’t stop between big cities and doesn’t have your interests in mind. Taft continued to attack Bryan’s record in the House as a supporter of tariff bills that hurt the working man and policies that prevented democratic discussion of amendments to such legislation. And, Taft continued, when these tariffs negatively affected the economy, what did Bryan do to fix it? Taft claimed that Bryan toured around the country advocating for the silver standard and ignored the needs of “the farmers of the country, who were groaning under a very heavy weight of obligations.” Thankfully, Taft continued, Bryan was defeated and gold remained the standard, something that helped the farmers return to prosperity. [More here on gold versus silver standard, if that’s your thing.]

Taft then espoused the progressive policies of the Republican administration that had directly improved farmers’ lives. He especially focused on the administration’s introduction of free rural mail delivery, which helped to connect farmers to new ideas, keep them up-to-date on news, and reduce the feeling of isolation from which many rural people suffered.

Lake County Times, September 24, 1908, 1, Newspapers.com

Taft’s direct appeal to the farmers worked. The Brook Reporter could scarcely believe that “Mr. Taft would notice a small town like Brook.” The Indianapolis News ran the headline: “Brook Now On The Map, Thanks To George Ade.” In November, Hoosier farmers went to the polls. And while the split in the Indiana Republican Party proved fatal to the state ticket, Hoosiers chose Taft by over 10,000 votes. Taft was inaugurated March 4, 1909 as the twenty-seventh President of the United States.

(Richmond) Palladium-Item, November 4, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com

Conclusion

Taft’s Indiana stop marked a sea change in campaign strategy. At Hazleden, Taft introduced the political tactics into his repertoire that he would hone through the rest of his tour and helped win him the election. He promoted the Republican platform as a progressive agenda that would benefit farmers and laborers. He crafted a likable, jovial, and personable image by speaking casually and humorously with crowds, while still seriously addressing their concerns. He went on the offense against his opponent in a manner the Baltimore Sun called “aggressive,” stopping in many places where Bryan had recently spoken in order to rebut his opponent’s statements. And perhaps, most importantly, he shook hands and flashed that unbeatable Taft smile at as many voters as his schedule would allow. Through sheer spectacle and tenacity, the man who had squashed labor strikes as a judge was now the candidate of the working man. A little support from Teddy didn’t hurt either, but Taft’s tour of the Midwest shaped him as a speaker and directly led to his election. And the 1908 election became the first where the Republican and Democratic candidates campaigned actively – an irreversible break with convention, as we see each election season through social media, a steady stream of ads, and even late night shows. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the ol’ front porch.

Newspapers on the Rally

“George Ade’s Rally at Hazelden Farm,” Indianapolis News, September 23, 1908, 1; “George Ade As Sultan,” Buffalo Mourning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express, September 24, 1908, 3; “Brook Now On The Map, Thanks To George Ade,” Indianapolis News, September 24, 1908, 4; “Taft Appeals To Labor,” Baltimore Sun, September 24, 1908, 2; “Taft Defends His Record On Labor,” New York Times, September 24, 1908, 3, accessed TimesMachine; “Taft at Brook,” Brook Reporter, September 25, 1908, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Secondary Sources

Peri E. Arnold, “William Taft,” Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia, https://millercenter.org/president/taft.

Jeffrey Bourdon, “‘Just Call Me Bill:’ William Taft Brings Spectacle Politics to the Midwest,” Studies in Midwestern History 2, no. 10 (October 2016): 113-138, accessed Grand Valley State University.

Howard F. McMains, “The Road to George Ade’s Farm: Origins of Taft’s First Campaign Rally, September, 1908,” Indiana Magazine of History 67, no. 4 (December 1971): 318-334, accessed Indiana University.

Braceros in the Corn Belt Part Two: “Ambassadors of Goodwill”

This post is the second part of a two-part article. Read Part One for background information on labor shortage claims by larger agricultural companies and the work of Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard.

Dorothea Lange, “First Braceros,” photograph, 1942, Oakland Museum of California, Online Archive of California, accessed http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft3x0nb000/?order=1

The U. S. government began importing Mexican laborers to work on American farms almost immediately after Secretary of Agriculture (and Carroll County native) Claude Wickard successfully negotiated with the Mexican government to begin what became known as the Bracero Program. The first workers arrived in the fall of 1942 and by February 1943, approximately 4,000 Mexicans were at work on farms in the American Southwest. Thousands more were employed by the railroad industry in the name of war preparedness. East Coast growers and processors soon demanded access to foreign workers and the federal government again complied. By April 1943, the program included Jamaican and Bahamian workers as well. By early 1944 bracero were at work laying railroad tracks and picking and canning produce in the Hoosier state.*

Thus far, histories of the Bracero Program have focused on the West and Southwest, touching on East Coast dairy workers, and neglecting the Midwest altogether. This is not only a gap in historiography, its a bizarre one, considering the Midwest’s role as the corn belt or breadbasket. It’s the region that has long fed much of the United States, and during WWII, the world. As economists, policy advisers, and policymakers look to historians’ studies of the Bracero Program as the root of current immigration and agricultural policies, it’s especially important to include the important agricultural region of the Midwest. Examining the stories available in Indiana newspapers is a good first step toward creating a more complete picture of the issue.

Alternative Labor in the Cornbelt 

Tipton Daily Tribune, August 7, 1942, 1, Newspapers.com

Even before the arrival of the braceros, Indiana newspapers reported on Wickard’s agreement with Mexico and anticipated the effect of the workers’ arrival. The Tipton Daily Tribune focused on the assertion that braceros would be imported “only when domestic workers are not available to meet the demand” and would “not replace other workers.” The article also detailed the guarantees negotiated by the Mexican government intended to protect the braceros: their wages would match prevailing local rates with a minimum wage of 30 cents an hour; they were guaranteed employment for at least three-fourths of their stay in any area; and the U. S. government was responsible for their transportation back to Mexico at the end of their employment.

The Bremen Enquirer added information on living conditions, noting that employers must guarantee “adequate housing, health and sanitary facilities.” This meant only three workers or a four-person family could live in a twelve by fourteen foot space with “facilities for cooking, sleeping, laundry, bathing, and adequate sanitary toilets and means of waste disposal.” Most newspapers reiterated statements on the shortage of workers caused by the war effort [see Part One] and patriotically supported the importation of workers from Mexico to help feed the troops. When the workers actually arrived in their hometown, however, the Hoosier response was mixed.

(Greencastle) Daily Banner, October 12, 1942, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mexican farm workers first arrived to work on Indiana farms managed by large companies with profitable government contracts. In May 1944, the Argos Reflector reported that the H. J. Heinz Co. had leased a three hundred acre farm north of Argos in Marshall County, “as part of their program to insure delivery of war time food commitments.” According to the Reflector, this was the Heinz Co.’s “largest venture in the country.” The article reported that 114 acres of the farm was planted with cucumbers, “one of the largest items of the company’s list of 57 processed foods.” The Argos reported that the company produced “about half” of the cucumbers provided to the U. S. navy where “pickles are an everyday part of the sailor’s menu.”

“Heinz Building Postcard,” n.d., Private Collection of Joe Coomer, Wabash Valley Visions and Voices, Indiana State University, accessed Indiana Memory.

The Reflector reported that the company was constructing forty “bunk houses” for “an estimated 200 Mexican field laborers.”  The article stated that the workers would harvest the cucumber crop and then would be offered jobs “in the tomato fields.” This Marshall County newspaper described the laborers both as “Mexicans” and “migrant workers” and so it is unclear if they were imported Mexican workers or migratory Mexican-American workers.* However, the fact that the company was building housing, implies that they were fulfilling the contract requirements for government-placed bracero workers.  It’s possible that Heinz was using both migratory labor and braceros. It’s also possible that the Argos Reflector did not or could not distinguish between workers from Mexico and migrant workers of Mexican heritage.

USCIS History Library, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, accessed https://www.uscis.gov/history-and-genealogy/historical-library/library-news/bracero-program-images

While I have yet to uncover WWII-era interviews from Indiana based workers that might tell us about their experience, we can get a feel for how they were living from newspaper coverage. Newspapers reported that the braceros preferred outdoor farm work as opposed to work inside the canneries. The Reflector attributed this to their supposed preference for working outside, as if that were a trait of all Mexican people. Putting such a stereotype to one side, reading between the lines, and placing this information in context, however, we can draw some conclusions about their labor conditions. Peeling tomatoes, canning, and running label machines would have been monotonous and the large boilers likely made the work extremely hot and uncomfortable. Newspapers reported that the “200 field laborers” employed by Heinz were “selected for industrious and good conduct.” It’s highly likely that part of “good conduct” was not complaining about conditions.

“Karl Kae Knecht Cartoon,” August 12, 1943, University of Evansville Libraries, Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archive, accessed Indiana Memory. Note the “Help Wanted” exclamations at the top of the cartoon.

In August 1944, the Indianapolis Star reflected the national claim that there were “critical shortages of farm labor” and stated that emergency workers were needed in several Indiana counties. The paper reported that sixty “Mexican workers” arrived in Starke County the previous week “to assist with the pickle crop.” The State Supervisor of Emergency Labor stated that 100 more Mexican workers would be assigned to farms in that county. The Star reported that twenty-five Mexican laborers would soon be at work in Wells County, also in picking cucumbers to be processed into pickles.

The Star made it clear that these were bracero workers and differentiated “Mexican workers” and “migrant workers.” After reporting the statistics for the “Mexican workers,” the paper noted that “further assistance is expected from an estimated 500 migrant families from Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri.” We know even less about the experiences of these Mexican workers. The only thing we know for sure from this Star article is that they made $3.10 to $3.50 per day. However, the official bracero agreement did not put restrictions on hours.

Also in August 1944, an article in the Alexandria Times-Tribune reported that “several truck loaders [sic] of Mexican workers” were arriving in Grant County “to assist with the harvest there.” The Times-Tribune reported a local labor shortage in the “tomato growing belt” and the need for emergency workers. Again, we know little about the workers’ experience. However, the Reflector, the Star, and the Times-Tribune all mentioned the seasonal opening of the canneries in concert with the arrival of Mexican workers. While it is not always clear if the workers were migrant or bracero, it is clear that the Indiana canneries were benefiting from their inexpensive, non-unionized  labor.* In fact, in September 1945, the Elwood Call-Leader reported that “some 20 Mexican workers face deportation in Crown Point.” The men, who had been “employed in and around Kokomo,” were charged with “having failed to comply with regulations under which they were imported as workers.” This failure to “comply” could have been legitimate, but it could also refer to worker complaints about working or living conditions, mistreatment, or unfair pay.

(Elwood) Call-Leader, September 14, 1945, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.
“Alice of Old Vincennes Tomatoes,” Private Collection of William D. Walker, Wabash Valley Visions & Voices Digital Memory Project, accessed Indiana Memory.

An August 29, 1945, an article in the (Seymour) Tribune raises some flags about worker mistreatment. The newspaper reported: “The Vincennes Packing Company here has twelve Mexican farm workers which they secured, and have housed in the building adjoining their plant.” This plant, which also canned tomato products, told the paper that “while these men were secured . . . for the use and convenience of their own growers, these men can be used at other farm work when they are not otherwise busy.” Again, in the same article, the manager of the company stated that while the Mexican workers were employed “to get tomatoes picked, and other canning crops taken care of . . . they can be used at other farm work when not needed for tomato picking.” It was mainly large companies that could afford to transport, house, and pay the guest workers, not small farmers. However, the large company farms and processors of Indiana were surrounded by small family farms. This Tribune article seems like a thinly-veiled advertisement to local farmers announcing that the packing company was willing to hire out their workers. The question begging to be asked is: who made money off this arrangement, the company or the workers? Nothing can be definitively concluded from this article, but the repeated declaration of the workers’ availability does seem suspect.

(Seymour) Tribune, August 29, 1945, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

“Open Your Hearts”: Railroad Braceros and Hoosier Response

Mexican railroad workers were also essential to the war effort as increased transportation was necessary to ship supplies from the heartland to the front lines. The response to the arrival of Mexican railroad workers by Indiana communities ranged from attempts to run them out of the neighborhood and pin local crimes on them to wholehearted welcome and support.

In Irvington, just east of Indianapolis, a small but vocal group of prominent citizens made it clear that they did not want Mexican laborers living in their neighborhood and especially not in the historic home of an important nineteenth century politician. Ironically, the politician whose home the residents suddenly wanted to save after years of neglect belonged to George Washington Julian, an important abolitionist who advocated for the civil rights of all people regardless of race or gender. In an 1855 speech on immigration Julian stated:

“Let them come . . .  let them have a welcome on these shores. Their motive is a very natural and at the same time honorable one, — that of bettering their lot. . . To proscribe him on account of his birthplace is mean and cowardly as to proscribe him for his religious faith or color of his skin. It is the rankest injustice, the most downright inhumanity.”

Oakland Museum caption: Bracero railroad workers. c. 1944. Unknown photographer. Gelatin silver print. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Jose Cruz.

Irvington residents, however, didn’t internalize the lessons of the man they claimed to revere. The Indianapolis News reported in January 5, 1944 that “Historic Irvington was up in arms” over plans to house Mexican workers of the Pennsylvania Railroad in the  Julian home. W. O. Teufil, local superintendent of the railroad, stated that the company had acquired the property and began renovating it to house twenty workers. He stated, “We certainly will make the property more presentable than it has been. Its historic value will not be destroyed. We simply plan to return it to the livable condition to which it once was.”

Indianapolis News, January 5, 1944, 1, accessed Newspapers.com

An Irvington city councilman, however, claimed that turning it into a boarding house would create a zoning violation, and the president of the Irvington Union of Clubs stated that the organization would “begin an immediate inquiry to learn the details of the plan in the hope that it could be stopped.” Teufil expressed his surprise to the opposition and stated: “These are not to be outlaw workers or anything of that sort.”

Indianapolis News, January 8, 1944,1, accessed Newspapers.com

On January 8, the Indianapolis News reported that the city “began preparing legal action to oust from twenty to thirty Mexican workers for the Pennsylvania railroad from the historic George W. Julian home.” Despite the fact that the railroad had gotten over a thousand dollars worth of permits, the city building commissioner notified the railroad that they had not obtained proper permits for renovation and that they needed to evacuate the workers.

In strong contrast to his neighbors, an Irvington resident named M. B. McLaughlin wrote a statement for the News condemning the behavior of those working to remove the Mexican workers from the Julian home through the false pretenses of zoning ordinances. He wrote:

Whether or not you realize it, you are selling short your sons, brothers, husbands on far fighting fronts by your proposed action in closing the Julian home . . . These strangers have come to do a vital job which, ultimately, may mean life, not death, for your dear ones . . . How proud your service men would be . . . if you would open your hearts and hearths to strangers among you.

(Muncie) Star Press, March 1, 1944, 1, accessed Newspapers.com

Meanwhile, the city prepared legal action, and on February 23, the Indianapolis Star reported that the Pennsylvania railroad was working to repair a local gymnasium to house the workers. More Irvington residents spoke out in support of the workers aiding the Allied cause. A local resident named C. S. Brook wrote the mayor, condemning the actions of his xenophobic neighbors. He wrote: “We would state that these few do not speak for Irvington.” Fortunately for the war effort, those working to keep the Mexican workers in the Julian home won out in the end. The Indianapolis Star reported on March 23:

 It was learned a ‘Good Neighbor’ policy promulgated between city officials, the Pennsylvania Railroad and Irvington residents would permit the Pennsylvania to continue housing 29 Mexican track workers in the old George W. Julian home…

Vidette-Messenger of Porter County, April 14, 1944, 3, accessed Newspapers.com

In a drastically different scene, Mexican workers employed by the Pennsylvania Railroad were heartily welcomed and thanked for their labor by the World War I veterans at an American Legion post in Valparaiso. Charles Pratt Post No. 94 invited thirty-five braceros to a “Pan American Day” celebration on April 14, 1944. The (Valparaiso) Vidette-Messenger of Porter County described the event in detail and extensively quoted its host, Post Commander Franklin Burrus. The celebration began with “the advancement of the colors of both countries while legionnaires and guests stood at attention. The Hoosier attendees broke into the U. S. national anthem and when they were finished, their Mexican guests “responded with their national anthem.” Commander Burrus then welcomed them in a touching speech. He thanked the Mexican workers for their contribution to the war effort and expressed his hope that through their alliance, Mexico and the United States would grow closer in times of peace as well. Burrus continued:

We of the Legion, having served in World War 1, and some in World War 2, probably have a deeper appreciation of the need for inter-American co-operation than many other persons. We realize that you men from Mexico are certainly making an important contribution to the prosecution of this war by your present work in the great industry of railway transportation. We realize that you are away from home, in another country, separated from intimate friends and loved ones and we know what that means. Nevertheless, we hope that your experiences here will all be pleasing to you and that your country and American will both benefit by your having been here.

(Valparaiso) Vidette Messenger, April 15, 1944, 1, accessed Newspapers.com

Luckily, we know a bit more about the workers in this story. They were in the United States for six months as a part of the bracero program’s railroad initiative. From quoted statements by their supervisor, Charles Weiss, we can glean that he greatly respected their work. Weiss told the Vidette-Messenger, “They are really making a great contribution to the war effort.” Weiss also seemed to care about the workers having a positive experience. He stated, “These men like it here and when they return to Mexico they will go as ambassadors of good will.”

“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964,” The National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, accessed http://americanhistory.si.edu/bracero/introduction (Note: The museum does not list s credit for the poster).

Of course, these are the interpretations of an American supervisor, not a Mexican laborer. While we can’t understand the full experience of the workers from the newspapers, we can get a taste of this one festive evening. Four Mexicans “favored” the audience “with songs of their native country.” They must have performed for some time, as the newspaper reported  the  singing of “solos, duets and ensembles.” Fortunately, the newspaper gave the Mexican musicians’ names, several likely misspelled. These are the only names of Mexican workers that I came across in my research. They are:

Cesario Marquise

Francisco Martinis

Angelo Lopez

J. C. Custro

After the music concluded, the group watched the movie War on the High Seas about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Vidette-Messenger reported that the evening concluded with “the serving of refreshments, following which Angelo Lopez, formerly a Mexican soldier, put on a demonstration of the manual of arms and playing the drum.”

While this is the lengthiest description of a warm Hoosier welcome for Mexican railroad workers, it is not the only such story. In January 1944, the (Cambridge City) National Road Traveler praised the work of fifty Mexicans residing just east of Cambridge City who were making “the dirt fly,” laying railroad line. The paper also reported enthusiastically on their patronage of local businesses: “The Mexican workmen have been keeping local stores busy caring for their needs while here.” So while they didn’t roll out the red carpet like Valparaiso, Cambridge City was at least accepting and grateful for the economic boost. In June 1944, the (Richmond) Palladium-Item gave an update on the “fifty Mexican young men” living “in a 12-car camp unit near Cambridge City while working on the Pennsylvania railroad line between Indianapolis and Richmond.” The newspaper reported, “Although the boys have only been here two weeks of the six months they contracted to work, most of them already have decided they want to make Indiana their home.” This would not have been true for those Mexican railroad workers stationed in Elkart, however.

In September 1945, a fifteen-year-old white girl named Sally Joan Young was raped and murdered in Elkhart. In the ensuing weeks, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that the Elkhart police and newspapers “fanned” false reports that “the crime had been committed by a Negro.” An African American man picked up on another incident was held in a nearby jail as “practically” guilty. He was “frequently and intensively questioned about the school girl slaying.” According to the Recorder:

Several Mexican railroad workers had also been arrested and grilled, by local police and the FBI, during the six-weeks attempt to pin the crime on a person of a dark-skinned racial group.

Eventually, a white man who was seen  in bloodstained clothes by several witnesses, confessed to the crime. The Elkhart Truth reported:

Incidentally, it will be recalled that, when the crime was committed, there was a quick flareup of suspicion toward members of two dark-skinned races resident in Elkhart. As it turns out, the murderer was neither a Negro nor a Mexican.

Indianapolis Recorder, November 10, 1945, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In researching this topic, I found only one mention of an interpreter employed for the workers. Thus we can imagine the  fear that the young men experienced as they likely received the same frequent and intensive questioning as the African American suspect by the police and the FBI.

More research is needed to examine complaints of the workers concerning injustices. Again, newspapers give us hints. In 1946, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that the Mexican government would no longer send workers to Indiana. The Mexican Minister of Labor Francisco Trujillo “cited low wages, illegal withholding of wages, poor living conditions and lack of medical care.”

Indianapolis Recorder, February 23, 1946, 10, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Jamaican and Bahamian Workers 

In April 1943, Congress passed Public Law 45 allowing the importation of workers from the Caribbean. Approximately seventy thousand Jamaicans, Barbadians, and Bahamians arrived to work on U.S. farms between the passage of the law and the end of the Farm Worker Program in 1947.

In July 1943, the Greencastle Daily Banner reported that twenty Jamaican workers were “relieving the farm labor shortage in Gibson County.” They were at work “detasseling and hoeing hybrid corn on the 9,800 acre Princeton Farms, [the] largest agricultural unit in Indiana.” The paper reported that the workers lived in a new bunk house with separate building for the kitchen and mess hall where a Jamaican cook provided their meals. In August, the Banner followed up on the July report, stating that the Jamaicans would work for Gibson County orchard growers and then return to Princeton Farms for the corn harvest.

Jamaican Workers in Michigan, photograph, 1943, Detroit News Photograph Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University, accessed Virtual Motor City.

Again, there are few reports of their experiences in the workers own words, but we can glean some information about their lives from these newspaper reports. For example, the Banner writer interviewed Hoosiers who worked with the Jamaicans. The farm manager described them as “happy-go-lucky” but also seriously “religious.” He said they complained little as the worked. They disliked only the cold Indiana mornings and the lack of Jamaican rum. These statements reek of stereotyping, but again show us that workers were motivated to not complain because they could be repatriated without pay.

Like they did for Mexican workers, Indiana newspapers generally painted a positive picture of the Hoosier reception of Jamaican workers, relaying that they arrived to help with or even save the harvest, and ease the labor shortage. For example, the Indianapolis Star reported August 8, 1944, that thirty-two Jamaicans would soon arrive in LaPorte County to pick peaches and in nearby counties others were “at work in connection with the canning industry.”

The Alexandria Times-Tribune reported a few weeks later that a large number of Jamaicans arrived in Madison County as “emergency pickers” for the tomato fields. The article also noted that the canneries would soon begin operations, reinforcing the connection noted in Part One between the demand for inexpensive foreign labor and the Indiana tomato canneries. The Daily Clintonian, likewise, reported from Vincennes that “eighty Jamaican and Mexican agricultural workers will arrive in Knox county around May 15 to aid in production and harvesting of the 1945 tomato crop.”

(Greencastle) Daily Banner, August 10, 1943, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In Martinsville, however, Jamaican workers had a close call with a riotous mob. The Martinsville Reporter told of “a display of mob spirit by a group of trouble makers and agitators . . . directed against the twenty or more Jamaican workers that had been sent into the county to relieve the current labor shortage.” There was apparently enough “loud talk” that the local National Guard unit armed themselves with “tear gas equipment” and sent for the state police. In the face of the show of force, “the loud mouth leaders of the agitators began to have business elsewhere.” And while the situation was diffused, the Reporter noted that “a spark at the right time might have caused grave trouble.”

Response of African American Newspapers

While many Indiana newspapers described these guest workers as saviors of harvests and important contributors to the war effort, African American newspapers saw their arrival through a different lens – the lens of available black workers who have been repeatedly denied similar jobs for a fair wage (as discussed in Part One).

Evansville Argus, April 2, 1943, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Indianapolis Recorder reported that there were plenty of agricultural commodities being produced and that the supposed labor shortage was not affecting production goals. The problem was distribution, not production or labor. The Evansville Argus took issue specifically with the guest worker program. In an editorial for the Argus, journalist Elmer Carter criticized the recent importation of workers from the Bahamas to Florida. Carter wrote,

Indiana Memory caption: Sixteen-year-old Russel Deyo (above), of Sparta, raises sweet potatoes and tobacco on a large farm he cultivates with his father. Russel B. Deyo, Sparta, Va. Jan 19 1947, New Farmers of American Records, University Library Special Collections and Archives, IUPUI, accessed Indiana Memory.

There are a hundred thousand unemployed disinherited black and white share croppers in the South anxious to work in Florida or anywhere else.

He stated that the Southern Tenant Farmers Union offered to send 20,000 share croppers to the area in need, but the Florida growers did not want them. The union workers would have been an integrated labor force of black and white workers, so the growers would have to pay black and white laborers the same wage. Carter says the workers were rejected because the growers did not want to pay black workers the same wage as white. Instead, they wanted Bahamians because they could exploit their labor. Carter called on Secretary Wickard to “examine the motives which have prompted the Florida growers to spurn the offer of unemployed and available American workers.”

As it was correct in assessing the labor shortage myth, the Argus was again correct about the exploitation of workers. Importing foreign workers weakened the bargaining position of domestic workers in their struggle to increase their wages. However, this was not because foreign workers cost less. Employers had to pay a minimum wage and transportation as well as provide housing. The incentive was that foreign workers could not bargain or complain. If they did, they were repatriated. According to historian Cindy Hahamovitch:

The importation program was certainly more palatable to growers than the effort to relocate domestic farmworkers from areas of surplus to areas of scarcity, but it undermined farmworkers’ efforts to lift themselves out of poverty. Farmworkers who struggled to bargain up their wages after 20 years of agricultural depression found themselves thrown into competition with farmworkers from abroad who could be deported for making the very same demands.

USCIS History Library, U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services, accessed

According to the Bracero History Archive, the worker safeguards negotiated by the Mexican government worked only in theory. In practice, however, U.S. employers ignored the safeguards and many braceros “suffered while growers benefited from plentiful, cheap, labor.” The U.S. extended the bracero program for decades, using it not only as a supply of cheap labor but as a policy for controlling immigration. Its legacy continued to influence policy making today. Regardless of the intentions of such bureaucrats and agricultural corporations in importing labor, there is no question that these Mexican and Caribbean men made an important contribution to the Allied war effort.

Note

* Indiana farms had used migratory workers for some time. Some of these workers may have been Americans with Mexican heritage or Mexican immigrants who came to the United States of their own accord, both legally and illegally. By using newspaper articles only, not in conversation with government records, it is not always clear if the workers described as “Mexican” were migratory workers or were workers imported by the United States government. I have noted with an “*” where the newspapers are not specific.

Further Reading:

Bracero History Archive. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas El Paso, http://braceroarchive.org/

Calavita, Kitty. Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the I.N.S. (New York: Routeledge, 1992).

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.

Craig, Richard B. The Bracero Program: Interest Groups and Foreign Policy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.

Gamboa, Erasmo. Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016).

Gamboa, Erasmo. Mexican Labor and World War II: Braceros in the Pacific Northwest, 1942-1947 (Austin: University of Texas, 1990).

Hahamovitch, Cindy. “The Politics of Labor Scarcity: Expediency and the Birth of the Agricultural ‘Guestworkers’ Program,” Report for the Center for Immigration Studies, December 1, 1999, accessed https//cis.org/Report/Politics-Labor-Scarcity.

 

2019 Marker Madness

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Learn more about each topic here

While the rest of Indiana is gearing up for March Madness, IHB is excited to announce the second annual Marker Madness! In 2018, we pitted 32 potential marker topics against each other every day in March until, in the end, we came up with one winner – the Tuskegee Airmen at Freeman Field.

This year, we have 32 NEW potential marker topics from across the state. Each day, there will be a featured match up from one of the four regions: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast and YOU get to decide which topic will move forward.

Below are the results of 2019 Marker Madness as of Monday March 18, 2019.

Voting for the featured match will start daily at 5:00 am and close at 5:00 the next morning. You can vote on Facebook and Twitter so follow us on both to participate! Check back here to see the results and the updated bracket.

Want to get even more involved? Fill out your own here and post it on social media using #MarkerMad2019 by March 1, 2019. The person who gets the most individual matchups correct will win an Indiana gift bag containing a t-shirt (size S-2XL), an 1816 Indiana Map, and a copy of Getting Open: The Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball. See the contest rules here.

 

“The People Shall Rule:” Debs’ Campaign for Socialism

Jump to Show Notes

Transcript of Debs’ Campaign for Socialism

Beckley: The countryside surrounding the Wea train station, just west of Lafayette, was dark and quiet on the evening of September 28, 1898. In the distance, a train whistle sounded and soon the light from the engine drew nearer. It was a freight train, owned by the Wabash Railroad Company and as it passed it bellowed black smoke into the night sky. On board, Edward Ragan, the train’s fireman, shoveled coal into the burning hot boiler in front of him while the engineer, Oscar Johnson, maintained their speed at about 25 miles per hour.

Suddenly, the world turned upside down.

[Crashing Sounds]

Beckley: The sound was deafening and neither man could see a thing but falling debris as the car overturned. The two men were buried beneath tons of coal, wood, and steel. The boiler had exploded, ripping the engine to shreds. Some time later, Edward Ragan awoke with injuries to his spine, head, and internal organs – but he was the lucky one. Oscar Johnson didn’t make it out at all. In the months after the accident, Ragan found that he would not be able to return to work for years, if ever at all.

After living 9 months without a salary, Ragan filed suit in Fort Wayne. He alleged that the accident was avoidable and the fault lay with the Wabash Railroad company, which he accused of neglecting the routine maintenance of the engine. He wanted $30,000 – the equivalent of about 45 years of his income at the time of the crash. He settled for $4,000 – less than 5 years of wages. Not much when you consider he likely never worked again but it was all he would get in a time before social safety nets and worker’s compensation.

Just 3 years later, a political party would be formed on the foundation of providing insurance against accidents, pensions for the injured, and bettering the conditions of all workers in the United States – the Socialist Party of America advocated for all of these changes. Today, we’ll discuss one of the men behind this political movement and examine the high water mark of the party.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

Support of socialism in America has fluctuated wildly over the years. Today, it’s used as a sort of political buzzword. Sometimes it’s a stand-in for communism and sometimes for countries with comprehensive welfare systems. Some people hear socialism and think of Soviet Russia, Red China, and Cuba. Others think of nationalized healthcare, free college tuition, and an extensive social safety net. Today, I ask you to set any preconceived notions you may have to one side. Not so that we can promote socialism or even pass judgment on it, but rather so we can attempt to gain a historical understanding of the movement and how it became a viable option for many Americans.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone like Edward Regan whose life was blown apart in an instant. Or like the millions of men and women just like him who toiled in factories and mines without paid time off, safe working condition, or even clean air to breath. Once you begin to understand the plight of workers at the time, you may start to understand what drew so many people to socialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, regardless of your political persuasion.

One of those people drawn to socialism – and, indeed, drawing people to socialism – was Eugene V. Debs. Debs grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, the son of French Immigrants. He left school at the age of 14 and took a job with a local Railroad Company. At 20, he joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and soon became a national figure within that organization. He devoted the rest of his life to labor activism and the advancement of the working classes.

Debs’ political views and tactics changed as he learned from setbacks and failures throughout his career. He started his political career as a Democrat – campaigning for multiple democratic candidates for president and even being elected to the Indiana General Assembly as a Democrat in 1884. He started his labor activist career with very conservative views of the role of Unions and disdain for striking, once even writing:

Voice actor reading from Debs: A strike at the present time signifies anarchy and revolution, and the one of but a few days ago will never be blotted from the records of memory. The question has often been asked, Does the Brotherhood encourage strikers? To this question we most emphatically answer No, Brothers. To disregard the laws which govern our land? To destroy the last vestige of order? To stain our hands with the crimson blood of our fellow beings? We again say, No, a thousand times No.

Beckley: Seventeen years after writing those words, Debs burst onto the national stage at the forefront of one of the largest railroad strikes in American history – the Pullman strike. By this time, in 1894, Debs had left the Democratic Party for the populists and formed his own union, the American Railway Union. The ARU was one of the first union to admit all railroad workers, regardless of their specialty or skill level – and about 35 percent of Pullman’s workforce were members.

In the year leading up to the strike, wages had been slashed by an average of 33 percent at the Chicago factory. This, along with increasingly difficult working conditions, led the workers to call a strike. At first, the ARU was reluctant to officially back the strike but after leaders heard testimonials from workers, an official, nationwide boycott of the Pullman Company was ordered by the union. Beginning on June 25, 1894, ARU workers refused to handle Pullman cars. If management refused to detach Pullmans from trains – and most did – the workers refused to work at all.  Over 100,000 workers went on strike, effectively bringing all rail travel west of Detroit to a standstill.

For nearly 2 weeks, the strike remained peaceful. The strikers received a great deal of support in Chicago and it seemed that the strike may be a success. Then, the federal government passed an injunction ordering an end to the strike, ostensibly because it was affecting the transportation of mail, but realistically, the government was caving to the pressure of the Railroad conglomerates. President Grover Cleveland sent thousands of troops to Chicago to enforce the injunction.

The presence of these troops agitated the strikers and violence broke out on July 4. The riots that followed resulted in millions of dollars in damage, the deaths of 30 people, and, eventually, the failure of the strike. Debs was heavily criticized by the press – a New York Times editorial called him “a lawbreaker at large, an enemy of the human race.” He was arrested and charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction. He was found guilty and spent the next 6 months in jail.

At this point in the story is where most general biographies of Debs says something along the lines of – Debs entered that Woodstock, Illinois jail a populist and emerged a Socialist. And he did read a lot about Socialism during his imprisonment. He also began questioning how much could be accomplished in a capitalist economy. But to say that he left that prison a Socialist is an oversimplification. In fact, in 1894, he stated,

Voice actor reading from Debs: I do not call myself a socialist.

Beckley: That seems pretty definitive to me. But, nevertheless, his imprisonment at Woodstock Jail remains the central part of Debs’ conversion myth. And, in reality, it didn’t take long for him to stop resisting the title. On January 1, 1897, he wrote:

Voice actor reading from Debs: Speaking for myself, I am a socialist… The issue is, Socialism vs. Capitalism. I am for socialism because I am for humanity.

Beckley: Considering Debs was already such a recognizable public figure in addition to being an accomplished political and labor organizer, it’s unsurprising that he skyrocketed to the forefront of the movement. In 1900, he was the presidential nominee for the newly formed Social Democratic Party of America. Then, when that organization merged with other factions to form the Socialist Party of America, he received the nomination in 4 of the next 5 presidential elections – 1904, 1908, 1912, and finally 1920.

To really understand Debs’ ideology, it’s important to separate Socialism as an economic system and Socialism as a political system, or a replacement for democracy. Debs supported Democracy whole-heartedly. In fact, he believed that the only way to realize the full potential of democracy for all was through socialism. The 1904 socialist party platform stated:

Voice actor reading from 1904 platform: We, the Socialist party…make our appeal to the American people as the defender and preserver of the idea of liberty and self-government, in which the nation was born. To this idea of liberty the Republican and Democratic parties are utterly false… They alike struggle for power to maintain and profit by an industrial system which can be preserved only by the complete overthrow of such liberties as we already have, and by the still further enslavement and degradation of labor.

That same year’s platform concluded with a list of objectives which would, in their opinion, be in the immediate interest of the working class. They pledged themselves completely to these objectives:

Voice actor reading from Debs: For shortened days of labor and increase of wages; for the insurance of the workers against accident, sickness, and lack of employment; for pensions for aged and exhausted workers; for the public ownership of the means of transportation, communication, and exchange; for the graduated taxation of incomes, inheritances, and of franchise and land values, the proceeds to be applied to public employment and bettering the condition of the workers; for the equal suffrage of men and women; for the prevention of the use of the military against labor in the settlement of strikes; for the free administration of justice; for popular government, including initiative, referendum, proportional representation, and the recall of officers by their constituents; and for every gain or advantage for the workers that may be wrested from the capitalist system, and that may relieve the suffering and strengthen the hands of labor.

Beckley: Overall, these objectives don’t seem wildly radical from a modern standpoint, but when compared to the major party platforms from the same year, it’s clear that what they were suggesting was quite extreme. But by the time we get to the 1912 presidential election, something interesting happens.

There were 4 main parties in this election. Theodore Roosevelt had formed the progressive party, often called the Bull Moose Party, after failing to receive the Republican nomination. Then, of course, there were the Democrats and Republicans. And, rounding out the field, was the Socialist Party of America. But more interesting still was that all 4 parties were touting some form of progressivism, each with their own flavor.

If we extend the metaphor, we might say that three of the parties were at least in the same flavor profile. The Republicans, Democrats, and Progressives shared a lot of characteristics, at least on economic issues. They promoted tariff reform, federal regulations on monopolies, and anti-trust laws. Generally, they supported the reform of the existing structure in order to address the problems facing the nation – poor working conditions, government corruption, and other problems arising from the rapid economic growth of the American Gilded Age.

But the Socialists were different. Just like in 1904, the Socialist platform was radical in comparison to the other parties in the race, despite each party campaigning on progressivism. Where the other parties were advocating regulations on big business and monopolies, the socialists were calling for…

Voice actor reading from Debs: “The abolition of the monopoly ownership of patents and the substitution of collective ownership, with direct rewards to inventors by premiums or royalties.”

Beckley: While the other parties were promising anti-trust laws, the Socialists declared…

Voice actor reading from Debs: “Anti-trust laws…have proved to be utterly futile and ridiculous.”

Beckley: And where other parties were concerning themselves with arguing over the merits of protective tariffs, the socialist platform didn’t even contain the word tariff.

They weren’t without their own talking points, though. Many echoed those which you just heard from the 1904 campaign but there were some new, more radical points. For example, collectivization of property, although it was mentioned briefly in the previous platforms, made a strong appearance in 1912. Basically, they called for the collective ownership of transportation, communications, agricultural processing industries, all natural resources, and the banking system. More revolutionary still were demands such as:

Voice actor reading from 1912 party platform: The abolition of the Senate and of the veto power of the President…Abolition of all federal districts courts and the United States circuit court of appeals…Abolition of the present restrictions upon the amendment of the Constitution, so that instrument may be made amendable by a majority of the voters in a majority of the States.

Beckley: Of course, we’re doing a bit of cherry picking there. The overwhelming majority of the platform would hardly raise an eyebrow today. Objectives like government provided unemployment assistance, shorter workdays, child labor laws, equal suffrage, and a minimum wage made up the bulk of the platform. But even so, much of those policy points would have been fairly radical had they been enacted. The thing is, many people wanted something radical. They were living and working in nearly unimaginable conditions and nothing that either major political party had done up to that point had changed that. In fact, the same year it was competing against 3 other parties all promising progress, 1912, is widely considered the high water mark of Socialism in America.

Debs presented the choice a stark light – this election was him vs. all others. Socialism vs. capitalism. In a brief article for the Pittsburg Press, Debs wrote:

Voice actor reading from Debs: The supreme issue in this campaign is Capitalism versus Socialism. The Republican hosts under Taft, the Democratic cohorts under Wilson and the Progressive minions under Roosevelt are but battalions of the army of capitalism.

Opposed to them are the ever augmenting phalanxes of the world’s workers, organizing in the ranks of the Socialist party, to do battle for the cause of Socialism and industrial emancipation.

No longer can the political harlots of capitalism betray the workers with issues manufactured for that purpose. The beating of tariff tom-toms, the cry for control of corporations, the punishment of “malefactors of great wealth,” the wolf cry of civic righteousness under capitalism, will not avail the politicians in this campaign.

They have bunched all the so-called issues of all the capitalist parties, along with wage slavery, poverty, ignorance, prostitution, child slavery, industrial murder, political rottenness and judicial tyranny, and they have labeled it “Capitalism.” They are bent upon the overthrow of this monstrous system and upon establishing in its place an industrial and social democracy in which the workers shall be in control of industry and the people shall rule.

The Socialist party offers the only remedy, which is Socialism.

It does not promise Socialism in a day, a month, or a year, but it has a definite program with Socialism as its ultimate end.

The hour has struck! The die is cast and Socialism challenges the institution of Capitalism.

Beckley: The hour for Socialism had indeed struck, though not loudly enough. When the votes were tallied, Debs had earned over nine hundred thousand votes or nearly 6 percent of the popular vote – more than double his 1908 total but still far short of a winning percentage.

The split in the Republican Party had paved the way for a Woodrow Wilson Presidency in 1912. And it was Wilson who went on to play a large role in the downfall of the Socialist Movement in America by signing the Espionage and Sedition Acts during World War I. This was done partly in response to the party organizing anti-war and anti-draft rallies around the nation and declaring the war “a crime against the people of the United States.”

The Espionage and Sedition acts sparked the first Red Scare which resulted in more than 2,000 people being tried for speaking out against the war. One of those people tried and convicted was Eugene Debs himself who delivered a speech on June 16, 1918 in Canton, Ohio which led to his arrest and conviction. Debs was sentenced to 10 years in prison and he ran for the presidency for the last time in 1920 from his jail cell. He earned only a small percentage of the popular vote, a reflection of the unsteady state of the party.

In the years after that loss, the Socialist Party of America continued to weaken and fracture until, in 1972, it was dissolved completely. But in its wake, socialist ideas have continued to influence the party system.

In fact, that’s one of the lasting legacies of the Socialist movement in America. In the years between 1904 and 1912, key tenets of the Socialist Party platform began showing up in the Democratic and Republican platforms alike. After the progressive era, the Democratic Party in particular adopted many policies that were once solely in the realm of socialists – things like Social Security, the minimum wage, and federal disability.

This is often the effect political movements –weather they be left of right of center. They cause a shift in the political base, resulting in a shift in the political platforms of the major parties to which they pose a threat. Weather it’s the socialist movement driving the Democratic Party towards the adoption of social welfare in the 20th century, the Tea Party movement encouraging the Republican party to take a hard line on immigration in the 2010s or the Democratic Socialists of America moving the present Democratic party towards single payer healthcare, political movements have always had a fundamental impact on the major political party platforms in America.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History, a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau which is a division of the Indiana State Library. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Excerpts read by Justin Clark, courtesy of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration. Visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” to see all of the sources for this episode. Find us on twitter and facebook as Indiana Historical Bureau. And please take a moment to like, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Debs’ Campaig for Socialism

Books

Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist, University of Illinois Press, 2007.

Census of Manufacturers: 1905, Earnings of Wage-Earners, Government Printing Office, 1908, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nnc1.cu56779232;view=1up;seq=1;size=150.

History of Wages in the United States from Colonial Times to 1928: Revision of Bulletin No. 499 with Supplement, 1929-1933, United States Government Printing Office, 1934, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.32106007458745;view=1up;seq=5;size=125

Newspapers

“Locomotive Boiler Explodes,” Indianapolis News, September 29, 1898, page 2, Newspapers.com.

(Huntington) Daily News-Democrat, October 3, 1898, Page 3, Newspapers.com.

“Ragan’s Big Suit,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, June 26, 1899, Page 1, Newspapers.com.

“Other Court Notes,” The Fort Wayne News, September 28, 1899, Page 8, Newspapers.com.

“James Ragan Gets $4,000,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, October 20, 1899, Page 1, Newspapers.com.

Websites

Eugene V. Debs Internet Archive

Party Platforms

1896

Democratic

Republican

1900

Democratic

Republican

1904

Republican

Democrat

Socialist

1908

Republican

Democrat

1912

Republican

Democrat

Socialist

Progressive

“We Had Sung Them Off the Monument Steps:” Pride, Protest, and Patriotism in Indianapolis

 

Indianapolis Men’s Chorus Singing for Indy Pride 1992, Photo courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

Music has long played a vital role in not only American history but also American activism.  Slave spirituals were key to enduring the brutality of slave life and provided not only relief but also coded communication. Frederick Douglass wrote in his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, “The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”  Similarly, music has been instrumental in a variety of modern 20th century movements such as the freedom songs of the Civil Rights Movement and feminist anthems of the Women’s Movement.  All movements have their anthems.  But what about when it comes to our actual national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”?

Original manuscript, Francis Scott Key, “Star Spangled Banner,” accesssed Library of Congress.

It seems unlikely that during the War of 1812, when Francis Scott Key penned the poem that would later become our national anthem, he could have foreseen the controversy over the song that would occur centuries later.  Certainly, he could not have predicted black football players taking a knee during his now musical poem prior to a professional football game, for one, because Key could not envision an America where black people lived free.  While he viewed slavery as sinful (despite owning slaves himself at various points in his life), he was an anti-abolitionist who also at times upheld slaveholder rights. He personally supported the idea of black people “returning to Africa” if they were freed from slavery.

Wood Engraving, accessed Library of Congress.

His poem, set to the tune of an English drinking song, has been rife with controversy from the beginning.  Many critics thought it too militaristic, too long, or even too hard to sing or to remember the complicated lyrics.  It did not become the official anthem until 1931 during President Herbert Hoover’s tenure and there were many outspoken critics of the choice at the time and since (“America the Beautiful” has always been a fan favorite).  But enough about Key.

In recent years, and regardless of how one feels about it, it is clear that our national anthem has been at the center of controversy in terms of its meaning and our reactions to it.  The anthem is, for some, a sacrosanct representation of America and to question it, to kneel during it, has become an act of such disrespect as to dominate national dialogue for years.  But clearly questions remain regarding the idea of ownership and interpretation of the anthem.  If indeed the anthem belongs to Americans and represents us as a unit, how do we come to a common consensus in regards to it?  Do we even need to?  If so, which Americans get to determine our anthem’s meaning and how we should respond to it?  Who gets to embody Americanism and Americanness, and who gets to make the decision about how we display our patriotism or call our country to be its best self?

Celebration on the Circle Program, Jeffrey L. Huntington collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, Indiana State Library, Indiana Memory.

These questions lead to a much less publicized yet incredibly important event that occurred in Indianapolis during the Gay Pride celebration called “Celebration on the Circle,” held at Monument Circle on Saturday June 29, 1991.  The gay community had been steadily growing and becoming more open in Indianapolis during the 1980s and early 1990s.  Yet, it was still dangerous in many ways to live openly as a gay man or lesbian in the Midwest at the time.  The vibrant gay bar scene and activism of the city were working on changing that by the early 1990s, but it was a long row to hoe, one that has not fully been completed across the state of Indiana.

One important development, among many, of Indianapolis becoming a more welcoming community to LGBTQ folks was the founding and then performances of the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus.  The Men’s Chorus was a gay men’s chorus founded by the non-profit Crossroads Performing Arts, Inc.  Crossroads, whose steering committee was originally under the direction of Jim Luce, had been working since January 1990 to lay the groundwork for the Men’s Chorus with future goals to establish a Women’s Chorus and an instrumental group.  Recruitment for the Men’s Chorus began in earnest by the end of March 1990, and the founding choral director, Michael Hayden, who was a music professor at Butler University, was hired in August 1990.  Vocal auditions were held in late September and early October, and the Men’s Chorus began practicing in earnest on October 14.  The group planned to formally debut in spring 1991, which they did at the historic Madame Walker Theater on Saturday June 8.

Crossroads’ mission was to “strengthen the spirit of pride within the gay/lesbian community, to build bridges of understanding with all people of Indiana, and to enable its audiences and the general public to perceive the gay/lesbian community and its members in a positive way.”  It is not surprising then, that the newly formed Men’s Chorus was slated to perform at the Gay Pride celebration in Indianapolis in late June 1991, as part of their debut season.  This was only the second Gay Pride event held at Monument Circle.  Gay Pride events, hosted by various organizations such as Justice, Inc., had been held in the city in the past, but throughout the 1980s they were semi-closeted, meaning they were held in a hotel, bar or rented space that was not actually out in the public—it was deemed too dangerous to be that open.  In 1988, however, the Pride celebration expanded with a festival held at the more public Indianapolis Sports Center.  Approximately 175 people attended, and by the very next year, when the event moved to Westlake Park, the number had dramatically risen to 1,000.

Justice, Inc. Celebration on the Circle button. 1990-06-30, accessed Digital Public Library of America.
Indianapolis Star, July 1, 1990, accessed ProQuest.

Yet, the gay community still had real cause for concern, particularly as they began celebrating more openly and in highly visible spaces. In 1990, the Pride festivities continued to expand and moved to Monument Circle for an event dubbed “Celebration on the Circle.”  Virulent anti-gay protesters from a variety of Indianapolis churches wanted to intimidate them off the streets and back into the closets.  According to the Indianapolis Star, approximately 100 protesters were on the scene, “many of whom wore gas masks and shouted insults as they walked around Monument Circle.”  One anti-gay demonstrator explained why they were at the Circle: “We are all Christians who are here because we don’t approve of what these people are doing, trying to turn Indianapolis into another gay capital like San Francisco…I find it objectionable that they want to take their unholy, unacceptable lifestyle to the center of the city.”  Indeed, the Indianapolis Star described the rally as “a confrontation with fundamentalist anger.”

The climate was just as hostile or perhaps even more so for the second Pride event at the Circle.  First off, in April 1991, city officials denied Justice, Inc. permission to hold the Pride rally at Monument Circle, and cited a temporary policy limiting “traffic disruption and police overtime as the reasons.”  The Indiana Civil Liberties Union quickly planned to challenge the decision in court.  Within weeks, Safety Director Joseph J. Shelton relented, stating, “The thing that really changed my mind about it is the fact that regardless of what we say or what we do, the outright appearance was that we were only imposing this restriction on this group… just because of the gay and lesbian organization.”  After organizers were given the green light to host their event at the Circle, Pride attendees, including the Men’s Chorus singers, were still not exactly sure how they would be received by their own city and its citizens.

Indianapolis Star, April 6, 1991, accessed ProQuest.

Hayden recalled having conversations with the singers about whether they wanted to perform at the Pride event and how the chorus wanted to be sensitive to its members’ differing levels of comfort.  They were right to have concerns.  Religious protesters, even angrier than at last year’s events, were in the mood for blood.  And they arrived with baseball bats.  Jim Luce wryly observed, “Because Jesus would have a baseball bat, right?”

Hayden and the Men’s Chorus, including Luce, walked into a hostile scene.  As the 1991 Gay Pride event was getting ready to kick-off, approximately 40 protesters stormed the stage.  Lt. Tom Bruno, of the Indianapolis Police Department’s traffic unit, described the protesters as being armed with “an attitude of confrontation.”  As tensions mounted, John Aleshire, a spectator at Pride who later went on to chair the board of Crossroads Performing Arts, was unsettled by what was taking place before his eyes.  He was both fearful of what was to come and felt helpless to stop it.

Celebration on the Circle Program, Jeffrey L. Huntington collection, Rare Books and Manuscripts Division, Indiana State Library, Indiana Memory.

Right as the fundamentalist protesters and rally attendees including the Men’s Chorus, who had by then made their way onstage, seemed ready to clash, Michael Hayden, the chorus director, made a split-second decision.  He somehow had the knowledge and foresight to choose the only song that could defuse the tension and make the bat-wielding Christians stop in their tracks.  He looked at his men and said, “Sing the national anthem.  Right now.”  Pride attendees encircled the unwelcome protesters on the stage and assailed them with music.  According to the Indianapolis Star, “it was a tense moment,” but as Aleshire recalled, “something magical happened.”

As the Men’s Chorus armed themselves with their voices, the protesters were taken aback.  Luce described the scene: “It was fascinating to watch that group of people actively hating us while we were singing the National Anthem.  I mean they actively hated us.”  One onlooker later wrote, “Those who had wrapped their religion in Old Glory were hearing those ‘sissies’, ‘faggots’, and ‘moral degenerates’ demonstrating  that the ugly protesters held no monopoly when it came to expressing their love of country.”  And as Hayden queried, “What could they say?  How could they protest America’s national anthem?  There’s no way.”

Indianapolis Star, accessed ProQuest.

Hayden in that moment understood what was at stake here:  not only their right to be out in public as gay men and women, but their very Americanism.  Hayden recalled thinking, “We’re Americans too.  Shut up.  We’re going to own this just like you.  That flag represents us as well.”  And the fundamentalists faced a choice as the notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” descended upon them:  put their hands over their hearts as they had been taught that all loyal Americans should do when they hear our national anthem or charge full-force ahead at another group of patriotic Americans, nee Hoosiers, utilizing their right to celebrate in a public space.  The protesters ultimately stopped and paid their respects to the anthem, and it was just enough pause to dull the escalating tension.  In Hayden’s words, “We had sung them off the monument steps.”

Rainbow Flag, Courtesy of the ACLU

After the protesters exited the stage, events were able to carry on without further disruption.  No arrests were made and no violence occurred.  Attendees were proud of how the Pride event transpired, but fear of being so openly exposed continued to permeate throughout the day.

Activists, particularly those with ties to the Men’s Chorus, remember with pride how they sang down the hatred using their own patriotism.  Hayden described the Men’s Chorus singers as being these relatively young “homegrown” men, Hoosiers in their 20s and 30s who were “from these great families from Indiana.”  And after the situation was defused, they started cheering and hugging each other, and processing what they had just done. The following month, Hayden wrote to his chorus to reflect on their experiences: “Seeing a man carry a ball bat or standing on the steps with them shouting in our faces just trying to enlist us to violence … and then this mighty male instrument opening its mouth and singing these ‘Christians’ right off the steps!  Goliath has never seen a stronger David.  I have never felt so proud to be gay, a musician, and what we know to be a true Christian in my entire life.”

Indianapolis Star, December 29, 1992, accessed ProQuest.

Decades later, Hayden could still recall the emotions, power, and importance of what transpired that summer day.  He reminisced, “We all felt it, and we knew we had done that with our voices and our national anthem.”  Aleshire confirmed these feelings, “It proved to me, once again, that music is one of the most powerful forces to bring down walls and build bridges in their stead.”

 

Sources Used:

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself, Edited with an Introduction by David W. Blight, (Bedford St. Martin’s, 2002).

Norman Gelb, “Francis Scott Key, the Reluctant Patriot,” Smithsonian Magazine, September 2004, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/francis-scott-key-the-reluctant-patriot-180937178/, Accessed 3 January 2019.

Michael Hayden, Interviews by author, September 10, 11, 19, 2018, October 1, 2018, November 12, 2018, In possession of author.

Ruth Holladay, “A gay chorus? In Indy? Planners say it’s about time,” Indianapolis Star. Wednesday June 20, 1990.

Tim Lucas, “Career Changes are his specialty,” Indianapolis Star, Sunday June 21, 1992.

Mary Carole McCauley, “’Star-Spangled Banner’ writer had complex record on race,” The Baltimore Sun, September 13, 2017, https://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/arts/bs-ae-key-legacy-20140726-story.html.

Kevin Morgan, “Pride and protest at gay gathering,” Indianapolis Star, Sunday July 1, 1990.

“Indianapolis’ LGBT History,” No Limits podcast, June 7, 2018, https://www.wfyi.org/programs/no-limits/radio/Indianapolis-LGBT-History.

Indianapolis Men’s Chorus/Crossroads Performing Arts, Inc. Records, ca. 1989-1995, 2005.  William Henry Smith Memorial Library, Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis, Indiana.

“3,000 gays expected for event,” Indianapolis Star, Friday June 29, 1990.

Kyle Niederpruem, “Gay bar patrons often crime targets,” Indianapolis Star, Sunday September 30, 1990.

Diana Penner, “Men’s Chorus keeps on singing in face of adversity and protest,” Indianapolis Star, Tuesday December 29, 1992.

Dorothy Petroskey, “Homosexuals told they can’t rally at Circle,” Indianapolis Star, Saturday April 6, 1991.

Jacqui Podzius, “Homosexuals show their pride at rally,” Indianapolis Star, Sunday June 30, 1991.

Don Sherfick, “A Salute to the Indychoruses Bridge-Builders,” https://indianaequality.typepad.com/indiana_equality_blog/2008/09/a-salute-to-the.html, Accessed 2 August 2018.

AJ Willingham, “The unexpected connection between slavery, NFL protests, and the national anthem,”  August 22, 2017,  https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/29/sport/colin-kaepernick-flag-protest-has-history-trnd/index.html.

Christopher Wilson, “Where’s the Debate on Francis Scott Key’s Slave-Holding Legacy?” Smithsonian.com, July 1, 2016, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/wheres-debate-francis-scott-keys-slave-holding-legacy-180959550/.

Indy Pride, “History of Pride,” https://indypride.org/about/history/, Accessed 15 January 2019.

A Petty Affair: Grace Julian Clarke and the 1915 Campaign for the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs Presidency

Courtesy of The Fort Wayne News, Oct 30, 1915, 14.

Historians often refer to the Suffrage Movement. However, an examination of its leaders shows many movements with sometimes conflicting goals and methods. Evaluating the campaign for the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs presidency in 1915 illustrates this and provides a glimpse into the everyday happenings of suffrage at the local and state levels, including slandering efforts that reflect our modern-day politics.

Grace Julian Clarke is most notably remembered for her local advocacy as a clubwoman, journalist, and staunch supporter of women’s suffrage. Living and working primarily in Irvington, Indiana—annexed by Indianapolis in 1902—she attended Indianapolis Public Schools and graduated from Butler University (located in Irvington at the time).  She earned her B.A. in 1884 and her M.A. in 1885 in philosophy. She was the daughter of George W. Julian and granddaughter of Joshua Reed Giddings, both of whom were leading abolitionists and members of the United States Congress. Laura Giddings, Clarke’s mother and the daughter of Joshua Reed Giddings, exposed Clarke to women’s organizations when she, and others, organized the Indianapolis Woman’s Club in 1875.

The Indianapolis Star, October 21, 1916, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

Furthering familial ties to political and legal activists, Clarke married attorney Charles B. Clarke on September 11, 1887. In addition to practicing law, Charles Clarke also served in the Indiana Senate in 1913 and 1915. Prior to their marriage, Charles had worked closely with George W. Julian as a U.S. Deputy Surveyor in the New Mexico Territory. Grace was a writer for the Indianapolis Star from 1911 to 1929. She authored three publications related to her father— George W. Julian Vol. 1, Indiana Biographical series; Later Speeches on Political Questions: With Select Controversial Papers; and George W. Julian: Some Impressions. Furthermore, Clarke was a founder, president, and activist for numerous women’s clubs in Indiana between 1892 and 1929.

Clarke’s work, however, was not always marked by success. In 1915, Clarke declared her support for Terre Haute’s Lenore Hanna Cox in the campaign for president of the Indiana General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Cox, however, was ultimately defeated in a landslide by Carolyn Fairbank of Fort Wayne. The political conflict between Cox and Stella Stimson, with movers and shakers like Grace Julian Clarke at the forefront, demonstrates women’s political activism and ambition prior to obtaining enfranchisement. Far from bystanders of the male-dominated political sphere, women were at the foreground of their own political wars before they could legally vote.

The Indianapolis News, October 20, 1915, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.

Clarke’s, Cox’s, and Stimson’s political engagements reflect passion founded not only on morality and ethics, but also political gain.  Clarke’s dedication to Cox illustrates a failed political alliance in an otherwise successful lifetime vocation. Clarke was prepared to risk her reputation to advance her political agenda. The same is true for Stimson, although Stimson engaged in manipulative politics reflective of allegations against male politicians in newspapers. Thus, evaluating the campaign demonstrates the complex layers associated with suffragists and clubwomen during the years leading up to enfranchisement. It further demonstrates how women complied with and rebelled against social normative values and beliefs.

The 1915 election gained widespread attention from clubwomen and men alike. Clarke strongly detested Cox’s most formidable opponent, Stella C. Stimson, for her participation in what Clarke viewed as unethical campaign practices. Caught in a battle of circulating letters in which personal attacks were made against Cox, Stimson stated that she would not be running for presidency. Yet even without formally running against Cox, Stimson was by far Cox’s foremost threat. Cox and her supporters suspected that Stimson was using Fairbank as a fill-in candidate to enact her own temperance agenda.

Cox and her loyal supporters did not hesitate to publicly retaliate after Stimson began circulating “scandalous rumors” including allegations that Cox was a cigarette smoker, saloon supporter, perpetual curser, and an atheist. Grace Julian Clarke spearheaded the campaign against Stimson, disputing both publicly and privately that Stimson was disloyal, as well as a liar and cheater, as shown by her deceitful assault on Cox. Clarke further criticized Stimson for engaging in what the Indianapolis Star referenced on November 9, 1915 as “machine politics” during the campaign, including allegations that she was active in having the franchise vote thrown out at the Federation convention. This contention ultimately led to formal requests for Stimson’s resignation as a Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana’s board member in the weeks after the election. Although Stimson claimed that she had not tampered with the votes, it is undeniable that she had aggressively campaigned throughout the state to guard the Federation from Cox’s leadership.

Courtesy of Jacob Piatt Dunn’s and General William Harrison Kemer’s Indiana and Indianans: A History of Aboriginal and Territorial Indiana and the Century of Statehood.

Stimson recognized the importance of recruiting Clarke, whom the The Tribune named “undefeatable.” Stimson wrote Clarke on multiple occasions pleading that she heed her personal evaluation of Cox and shift her alliance. Bound by loyalty to an ethical campaign free from dishonesties, in addition to Cox’s common views regarding suffrage, Clarke refused to be entertained or deterred by Stimson. Clarke wrote to Stimson on August 28, 1915: “I would rather be guilty of all the sins charged by you against Mrs. Cox than have to reflect that I had deliberately sought to blast the reputation of one who for years had been honored by thousands.”

The allegations against these women, and their implications, were noted within weeks of Grace declaring her support for Cox. In a letter to Clarke written on August 17, 1915, Helen C. Benbridge noted that:

this has come to be a much more important matter than just the election of one woman. It has turned into a struggle between the progressive and the reactionary elements and may mean a great deal for the future of the federation in Indiana.

Within a very short period, the election became critical to the future of women’s clubs and qualifications for leadership in the Federation. For Clarke and Stimson, the election was also critical in defining whether temperance or suffrage would become the club’s priority. Stimson was closely associated with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and known to be “an antiliquor enthusiast,” whose interest “colors and dominates everything with what she is connected.” While women like Stimson looked to end liquor sales in a feminist effort to protect women and children’s physical safety from drunken husbands, other societies looked to make suffrage their top priority. The difference in conviction was based predominantly on one’s individual background.

In her thesis “Women in Voluntary Service Association: Values and Meanings,” Sarah Katheryn Nathan describes the fundamental incentives behind women’s voluntary associations. She concludes that volunteerism is motivated by personal need. For Stimson, the election meant preserving conservative female values while pushing a temperance agenda. Yet Stimson did not want to muddy her own reputation by seeming fraudulent, and therefore, unsuccessfully, attempted to scapegoat Fairbank on the ballot. For Clarke, supporting Cox consequently challenged the status quo of women’s roles and disassociated temperance agendas to further advance suffrage. Clarke was able to advocate for suffrage, perhaps as a result of her personal privilege and familial influence. Many women in Indiana who led suffrage organizations were financially secure, married to politicians that supported their endeavors, had no children, and were predominantly Protestant. It is also worth analyzing Clarke’s motivations because of her father’s work toward suffrage.

“Julian, Rep. Hon. George Washington of Indiana,” glass negative, circa 1865-1880, accessed Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Clarke explained her background in suffrage, stating in a letter to Miss Boswell on May 8, 1914 that “my father had the honor of introducing the very first suffrage amendment in the Congress shortly after the Civil War. This is to show you why I cannot be a trimmer [one who does not commit to a party or issue].” Although historians question whether Julian was in fact the first to propose such an amendment, and though he was ultimately unsuccessful in passing suffrage legislation himself, the extent of her father’s work compelled Clarke to follow in his political footsteps. This aligns with Nathan’s analysis that an individual’s personal background plays a strong role in why and how people are socialized into voluntary behaviors, especially that of how a father’s membership in a group can be a motivating factor for an individual to further a similar cause.

The conflict between temperance and suffrage motivations, regardless of underlying motivation, was put aside occasionally for a common cause. Such solidarity, however, quickly crumbled under what Barbara Springer calls “petty pride.” It was difficult for reform groups to find the right woman who could both delegate authority and inspire loyalty to multiple factions. This was true for Clarke, who was directly situated between club and suffrage groups. Despite the “efficiency, dedication, and zeal” of leaders like Clarke, these women were also, on many occasions, to blame for the failure of early enfranchisement. Historian Dr. Anita Morgan characterizes an example of this failure in  her article “The Unfinished Story: Indiana Women and the Bicentennial.” She describes how an early victory for women’s suffrage in Indiana was foregone as state politicians increasingly feared that a vote for suffrage meant a vote in favor of temperance legislation. However clear or not to women that their efforts were weakened by restive factions, women like Stimson, Cox, and Clarke continued to remain monolithic for personal ambition and petty pride.

Courtesy of The Fort Wayne Daily News, October 27, 1915, 18.

The 1915 election for president of the Indiana Federation of Women proves that women during the early 20th Century were political beings who were driven by their own personal agendas. By specifically examining how women like Grace Julian Clarke were motivated, influenced, and able to both successfully and unsuccessfully advocate on the local and state level, a more cohesive narrative of the suffrage movement in the United States is formed. It can be concluded that Clarke was heavily influenced by her father’s work toward suffrage at the peak of his political career, and that she likely would not have felt such a strong connection to the goals of suffrage without his influence. The perspectives of archetypal suffragists and clubwomen like Clarke, Cox, and Stimson in Indiana reflect the typically overlooked narrative of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This narrative reflects resistance to the dominant cultural expectations of women during the time to retain a ladylike persona. It simultaneously demonstrates an increasing divergence from such expectations, as seen through their campaign tactics regarding slandering and manipulative politics. In effect, stories of women-dominated politics at a local level complement the larger narrative of suffrage— one that so desperately calls for a three-dimensional evaluation of both private and public achievements.

Further Reading:

Karen J. Blair, The Clubwoman as Feminist: True Womanhood Redefined, 1868-1914 (New York: Holmes & Meier Publishers), 1980.

Blanche Foster Boruff, Women of Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana, Indianapolis, Women’s Biography Associations, Mathew Farson, 1941.

Grace Julian Clarke, George W. Julian (Indianapolis: Indiana Heritage Commission, 1923).

Grace Julian Clarke, “George W. Julian: Some Impressions,” Indiana Magazine of History 2, no. 2 (June 1906): 57-69.

Nancy Gabin and Anita Morgan, “Taking Indiana Women’s History into the Twenty-First Century,” Indiana Magazine of History 112, no. 4 (2016): 283-288.

Courtney Grace Gates, History: Indiana Federation of Clubs (Fort Wayne: Fort Wayne Printing Company), 1939.

Grace Julian Clarke Papers, Manuscript and Rare Books Division, Indiana State Library.

Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press), 2015.

Jennifer M. Kalvaitis, “Indianapolis Women Working for the Right to Vote: The Forgotten Drama of 1917,” MA Thesis, Indiana University, 2013.

Anita Morgan, “The Unfinished Story: Indiana Women and the Bicentennial,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 28, no. 4, (2016).

Sarah Katheryn Nathan, “Women in Voluntary Service Associations: Values and Meanings,” MA Thesis, Indiana University, 2013.

Karen Manners Smith, “New Paths to Power: 1890-1920,” No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States. Edited by Nancy F. Cott (Oxford University Press, 2000), 363.

Barbara A. Springer, “Ladylike Reformers: Indiana Women and Progressive Reform, 1900 to 1920,” Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1985.

Walking with Dr. King: The Civil Rights Legacy of Rabbi Maurice Davis

Last Sunday I went for a walk . . . I did not walk alone.

With these simple words Rabbi Maurice Davis described his 1965 trip to Selma to the readers of the (Indianapolis) Jewish Post. Rabbi Davis’s “walk” was a protest led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. against institutional racism, voter suppression, and violence against African Americans. When King asked civil rights leaders from around the country to join him in Alabama, Davis had no question that it was his duty to join the demonstration of solidarity. Davis had long worked for civil rights through both secular and faith-based channels. He advocated for community action in his sermons to the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. He led several civic action councils that combated segregation, racist policies, and poverty. And he extended his appeal for civil rights to the entire city through a regular newspaper column and a television show. Mostly, however, Rabbi Davis marched at Selma “because it was right.”

Jewish Post, January 20, 1956, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

“You Were a Spark for Us”

Maurice Davis was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1921. Census records show that his Russian-born father Jacob managed a garage while his mother Sadie cared for five children. They did well for themselves and were able to send Maurice first to Brown University in 1939 and then to the University of Cincinnati where he received his B.A. in 1945. He then received his Master of Hebrew Letters from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. After serving several different congregations as a student rabbi, he became rabbi of Adath Israel in Lexington, Kentucky in 1951. By this point he was already active in the local civil rights movement and joined the Kentucky Commission Against Segregation.

Sketch of current home of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation at 6501 North Meridian Street, accessed https://ihcindy.org/who_we_are/history

Rabbi Maurice Davis became the spiritual leader of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation (IHC) in March 1956, in time to celebrate the centennial of its founding in 1856. Over 600 families made up the large congregation which was in the process of planning their new temple at 64th and Meridian, which still houses the IHC today (a move from their earlier location at the Market Street Temple.) As the ninth Rabbi serving the IHC, Davis continued to advance the forward-thinking Reform Judaism of his predecessors, according to the Jewish Post. In his first year, he attracted eighty new congregants, and  temple brotherhood president Herman Logan wrote in the congregational bulletin:

You were a spark for us which turned into a flame when a new brotherhood was beginning.

It was an auspicious start for the young rabbi.

“Something Less Than Welcome”

While the IHC welcomed Rabbi Davis, his wife Marion, and their sons Jay and Michael, some other Hoosiers made the Davis family feel “something less than welcome.” In 1959, the Jewish Post reported that Rabbi Davis’s son Jay was denied entry to the Riviera Club‘s swimming pool at 5640 North Illinois Street. The Rabbi told his congregation that Jay unfortunately learned first about the club’s “wonderful slide” and then its anti-Semitic policies. Jay summarized the situation as only a child could, stating: “Gee whiz, dad, it isn’t fair.” The Rabbi then had to explain the difference between legal segregation and social segregation to his son. The rabbi told his congregation that while many people think segregation in the private sphere “has no meaning” and should be tolerated, it does have meaning to the people it affects. And in this case, the meaning was that a nine-year-old boy was made to feel inferior to his peers.

Jewish Post, January 1, 1958, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Jewish Post pursued the story, reporting on a survey of five “exclusive” Indianapolis clubs. Each club, including the Riviera Club, claimed not to discriminate against Jews. Some of the club chairmen and presidents even claimed they had Jewish members. However, when the Jewish Post interviewed the club managers, they reported that they knew of no Jewish members. Others in the club leadership claimed no Jews had applied for membership or that they did not keep track of religious affiliation. From the perspective of the Post, none gave a straight answer.

Jewish Post, July 17, 1959, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
Jewish Post, July 29, 1960, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Rabbi Davis did not only respond to discrimination when it was personal. He believed that it was his responsibility, and that of all religious leaders, to work for moral justice. Not all of his Jewish colleagues agreed. In response to a 1960 Indianapolis Times poll of religious leaders (reported by the Jewish Post), two of Indianapolis’s leading rabbis (Congregation B’nai Torah and Shara Tefila) reported that clergy should keep out of politics. Rabbi Davis, on the other hand, said it was the responsibility of the synagogue to help inform members on political issues, to encourage them to be active participants in government, and “to speak up whenever morality or ethics are involved in politics.”

Jewish Post, October 13, 1961, 15, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Rabbi Davis not only advocated for equality for Jews, but all people facing oppression. He encouraged Jews to look beyond their own community and work to end discrimination everywhere. He stated, “A decent and sensitive America is good for all Americans and we must help her be so” (more here). Indianapolis’s African American community took note. In 1960, the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP named Davis its “honorary chairman” and the Indianapolis Recorder reported regularly on his efforts to fight segregation and inequality. As president of the Indianapolis Human Relations Council, Davis worked to end racist mortgage and loan policies that denied fair housing to African Americans and created segregated neighborhoods (more here). He conducted personal investigations of restaurants and other establishments which had reputations for discriminating against African Americans and reported his findings in the Jewish Post (more here). By 1962, he had a regular column giving his views on issues of the day and often advocating for civil rights.

Jewish Post, July 27, 1962, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

His columns were  often fiery calls to action. For example, in September 1963, he responded to the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Alabama where four African American children were killed “while putting on their choir robes.” Rabbi Davis, however, blamed not just the bomber and not just the racism and negligence of the governor and police chief, but “every American citizen who participates in prejudice or fails to oppose it.” His powerful arguments against injustice were often shaped by the legacy of the holocaust. He continued:

Segregation and discrimination, lead to bombing and lynching as surely as anti-Semitism leads to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. And any man who walks that path, has not the right to be amazed where it leads. We who know the end of the road, must say this openly, and believe this implicitly, and practice it publicly. And privately. And always.

Not long after his article on the bombing, Rabbi Maurice Davis received a bomb threat of his own.

“My Name Was One of Them”

Photograph of John Lewis, Hosea William, Albert Turner and Bob Mants Leading Marchers over the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Records Group 406, accessed National Archives Catalog.

By 1965, the civil rights movement had reached its “political and emotional peak” with three marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the suppression of African American votes and the recent killing of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson (more here: International Civil Rights Center and Museum). On March 7, the protesters led by John Lewis began a peaceful march, but were soon stopped at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma by state troopers and Dallas County police who were waiting for them. In an incident remembered as “Bloody Sunday,” police violently attacked the unarmed demonstrators with clubs and tear gas. Police beat Lewis unconscious. On March 9, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. flew to Selma and called for others to join him. That day, a larger group followed King back to the bridge to kneel in prayer, but dared go no further as a federal judge had issued a restraining order against the march. Many were disappointed that King did not attempt to march on toward Montgomery. Others, however, credit his concession with expediting the passage of the Voting Rights Act.*

Hammond Times, March 8, 1965, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

The night of the second march to the bridge a group of white men killed Unitarian minister James Reeb who had traveled to Selma from Boston to join King. Related protests erupted across the country and King called for a third march. On Sunday, March 21, civil rights leaders and supporters from around the country arrived in Selma to march over the infamous bridge to Montgomery. Rabbi Maurice Davis would march in the front lines.

When the Indianapolis Star reported that Rabbi Davis and David H. Goldstein (of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council) had left for Selma, the newspaper estimated that these Hoosiers would join around 300 people. Instead, Davis reported that they joined thousands at Brown Chapel Methodist Church for a ceremony before the march. Davis described their arrival at the church:

As we approached Selma we saw the Army begin to position itself. Jeeps and trucks filled with soldiers, hospital units, and communications experts clustered along the way . . . The road leading to the church was lined with National Guardsmen, recently federalized.

While President Johnson ordered National Guard protection for the marchers to avoid a repeat of “Bloody Sunday” and its ensuing protests, the atmosphere was still tense. Davis and Goldstein met with some other rabbis after the service who had arrived before them. These rabbis told them that they were unable to buy a meal or place to stay, the reason being the Selma residents insisted on giving the activists whatever they needed.

Davis and Goldstein also looked to find out from the other rabbis where they could get yarmulkes, as a shipment was supposed to have recently arrived. Organizers wanted Jewish demonstrators from all branches of the faith to be as clearly visible as those of other faiths to show their support and numbers. They told Davis, “It is our answer to the clerical collar.” However, Davis and Goldstein had trouble finding one. They soon learned why.

Two days earlier, five rabbis were jailed for taking part in demonstrations. After holding Sabbath behind bars Friday, they announced they would hold a  service in front of the Brown Chapel after their release on Saturday. According to the Jewish Post, “Over 600 Negroes and whites, Jewish and non-Jews joined in the impromptu havdalah services for one of the most unique of its kind in history.” According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, those in attendance, regardless of their faith, donned yarmulkes “in respectful emulation of rabbis who participated in demonstrations.” In Selma, they became known as “freedom caps.” Davis reported that “all the Civil Rights workers wanted to wear them . . . That is where all the yarmelkes went!”

Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Daily News Bulletin, March 23, 1965, accessed Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Dr. King entered the chapel at 10:45 a.m. Sunday. Davis was asked if he would represent the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. When he agreed, he was pulled up onto the platform next to King during the latter’s “magic” sermon. Davis explained:

Nothing but the word “magic” can quite describe what it is he does to so many. When King speaks, you are not an audience. You are participants. And when he finished we were ready to march.

Photo Courtesy of the Jewish Post Archive. Rabbi Davis can be seen just behind King and to his left.

The thousands of demonstrators were organized into rows with the first three rows chosen by Dr. King. Davis stated:

Before the march began a list of 20 names were read to accompany Rev. King in the first three rows, and my name was one of them. I marched proudly at the front . . .

He continued:

On the street we formed three rows of 8, locked our arms together, and started to march. Behind us the thousands began to follow.

Richmond Palladium-Item, March 22, 1965, 14, accessed Newspapers.com.

When they arrived at the infamous bridge they paused to remember those who came before them and were attacked. They continued onto the highway. The road was lined with armed National Guardsmen and five helicopters circled the group. State troopers were taking pictures of the marchers. Davis explained:

This is an Alabama form of intimidation. I kept remembering that these were the same state troopers who two weeks earlier had ridden mercilessly into a defenseless mass of people . . . We kept on marching.

The marchers passed people who “waved, wept, prayed, and shouted out words of encouragement” and others, “whites who taunted, jeered, cursed” or “stood with stark amazement at this incredible sight.” At one point they passed a car painted with hateful signs “taunting even the death of Reverend Reed.” Other signs read “Dirty communist clergy go home” and “integrationist scum stay away.”

Rabbi Davis marched for twelve hours without sitting down or eating. Unfortunately, Davis did not get to finish the march. Instead, he was called to fly to Cincinnati that night to be with his father-in-law who had been admitted to the hospital with a serious illness. When Daivs finally returned to Indianapolis, he was welcomed with a threatening phone call.

“It’ll be too late when it goes off.”

When Rabbi Davis answered his phone Monday night at 11:00, an anonymous man asked if he was “the rabbi who went to Selma.” When Davis answered affirmatively, the voice continued: “Let me check this list again . . . You are No. 2 in Indianapolis.” The implication was that Davis was the second on a hit list of activists. Davis told the caller he was calling the police, but the man replied: “It won’t do any good to call the police . . . it’ll be too late when it goes off.”

Jewish Post, March 26, 1965, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Police searched the house and found nothing.  But the calls continued. On Tuesday, Davis took the phone off the hook at 2 A.M. so the family could sleep. Letters arrived as well full of “unbelievable filth, ugly statements,” and intimate knowledge of his larger civil rights work.

Davis stated vaguely that he was required to take “protective measures” to protect his family. The rabbi did not expound at the time, but later his children recalled that they had a “babysitter” who carried a .45-caliber revolver under his jacket. From his statements to the press, it seems the rabbi was most hurt that the threats were possibly coming from fellow Hoosiers. He told the Jewish Post:

Monday night my life was threatened. Not in Selma. Not in Montgomery. Not in Atlanta. In Indianapolis.

“The Time Has Come to Worship with Our Lives”

Like King, Davis did not dwell on the darkness of humanity but used it as a chance to shine a light of hope on the potential of his fellow man. Just days after the threats on his family, the Jewish Post published a section of a sermon in which Davis explained why he felt called to join King in Selma. Davis stated that many people had asked him why he went. And he had trouble at first finding the right words. He liked the Christian term of “witnessing,” that is, seeing God in an event. He also liked the Hebrew term that Rabbi Abraham Herschel, who was also at Selma used: “kiddush ha-Shem,” that is, sanctifying God’s name. But in his personable manner, he ended up giving a simpler explanation to the Post:

I know now what I was doing in Selma, Alabama. I was worshiping God. I was doing it on U.S. 80, along with 6,000 others who were doing precisely the same thing, in 6,000 different ways.

Jewish Post, April 16, 1965, 27, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

He called others to join him. He referred to injustices that needed to still be overcome in order to unite all of humanity as a “brotherhood postponed” and tasked his followers with making sure that while such unity is delayed, it is not destroyed. The way to achieve justice was not only to pray in the traditional way, but also with actions. He wrote:

Brotherhood postponed. The time has come, and it has been a long time coming. The time has come to worship with our lives as with our lips, in the streets as in the sanctuaries. And we who dare to call God, God, must begin to learn the challenge which that word contains. “One God over all” has to mean “one brotherhood over all.”

Muncie Evening Press, April 28, 1965, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

Rabbi Davis continued to work for civil rights in Indianapolis. He was again named honorary chairman of the NAACP. He served as a member of the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights and on the board of the United Negro College Fund. He was president of the Indianapolis Council of Human Relations and organized the Community Action Against Poverty (sponsored by the City of Indianapolis and the President’s Commission on Equal Opportunity).

Jewish Post, January 22, 1986, 14, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

He never forgot his march with King. In 1986, he reflected in the pages of the Jewish Post about a first for the country:

You hear a song, or sniff an aroma, and all of a sudden you are miles and years away . . . It happens, too, with birthdays. January 20 was a very special day. The first national observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. I hear them say the words, pronounce the name, and in the twinkling of an eye I am suddenly in Selma, Alabama with some 80,000 other people; Jews, and Protestants, and Catholics, and atheists, and agnostics . . . We were there because of a man whom we admired as much as we loved, and whom he loved as much as we admired. We were there because he was there. And he was there because it was right.

Notes:

The impetus for this story came from Jennie Cohen, Publisher, Jewish Post & Opinion.

Sources for Davis’s report of the march:

Rabbi Maurice Davis, “Rabbi Heschel Finds The Right Word For It,” (Indianapolis) Jewish Post, April 2, 1965, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Rabbi Maurice Davis, “Rabbi Davis Tells Why He Went to Selma,”(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, April 16, 1965, 22, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Other sources are linked within the text.

*For more on the disappointment of some civil rights activists with King’s role in the Selma to Montgomery marches see: Deborah Gray White, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., eds., Freedom on My Mind: A HIstory of African Americans with Documents (Boston and New York: Bedford/St.Martin’s 2013), 675-6.

Braceros in the Corn Belt Part One: Secretary Wickard & the Myth of the Agricultural Labor Shortage in WWII

In 1942, headlines in Indiana newspapers warned:

“Acute Labor Shortage Perils Midwest Farms”
(Valparaiso) Vidette-Messenger of Porter County

but also

“No Labor Shortage”
– Indianapolis Recorder

So which was it? An acute labor shortage endangering the farms of the corn-belt, and in turn, the country’s war production? Or no labor shortage at all? The answer is surprising and continues to impact policy today.

John Vachon, “Wheat,” photograph, 1941, Farm Security Administration Photographs, IUPUI University Library, http://ulib.iupuidigital.org/cdm/ref/collection/IFSAP/id/562

The Agricultural Front

Just before U. S. entry into the Second World War, large farming and agricultural processing companies—which had become dependent on the cheap labor that was abundant during the Great Depression—warned of an impending labor shortage. They claimed that there was not a sufficient number of workers available to fill the positions left behind by the men enlisting in the armed forces, or by the men and women who left the farm for war-related industrial work.

At the same time, with the introduction of President Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program (which lent food and supplies to Great Britain and its allies), the U.S. needed to produce more agricultural products than ever before. The battle on the agricultural front would need a larger number of agrarian soldiers. Indiana newspapers worried over how Hoosier farmers would meet production goals as their sons left for the “army camps” and “defense industrial plants.” The Muncie Post Democrat continued:

Now that the sons are gone, the farm operators find it impossible to compete with industrial labor wages for help. This may result in many acres uncultivated this season . . . This condition rates as serious when food production is important in the defense program.

In spring 1942, Purdue University reported that “anticipated shortages of farm labor, resulting from enlistments in the armed forces and attractive industrial wages, have not developed.” However, as the year went on, Indiana newspapers became more frantic in tone. They reported that farmers were selling acreage and animals because they could not find farm hands to help with the work. The weekly industry newspaper, the Prairie Farmer, surveyed eighty-one midwestern counties and reported that  three-fourths of them “were found to be suffering from a shortage of farm hands.”

“Farmers on the Carlin Farm, Monroe Township, Kosciusko County, Ind.,” 1949, Collection of Elaine (Carlin) Brown, Pierceton and Washington Township Library, accessed Indiana Memory.

Indiana Canneries and the “Labor Shortage”

By the fall of 1942, large Indiana agricultural businesses joined the national cry of “labor shortage.” Indiana newspapers gave extensive coverage to the professed concerns of the tomato canning industry.  The Muncie Evening Press ran the headline: “Labor Shortage Hits Tomatoes: Cannery Shutdowns and Crop Losses Threaten.”

The article reported that the “acute war-born labor shortage” would close a dozen canneries and that “picked tomatoes awaiting processing [were] lying idle and periled by rotting.” State government officials and the Indiana Farm Bureau spoke on behalf of the canneries and appealed to local men and women to go to work at the plants. Hasil E. Schenck, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, stated:

Reduced farm production will be no reflection on the patriotism of farmers, for without manpower they can not produce food and fiber any better than industry can produce ships, tanks and guns without steel.

Indiana Governor Henry Schricker issued “an appeal to housewives and all others available to apply for work at the nearest cannery.” The Evening Press reported that the canneries were already employing WPA workers and were calling for women “peelers” and for school children “packers” to volunteer their services.

“Can label for IT brand Indiana tomatoes packed by R. W. Jones Canning Corporation,” n.d., Trade Catalogs for Indiana Businesses, Digital Images Elkhart Public Library, Auburn Indiana, https://digital.library.in.gov/Record/ISL_p16066coll3-21.

Yes, volunteer. These industry giants, many of whom had profitable government contracts, were asking for women and children to freely donate their labor. A few days after the call for volunteers went out, the Elwood Call-Leader praised the response of school staff and students in the Madison County area while rebuking the “apathetic and uncooperative” attitudes of local women—women who likely had increased workloads at home because of the war effort. According to the article, employment service and local government officials complained that “despite all appeals that have been made throughout the past week, many . . . women still do not realize the seriousness of the situation and are not willing to work, even [though] they are needed only to get through the brief critical period the industry is now facing.”

The Call-Leader added that army officials were “alarmed at the situation” and were “making a check to see whether the army will be able to get the tomatoes it has ordered.” The canneries’ message was clear. Without cheap or free labor, American boys on the front would go without food. Like corporations across the country, Indiana businesses began to demand that the government supply them with an inexpensive source of labor.

African American Newspapers and the “Labor Shortage”

And yet, African American newspapers saw “no labor shortage.” The Indianapolis Recorder reported that the companies need only to “hire negroes.” The Recorder, continued:

Nobody has yet proved there is a labor shortage in this country. . .  There is no need to work a few workers to death while others walk the streets hungry, seeking work. There are still enough qualified workers in this country to allow employers to continue their discrimination against workers because of the race, religion, and nationality of such workers.

Indiana’s African American newspapers reported that thousands of African Americans were looking for work and were willing to travel great distances to take jobs, but employers didn’t want them. For example, in November 1942, the Indianapolis Recorder and the Evansville Argus reprinted a report from Graphic Magazine that 3,000 African American men left “the Deep South” at the request of California farmers for help saving the harvest. When they arrived “there were no jobs for them!”

Graphics Magazine, reprinted as “Editors Expose Abuse of Negro Labor,” in Evansville Argus, October 31, 1942, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles and Indianapolis Recorder, November 14, 1942, 9, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Labor Shortage Myth

The observations of the African American newspapers were correct. There was no labor shortage that the federal government could not meet with domestic workers. However, the myth of the labor shortage had its own power.

Over the previous decade, the Great Depression created a large surplus of workers seeking employment. In 1941, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor reported that farmers had “come to consider this over supply as the normal supply, and to consider any reduction in the surplus supply as a shortage.” These departments concluded, however, that all of the shortages, perceived or real, could be met by moving surplus domestic workers into the areas of need. The catch, however, was that the balanced supply of available workers and demand for their labor required employers to pay a fair wage for agricultural labor.

Spencer Douglass Crockwell, “Work On A Farm This Summer,” poster, 1943, United States Office of War Information, Print Department Collection, Boston Public Library, accessed Digital Public Library of America

A remarkably organized effort of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and the U. S. Employment Service (USES) was prepared to deal with any real “pockets of labor scarcity.” They expanded the New Deal migratory camp program, setting up permanent and mobile camps around the country to bring American workers across the country for harvests. However, because employers had to pay more reasonable wages, they still complained of shortage. In fact, they cited higher wages as evidence of a shortage.

Statistics from the Indiana division of the U.S. Employment Service show that Indiana’s available labor pool reflected the national situation. J. Bradley Haight, the Director of the U.S. Employment Service (USES) in Indiana estimated in 1942 that there were “100,000 individuals in the state seeking employment. He stated, “The job insurance division issued checks to 40,000 persons. This represents a reservoir of labor which is to be tapped.” However, the large growers, dependent on cheap labor, continued to cry shortage even as they were provided with workers by the FSA and USES—workers that they didn’t want to employ because of racial prejudice or unwillingness to pay a fair wage.

So these wealthy, powerful, and organized growers and processors of agricultural commodities demanded that the federal government respond to their manufactured labor shortage by importing foreign workers. The government quickly gave in to their demands. History professor Cindy Hahamovitch, writing for the Center for Immigration Studies, summarized the government’s response to the labor myth:

The officials who created the guestworker program never believed there was a national labor shortage in agriculture. . . They created the importation program, not because it was necessary, but because it was politically expedient to do so, because the nation’s most powerful growers were demanding the preservation of the cheap, plentiful, and complacent labor force to which they had become accustomed over the previous 20 years of agricultural depression.

The federal government complied because the myth was persuasive. A false labor shortage would have the same effect on agricultural production as a real one. No amount of statistics or economic reports could allay the fears of farmers worrying if sufficient help would be available at harvest time. Therefore, farmers anticipating a lack of aid and picturing their produce rotting in the fields, would plant less, and the country wouldn’t meet its production goals—just as if there was a real labor shortage.

Despite their best efforts to meet the real pocket labor shortages with domestic workers and their distribution of reports on the available domestic labor pool, the federal government needed to allay the small farmer’s growing fear of a massive shortage. By 1942, the Roosevelt administration was cornered into responding to the shortage myth by importing foreign workers. As Congress tore apart the Farm Security Administration and its program of migrating workers to areas of need, U. S. Secretary of Agriculture, Claude R. Wickard, left for Mexico to negotiate a deal that would affect agricultural and immigration policy for decades.

Hoosier Dirt Farmer as U. S. Secretary of Agriculture

Claude R. Wickard was a Hoosier dirt farmer through and through. He was born in 1893 and raised in Carroll County on his family’s farm. His father, a staunch democrat named for Andrew Jackson, was a strict disciplinarian who raised his son with every expectation that the farm was his present, future, and legacy. The younger Wickard, however, grew ambitious. He saw that the farm could be more productive and efficient with the application of modern methods. Against his father’s wishes, he enrolled in classes at Purdue, where he learned about scientific farming and got hands-on experience with sanitary hog care and breeding. He soon vastly improved the farm and received recognition from farming organizations as a leader in modern farming methods. His influence in local Farm Bureau organizations grew in the 1920s and he advanced to several leadership positions where he took on the challenges of his fellow farmers.

“Secretary of Agriculture Wickard Tours the Family Farm…” in Dean Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer: Claude R. Wickard in the New Deal (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961), 82. [Claude Wickard on left]
Beginning at Purdue and continuing throughout his career, Wickard remained focused on rural social justice and “the farm problem.” To Wickard, social justice for rural folks meant that farmers should have equal buying power as urban workers. The inextricably related farm problem was what economists called a parity problem, that is, the prices farmers received for their products was not in balance with their expenses. Wickard, like many leaders of the New Deal, spent his early career trying to figure out how the state and federal government could achieve parity for farmers by solving the problem of overproduction.

By 1930, several factors made Wickard a prime political candidate. First and foremost, while most Indiana farmers were Republicans, Wickard was born into a staunchly Democratic family and remained loyal to the party despite the fact that the national party had not prioritized rural concerns through the 1920s. Thus, Wickard was one of the few farmers with influence in the Farm Bureau and other organizations who was also a Democrat. Second, Wickard’s embrace of scientific farming ideas made him open to production control as a method to achieving parity for farmers. Most farmers, who were already barely making ends meet while operating their farms at full production could not imagine cutting down on output. Wickard, however, could see that farmers needed help from the federal government to make the drastic, nationwide economic shift required to give them the same standard of living as the urban people they fed. This way of thinking aligned with the ideas of the men who would soon take over leadership of the nation. Wickard was poised to join them.

His political career began modestly. A group of county organizers convinced him to run for a state senate seat and he reluctantly agreed. Wickard stated in an interview:

I didn’t like politics . . . [but] like all other things, sometimes you’ve got to make your contributions to your community and to the Democratic Party . . . I had a feeling of responsibility toward my fellow citizen.

Wickard was elected state senator November 8, 1932 as Democrats swept elections across the country and Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the U. S. presidency.

In May 1933, the Agricultural Adjustment Act took effect and farmers saw that the new administration recognized their plight. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA or Triple-A), a division of the Department of Agriculture, was tasked with creating parity through taxing companies that used agricultural produce and decreasing production. Wickard was quickly elected chairman of the Corn-Hog Section of the Indiana Triple-A. He soon became the Assistant to the Chief of the National Corn-Hog Division, and in July 1933 Wickard went to Washington.

When he arrived in Washington as second in command of the Corn-Hog Section of the AAA, he was overwhelmed by the job. In his own words, Wickard was “just a farmer” and had to work to understand the complex economic issues the administration faced. And he got frustrated with the pace of bureaucracy. However, he was likeable, earnest, easy to work with, and his ideas about parity aligned with those of Henry Wallace, the Secretary of Agriculture. Most important to Wickard’s rise, however, was that he was known as a loyal Democrat and commanded the respect of midwestern farmers.

When the Department of Agriculture reorganized by region, as opposed to commodity in 1936, Wickard became Assistant Director of the North Central Division. By this point, Wickard was on Wallace’s radar and the secretary saw potential in the Hoosier dirt farmer. Wallace later noted that Wickard was rare in a department of apolitical technocrats and subject experts in that he was actually a Democrat. Wallace stated: “He was about the only one of the whole crowd in agriculture that had any claim to being a democratic politico.” In the fall of 1936, Wallace brought Wickard with him as he stumped for FDR throughout the Midwest. When FDR won reelection, Wickard continued to make himself useful to Wallace at the USDA and was quite successful and well-liked in  his division.

“A Speech to the Nation,”  in Dean Albertson, Roosevelt’s Farmer: Claude R. Wickard in the New Deal (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961), 340.

In January 1940, Wallace recommended Wickard to FDR for the position of Undersecretaty of Agriculture. After making sure he was not aligned with Roosevelt’s Hoosier adversary Paul McNutt, the president agreed. Wickard was sworn in February 29, 1940. He served less than six months before Wallace resigned as Secretary of Agriculture to run as FDR’s vice president. Wallace recommended Wickard to succeed him and Wickard was sworn in as the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture September 1940.

Wickard, The Labor Issue, and The Bracero Program

With much of Europe dependent on U.S. agricultural production, the Secretary of Agriculture’s job was even more important than in peace time. Meeting war production goals was paramount. Wickard faced many challenges, among them, the increasing claims of a labor shortage.  In December 1941, Wickard testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee:

The farm labor shortage is not as serious as generally believed. Farm production has suffered, of course, from the loss of farm hands who have been drafted or got higher pay in defense plants. But the situation is not alarming.

While he downplayed the labor shortage claims, he did make it clear that farmers would “have to pay more for their help” than they had before the war stimulated the economy and reduced the labor surplus. As the earlier examination of newspaper articles has shown, this was not an option many corporations were willing to consider.

Less than a year later, Wickard had changed his approach to the issue. The (Richmond) Palladium-Item reported :

Secretary of Agriculture Wickard warned that the United States would face a food shortage unless it quickly solves the problem of manning the farms. He estimated the armed forces and factories may drain off approximately 2,000,000 farm workers by the end of 1942 in addition to those who have already gone.

By this point, it seemed like Wickard was treating the labor shortage claims as a legitimate threat to production goals. However, this same Palladium article still noted that “the most mentioned causes” of the shortage “were high wages.” Even at the peak of industry claims of a labor shortage, the crux of the issue was still that companies would “have to pay more for their help,” as Wickard told the House in 1941.

“Photograph [of Wickard] used for a newspaper owned by the Oklahoma Publishing Company,” 1946, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society, accessed Gateway to Oklahoma History.
While Wickard described his understanding of complex economic issues as limited and his progress in grasping what his statistician colleagues reported as slow and labored, he deeply understood and cared about agricultural issues and maintained a strong moral decision-making process throughout his career. Like most government officials with access to labor statistics, Wickard would have known that, while there was no labor shortage, a fictional labor shortage was just as dangerous to the war effort. It is, however, possible that his tenuous grasp of complex economic issues meant that he thought the shortage was real. (His biographer Dean Albertson implies the second). Wickard’s career record shows that he would not have acted to address the labor shortage had he not believed it was the best thing for the American people. There are many instances during his career when a different vote or decision would have furthered his political career, but he did what he believed to be the right thing for American farmers.*

Dorthea Lange, “Braceros,” ca. 1942, photograph, Oakland Museum of California, accessed Online Archive of California.

Tasked with addressing the issue, Wickard left for the Second Inter-American Conference on Agriculture in Mexico City early in July 1942, to make a deal that would import Mexican workers and ensure the United States met its production goals. Several agencies were involved in creating a plan to import Mexican agricultural workers, but it was Wickard who was responsible for negotiating an agreement between the interests of the Mexican government, the United States government, American farmers, labor organizations, and large farming and processing conglomerates.

Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Evequiel Padilla Peñaloza was reluctant to agree because of U.S. exploitation of and discrimination against Mexican workers in the past. Padilla insisted that any agreement include a number of guarantees for the rights of braceros. Padilla demanded Mexican workers receive the same guarantees of wages and working and living conditions as American workers. Wickard agreed to a minimum wage and work and living standard. However, there were no such guarantees for American workers. Thus, as labor organizations were quick to point out, these workers were guaranteed, at least in theory, more protection by the U. S. government than domestic farm laborers. After ten days of negotiations Wickard formalized the agreement August 4, 1942. In less than a year’s time, Indiana farms were benefiting from foreign labor. Hoosier response to these guest workers was mixed.

In Part Two of this post we will look at the stories of these farmers and foreign workers as told through Indiana newspapers:

Further Reading:

Albertson, Dean. Roosevelt’s Farmer: Claude R. Wickard in the New Deal. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961.

Bracero History Archive. Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Brown University, and the Institute of Oral History at the University of Texas El Paso, http://braceroarchive.org/

Collingham, Lizzie. The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food. New York: Penguin Books, 2011.

Claude R. Wickard. State Historical Marker. Indiana Historical Bureau, https://www.in.gov/history/markers/4420.htm

Craig, Richard B. The Bracero Program: Interest Groups and Foreign Policy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.

Hahamovitch, Cindy .”The Politics of Labor Scarcity: Expediency and the Birth of the Agricultural ‘Guestworkers’ Program,” Report for the Center for Immigration Studies, December 1, 1999, accessed https//cis.org/Report/Politics-Labor-Scarcity.

Hurt, Douglas R. American Agriculture: A Brief History. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1994.

Representative Katie B. Hall’s Fight for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Katie Beatrice Hall, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; Coretta Scott King and Katie Hall observe President Reagan signing the bill commemorating Dr. King’s birthday on November 2, 1983, courtesy of the White House Photo Office, accessed achievement.org.

On September 7, 1982, U.S. Representative Adam Benjamin (D-Indiana), a Gary native, was found dead of a heart attack in his Washington, D.C. apartment. Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher, the first African American mayor in the State of Indiana, was tasked with selecting a candidate to run in a special election to complete the last few months of Benjamin’s term. After some intra-party debate, Mayor Hatcher chose Indiana State Senator Katie Hall to serve out the remainder of Benjamin’s term in the U.S. House of Representatives. In November, Hall was elected to Indiana’s first congressional district seat, becoming the first African American to represent Indiana in Congress. When Hall arrived in Washington, D.C., she served as chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Census and Population, which was responsible for holidays. Her leadership in this subcommittee would successfully build on a years-long struggle to create a federal holiday honoring the civil rights legacy of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday.

Each year since Dr. King’s assassination in 1968, U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Michigan) had introduced a bill to make Dr. King’s January 15 birthday a national holiday. Over the years, many became involved in the growing push to commemorate Dr. King with a holiday. Musician Stevie Wonder was one of the most active in support of Conyers’s efforts. He led rallies on the Washington Mall and used his concerts to generate public support. In 1980, Wonder released a song titled “Happy Birthday” in honor of Dr. King’s birthday. The following year, Wonder funded a Washington, D.C. lobbying organization, which, together with The King Center, lobbied for the holiday’s establishment. Coretta Scott King, Dr. King’s widow, ran The King Center and was also heavily involved in pushing for the holiday, testifying multiple times before the Subcommittee on Census and Population. In 1982, Mrs. King and Wonder delivered a petition to the Speaker of the House bearing more than six million signatures in favor of the holiday. For Dr. King’s birthday in 1983, Mrs. King urged a boycott, asking Americans to not spend any money on January 15.

Opponents objected to the proposed holiday for various reasons. North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms led the opposition, citing a high cost to the federal government. He claimed it would cost four to twelve billion dollars; however, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost to be eighteen million dollars. Furthermore, a King holiday would bring the number of federal holidays to ten, and detractors thought that to be too many. President Ronald Reagan’s initial opposition to the holiday also centered on concern over the cost; later, his position was that holidays in honor of an individual ought to be reserved for “the Washingtons and Lincolns.”

Earlier in October, Senator Helms had filibustered the holiday bill, but, on October 18, the Senate once again took the bill up for consideration. A distinguished reporter for Time, Neil MacNeil described Helms’s unpopular antics that day. Helms had prepared an inch-thick packet for each senator condemning Dr. King as a “near-communist.” It included:

‘a sampling of the 65,000 documents on [K]ing recently released by the FBI, just about all purporting the FBI’s dark suspicions of commie conspiracy by this ‘scoundrel,’ as one of the FBI’s own referred to King.’

Helms’s claims infuriated Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) because they relied on invoking the memory of Senator Kennedy’s deceased brothers—former President John Kennedy and former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy—against King. Kennedy was “appalled at [Helms’] attempt to misappropriate the memory” of his brothers and “misuse it as part of this smear campaign.” Senator Bill Bradley (D- New Jersey) joined Kennedy’s rebuttal by calling out Helms’s racism on the floor of the Senate and contending that Helms and others who opposed the King holiday bill “are playing up to Old Jim Crow and all of us know it.” Helms’s dramatic performance in the Senate against the holiday bill had the opposite effect from what he had intended. In fact, Southern senators together ended up voting for the bill in a higher percentage than the Senate overall.

The next day, at an October 19 press conference, Reagan further explained his reluctance to support the bill. Asked if he agreed with Senator Helms’s accusations that Dr. King was a Communist sympathizer, Reagan responded, “We’ll know in about 35 years, won’t we?” His comment referred to a judge’s 1977 order to keep wiretap records of Dr. King sealed. Wiretaps of Dr. King had first been approved twenty years prior by Robert Kennedy when he was U.S. Attorney General. U.S. District Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr. ruled that the records would remain sealed, not until 2018 as Reagan mistakenly claimed, but until 2027 for a total of fifty years. However, President Reagan acknowledged in a private letter to former New Hampshire Governor Meldrim Thomson in early October that he retained reservations about King’s alleged Communist ties, and wrote that regarding King, “the perception of too many people is based on an image, not reality.”

[Munster] Times, August 28, 1983, accessed Newspapers.com.
After fifteen years of struggling to commemorate King with a federal holiday, why did the effort finally succeed in 1983? It was the culmination of several factors that together resulted in sufficient pressure on the Washington establishment. Wonder’s wildly successful “Happy Birthday” pulled a lot of weight to raise the public profile of the holiday demand. Mrs. King’s perennial work advocating for the holiday kept the issue in the public eye.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. According to House.gov, “This hand bill, noting the anniversary of King’s 1968 assassination, sought to rally public support for the creation of the holiday.”

Support was gaining ground around the country; by 1983 eighteen states had enacted some form of holiday in honor of Dr. King. Politicians could see the tide of public support turning in favor of the holiday, and their positions on the holiday became something of a litmus test for a politician’s support of civil rights.

After Helms’s acrimonious presentation in late October, Mrs. King gave an interview, published in the Alexandria, Louisiana Town Talk, saying that it was obvious since Reagan’s election that:

‘he has systematically ignored the concerns of black people . . .  These conservatives try to dress up what they’re doing [by attempting to block the King holiday bill] . . . They are against equal rights for black people. The motivation behind this is certainly strongly racial.’

Town Talk noted that “Mrs. King said she suspects Helms’s actions prompted a number of opposed senators to vote for the bill for fear of being allied with him.” Some editorials and letters-to-the-editor alleged that Reagan ultimately supported and signed the King holiday bill to secure African American votes in his 1984 reelection campaign. In August 1983, Mrs. King had helped organize a rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, at which King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Between 250,000 and 500,000 Americans attended; all speakers called on Reagan to sign the MLKJ Day bill.

Indianapolis Star, August 28, 1983, accessed Newspapers.com.

Hall was busy building support among her colleagues for the holiday; she spent the summer of 1983 on the phone with legislators to whip votes. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Census and Population, Hall led several hearings called to measure Americans’ support of a holiday in memory of King’s legacy. According to the Indianapolis Recorder, “among those who testified in favor of the holiday were House Speaker Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.), singer Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott King.” Additionally, a change in the bill potentially helped its chances by addressing a key concern of its opponents—the cost of opening government offices twice in one week. At some point between when Conyers introduced the bill in January 1981 and when Hall introduced the bill in the summer of 1983, the bill text was changed to propose that the holiday be celebrated every third Monday in January, rather than on King’s birth date of January 15.

After the House passed the bill on August 2, Hall was quoted in the Indianapolis News with an insight about her motivation:

‘The time is before us to show what we believe— that justice and equality must continue to prevail, not only as individuals, but as the greatest nation in this world.’

For Hall, the King holiday bill was about affirming America’s commitment to King’s mission of civil rights. It would be another two and a half months of political debate before the Senate passed the bill. 

The new holiday was slated to be officially celebrated for the first time in 1986. However, Hall and other invested parties wanted to ensure that the country’s first federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day would be suitably celebrated. To that end, Hall introduced legislation in 1984 to establish a commission that would “work to encourage appropriate ceremonies and activities.” The legislation passed, but Hall lost her reelection campaign that year and was unable to fully participate on the committee. Regardless, in part because of Hall’s initiative, that first observance in 1986 was successful.

Stevie Wonder and Coretta Scott King, 1984, courtesy of Medium.com.

In Hall’s district, Gary held a celebration called “The Dream that Lives” at the Genesis Convention Center. Some state capitals, including Indianapolis, held commemorative marches and rallies. Officials unveiled a new statue of Dr. King in Birmingham, Alabama, where the leader was arrested in 1963 for marching in protest against the treatment of African Americans. In Washington, D.C., Wonder led a reception at the Kennedy Center with other musicians. Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke to congregants in Atlanta where Dr. King was minister, and then led a vigil at Dr. King’s grave. Mrs. King led a reception at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center, also in Atlanta.

Representative Hall knew the value of the Civil Rights Movement first hand. Born in Mississippi in 1938, Hall was barred from voting under Jim Crow laws. She moved her family to Gary, Indiana in 1960, seeking better opportunities. Her first vote ever cast was for John F. Kennedy during the presidential race that year. Hall was trained as a school teacher at Indiana University and she taught social studies in Gary public schools. As a politically engaged citizen, Hall campaigned to elect Mayor Hatcher and ran a successful campaign herself when in 1974 she won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. Two years later, she ran for Indiana Senate and won. Hall and Julia Carson, elected at the same time, were the first Black women elected to the state senate. While in the Indiana General Assembly, Hall supported education measures, healthcare reform, labor interests, and protections for women, such as sponsoring a measure to “fund emergency hospital treatment for rape victims,” including those who could not afford to pay.

Rep. Hall, courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hall was still serving as Indiana state senator in 1982 when Representative Benjamin passed away and Mayor Hatcher nominated her to complete Benjamin’s term. She made history in November 1982, when in the same election she won the campaign to complete Benjamin’s term, as well as being elected to her own two year term, becoming the first African American to represent Indiana in Congress. However, Hall lost her bid for reelection during the 1984 primaries to Peter Visclosky, a former aide of Rep. Benjamin who still holds the seat today. Hall ran for Congress again in 1986, this time with the endorsement of Mrs. King. Although she failed to regain the congressional seat, Hall remained active in politics. In 1987, Hall was elected Gary city clerk, a position she held until 2003 when she resigned amid scandal after an indictment on mail fraud, extortion, and racketeering charges. In June 1989, Dr. King’s son Martin King III wrote to Hall supporting her consideration of running again for Congress.

Hall passed away in Gary in 2012. The establishment of the federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday law was Hall’s crowning achievement. Her success built upon a fifteen-year-long struggle to establish a national holiday in honor of Dr. King. The Indiana General Assembly passed a state law in mid-1989 establishing the Dr. King holiday for state workers, but it was not until 2000 that all fifty states instituted a holiday in memory of Dr. King for state employees.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday has endured despite the struggle to create it. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a bill sponsored by Senator Harris Wofford (D-Pennsylvania) and Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia) that established Martin Luther King Day as a day of service, encouraging wide participation in volunteer activities. Inspired by King’s words that “everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” the change was envisioned as a way to honor King’s legacy with service to others. Today, Martin Luther King Day is celebrated across the country and politicians’ 1983 votes on it continue to serve as a civil rights litmus test.

Mark your calendars for the April 2019 dedication ceremony of a state historical marker in Gary commemorating Representative Hall and the origins of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Click here for a bibliography of sources used in this post and the forthcoming historical marker.

THH Season 2 Episode 3: The Rhodes Family Incident

Transcript of The Rhodes Family Incident

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

[Door opening]

Beckley: Picture a house with one entrance – no windows to let in the light, no back door for easy access to the back yard– just the one front door. In 1844, the Rhodes family lived in just such a house. John Rhodes had built his family home in such an unusual manner with one thing on his mind – protection. Protection from the threat that loomed large over everyday life on his small Westfield farm. Protection from the day that John and his wife, Louann hoped would never come. Protection from slave catchers paid to hunt down and re-enslave freedom seekers. John and Louann Rhodes, along with their infant daughter, escaped from the home of their enslaver 7 years before, in 1837. On this episode, we’ll discuss the Underground Railroad in Indiana and what came to be known as the Rhodes Family Incident.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

[Music]

Beckley: Slave escape narratives and stories of the Underground Railroad abound in the American collective memory. These stories tend to follow a similar plot. The enslaved person is concerned about being separated from their family. They include daring and ingenious escapes. And they end just after the central figures reach the “freedom” of the North. These plot points can be seen clearly in two of America’s most well-known escape stories.

Guest speaker: After watching his wife and children sold away, Henry Brown resolved to escape slavery by any means necessary. That means, as it turned out, was to be a wooden crate marked “dry goods.” On March 23, 1849, Brown, with the help of others, concealed himself in a wooden box and shipped himself from Virginia to Philadelphia. He traveled – first by wagon, then by steamboat, and finally by railroad – for 27 hours to the home of abolitionist James Miller McKim. His daring escape was successful and he became known as “Box” Brown.

Guest Speaker: William and Ellen Craft married in 1846, despite being owned by two different families. The two dreaded a possible separation and decided to flee north. Ellen, who had a lighter complexion than her husband, posed as a white male slave owner travelling with a male slave, who would, of course, be William. The two fled their enslavement in Georgia in December 1848 and after several days – and several close calls – they reached their destination – Philadelphia.

[Music]

Beckley: But that’s not where their stories ended – Henry Brown and William and Ellen Craft all eventually moved to England to escape the possibility of recapture. People who had escaped enslavement were often forced to continue escaping for the rest of their lives.

Recapture was a constant threat to those who had escaped slavery. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 declared that any person accused of being a runaway slave could be claimed by providing proof – in the form of verbal assurance or an affidavit – that that person was their property. Not so shockingly, this honor system was often abused by people seeking to enslave other people. The act also imposed penalties on those who assisted a fugitive slave in escape or concealment after escape.

The threat of these penalties meant that any work being done to assist enslaved people in their search for freedom had to be done in secret and that led to the development of the Underground Railroad. This secrecy, as crucial as it was to the continuation of the Underground Railroad, has presented some problems for historians in the years since the abolition of slavery. The lack of documentation means that it’s difficult to verify local lore that the church – or home – or local dry goods store – was a stop. And what few documents we do have are almost exclusively from white allies of the Underground Railroad, despite the fact that free black communities were crucial in the escape stories of many people. This has created a distorted view of the UGRR as being a system of white people saving enslaved African Americans from the bonds of slavery while largely ignoring not only the work done by free black communities but also the agency of the escaping people themselves.

Luckily, every so often, there’s a story that comes through the ages that can be verified and that tells a story of formerly enslaved people fighting to remain free. This is one of those stories.

$1,100. $1,100 could buy three humans in 1836. In this case, those humans were John and Louann Rhodes and their child, Lydia. They were sold as slaves to Singleton Vaughn, of Missouri, who took them to his land to work. Little is known of the conditions of the Rhodes family while they lived on the Vaughn property. Regardless of their treatment, one fact is certain – they weren’t free. About a year later, the family learned that Vaughn planned to sell Louann and Lydia further south, splitting up the Rhodes.

They had two choices – stay and hope that such an eventuality never came to pass, or attempt an escape. Both were risky. It was common practice for slave holders to sell members of the same family to other enslavers. On the other hand, the prospect of an escape must have been daunting and the repercussions of a failed attempt could be harsh or even deadly. Surely, the two weighed their options and debated the probability of being separated. In the end, they decided that escape was the only plausible option – the risk of separation was too high.

In the middle of the night in April, 1836, John, Louann, and Lydia stole away from the Vaughn farm. They traveled lightly – they carried an axe and some clothes but little else.

[Sound of water]

Beckley: The family made their way across the Mississippi River and into Illinois. Vaughn, upon discovering their absence, sent notices to various authorities alerting them to be on the lookout. Apparently, those notices worked and the fleeing family was captured and placed in jail somewhere in Illinois.

The details of the story are vague, but somehow nearby agents of the Underground Railroad were alerted to the freedom seekers’ plight. They broke into the jail and freed the family, who continued their journey, presumably heading towards Canada. Travelling north east, the family moved through the fields of Illinois, and later, Indiana.

[Transition music]

BeckleyEventually, they made their way to Hamilton County, Indiana – just North of Indianapolis. While we don’t know for certain why they made this decision, the family decided to settle in Hamilton County, near Bakers Corner. The area was home to many free people of color who were farming and thriving – this likely fostered a sense of belonging.

[Sound of felling a tree]

Beckley: In the years after settling in the area, the family bought and cleared a 10 acre plot of land, built their house… you know, the one with just one door, and presumably lived a fairly typical life for farmers in rural Indiana. To get a glimpse of that life, we can turn to the nearby Roberts Settlement, a community of free people of color not even 10 miles north of the Rhodes family home. In the book Southern Seed Northern Soil, the preeminent work on the topic, historian Stephen Vincent writes,

Voice actor reading from Southern Seed Northern Soil:  “Throughout the 1830s and 1840s…pioneers engaged in a constant struggle to gain an upper hand on this forbidding wilderness. Much of their time and energy was devoted to clearing their forested claims, tackling the work associated with farm-making, and producing most of the food and other goods needed for survival.”

Beckley: The Rhodes family would have faced similar struggles in taming the land, along with the ever present threat of their former enslaver catching up to them. In the spring of 1844, their worst fears became reality when Singleton Vaughn appeared on their doorstep.

[Transition music]

Exactly how Vaughn learned of the Rhodes’ presence in Hamilton County is unknown. But when he heard, he, along with two agents who could confirm that he had bought the family, travelled to Indiana. Once they arrived, Vaughn applied for and received a warrant to arrest the Rhodes and return with them to Missouri. Then, in the middle of the night, the men, who were intent on re-enslaving the family within, arrived at that small home with just one front door.

[Ominous music]

They knocked on the door, but when the family realized who was calling, they refused to open. Vaughn and his men pried the door from its hinges and broke through the stick and mud chimney. Realizing that physical resistance was not only futile, but dangerous, John Rhodes turned to his intellect…he had a plan.

He and Louann surrendered themselves to the slave catchers and agreed to return to Missouri. First, though, John claimed that a neighbor owed the family $50, knowing that Vaughn would want to collect on the debt since the money would actually go to him, as their enslaver. Vaughn allowed the neighbor to be fetched, just as John had hoped. The neighbor arrived, and he was followed shortly by more neighbors – many of whom were friends of the Rhodes and protested their kidnapping.

Vaughn knew the law was on his side. In his mind, he had little to lose by going through the judicial system – he had enslaved the Rhodes lawfully, put them to forced labor lawfully, and now, he wanted to re-claim them lawfully. To that end, he agreed to have the matter put to trial in Noblesville. The group – made up of the Rhodes, who were being carried in a wagon, surrounded by Vaughn, his agents, and an ever increasing crowd of neighbors on foot – made their way toward town for some time before stopping at a farm for a few hours to break their fast. While they were stopped, their company grew even more.

Finally, they started down the road once more, moving ever so slowly towards Noblesville. They reached a fork in the road – one path led to Noblesville, the other to Westfield. The throng of neighbors – now 150 people strong, were well aware that the Rhodes had a better chance at freedom if their trial was in Westfield, which had more abolitionist leaning officials than Noblesville. That’s why, upon arriving at the fork in the road, the members of the crowd urged the driver of the wagon to proceed to Westfield. After much arguing, it had been almost decided to take their chances in Noblesville when, with a shout, the wagon driver urged his horses down the Westfield road. Vaughn and his companions attempted to follow but the fleeing wagon was too fast. The wagon escaped and with it, the Rhodes family, not to be seen by Vaughn or his associates again.

Vaughn had lost his property, but he had one more course of action at his disposal. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 states that:

Voice actor: “Any person who shall knowingly and willingly obstruct or hinder such claimant, his agent or attorney, in so seizing or arresting such fugitive from labor…shall forfeit and pay the sum of 500 dollars, for the benefit of such claimant.”

Beckley: Citing this rarely enforced section of the act, Vaughn singled out Mr. Owen Williams as being in the crowd on the day of the escape and filed suit against him in an attempt to recuperate at least a portion of his investment.

The case was brought to the Indiana Circuit Court in May, 1845, a year after the Rhodes narrowly escaped Vaughn’s grasp. The presiding Judge, John McLean gave the jury several instructions prior to trial, such as: the jury were not to make a judgement on slavery itself, but rather on the case in question, based on legal precedent, rather than their personal feelings about the practice. He also reminded the jurors that the U.S. constitution was in full effect in the state of Indiana, including those sections upholding slavery and the rights of property that went with that. It was the very last instruction that was most crucial to the case at hand, though.

Voice actor: “An owner of slaves, who takes them to the state of Illinois, and keeps them at labor six months, and then removes them to Missouri, forfeits his right to them as slaves.”

Beckley: Before Singleton Vaughn purchased John, Louann, and Lydia, they were living with their enslaver, name of Tipton, in Illinois. Tipton had moved them to Illinois, a free state, from October, 1835 to April, 1836 – that’s almost exactly 6 months. Just long enough for them to become legally free.

During the course of the trial, Vaughn provided evidence that he had purchased the family of 3 for $1,100 – $500 down with ongoing payments arranged – basically, he purchased them on an installment plan…a phrase which is typical, if you’re buying a car, but which becomes nearly unfathomable when talking about human beings. He also provided evidence that the Rhodes lived and worked on his land for 1 year. And that he had acquired the appropriate paperwork to recapture them in Indiana. He even provided evidence that he was not a cruel enslaver – not that that was necessary, as, under the law, he could treat his property however he saw fit.

On the other side, the defense presented evidence that Tipton, the Rhodes’ former enslaver, had not only lived in Illinois, but that he had made improvements to his land. And he had participated in elections. And told his neighbors he intended to stay in the state, and eventually become a citizen of the state. All of this evidence added up to prove that Tipton knowingly moved John, Louann, and Lydia to a free state for over 6 months. Thus, Singleton Vaughn could not have bought them, because they were not enslaved. Thus, the Rhodes family was free.

After both sides rested their case, the jury took only a few minutes to come to a verdict: Owen Williams did not owe Singleton Vaughn the $500 fee for aiding and abetting a fugitive, due to the fact that the Rhodes were not fugitives.

Vaughn v. Williams was not a landmark case. There was plenty of legal precedent upon which to base the decision. But it was a landmark moment in the lives of this Hoosier family. John and Louann Rhodes lived freely in Hamilton County for the rest of their lives.

If the case of Vaughn v. Williams had been decided after 1857, the outcome would have been much different. The legal landscape had changed in two drastic ways in the intervening years. First, the 1793 Fugitive Slave act had been replaced by the much stricter and federally enforced Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Second, in 1857, Scott v. Standford, more commonly known as the Dred Scott case, toppled legal precedent and ruled that a slave, in this case Dred Scott, who had resided in a free state, in this case, Illinois and Wisconsin Territory, was not thereby free. Furthermore, it was ruled that African Americans, whether they were free or enslaved, could not be citizens of the United States. Justice John McLean, who had presided over the Vaughn v. Williams case, wrote a scathing dissenting option on the Dred Scot case. In it, he underlined the legal precedent, as he had done with his jurors instructions 12 years before.

Although John, Louann, and their children were legally free in perpetuity, the anxiety of being re-enslaved was ever present, through the Civil War. As discussed at the top of the episode, all an enslaver needed to do in order to claim a person of color as their property was to convince a judge that he owned them, oftentimes with extremely tenuous, even false evidence.

For example, in the case of Vallandingham v. West, which was discussed in season 1, epsidoe 3 of the podcast, Vallandingham, who claimed that West had escaped enslavement on his property, cited the fact that he had cut off one of West’s fingers during his enslavement. Despite the fact that West did not have any such injury, it was ruled that West was to be sent to Kentucky to be put to forced labor on Vallandingham’s property. In this case, as in many other cases, there was no justice.

When people live in a place where they don’t feel protected by the governmental authorities or judicial system, they often find other ways to cope – John Rhodes built his home with only one exit in order to avoid slave catchers. Young African American boys were taught not to look at a white woman during the early 20th century in order to avoid the wrath of vigilante justice. And today, the national discussion still centers around the discrepancies in the treatment of minorities in the American judicial system.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History, a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau which is a division of the Indiana State Library. Special thanks to our guest speaker, Angela Downs, who is an administrative assistant at the Indiana State Library. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. Excerpts read by Justin Clark. Visit blog.history.in.gov and click “Talking Hoosier History” to see all of the sources for this episode. Find us on twitter and facebook at @talkhoosierhist and like, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. And as always, thanks for listening.

[Door Closing]

Season Two Episode Three Show Notes

Other

Vaughan v. Williams, Indiana Circuit Court, May Term: 1845, Case No. 16,903, Accessed in IHB Rhodes Family Incident Historical Marker File.

Newspaper

“Pioneer Times Recalled,” Hamilton County Ledger, April 6, 1909, 1.

Articles

                C.W.A. David. “The fugitive Slave Law of 1793 and its Antecedents,” The Journal of Negro History, 9, no. 1 (January 1924): 18-25.

Heighway, David. “The Law in Black and White: The Story of a Hamilton County Family,” https://www.westfield.in.gov/egov/documents/1376663863_54293.pdf

Conklin, Julia. “The Underground Railroad in Indiana,” The Indiana Magazine of History, 6, no. 2 (June 1910): 63-74.

Shirts, Augustus. A History of the Formation, Settlement and Development of Hamilton County, Indiana, From the Year 1818 to the Close of the Civil War.

Books

                Cox, Anna-Lisa. The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers & The Struggle for Equality, New York: Public Affairs, 2018.

                Vincent, Stephen. Southern Seed Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999.