Etheridge Knight: “can there anything good come out of prison”

A sketch of Etheridge Knight in prison by Terrance Hayes, accessed

“I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.” This is how poet Etheridge Knight Jr. described his experience at the Indiana State Prison, where he served eight years for armed robbery. This post focuses on the years 1960-1968, in which the man “with something to say” began sharing his voice through poetry.

Born in 1931 in Corinth, Mississippi, Knight’s family moved to Paducah, Kentucky before moving to Indianapolis. He dropped out of school as a teenager and enlisted in the army in 1947. Knight served as a medical technician in the Korean War until 1950, when a serious injury would indirectly serve as a catalyst for his revolutionary Poems from Prison. His wounds proved so physically and psychologically traumatic that Knight soon developed an addiction to morphine. Or as Knight put it, “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound and narcotics resurrected me.” Following his army discharge, Knight supported his habit by dealing drugs and stealing, which led to his sentence in the Michigan City, Indiana prison.

Betty De Ramus wrote in the Detroit Free Press that black poets of the 1960s, including those writing behind bars, were not trying to

pass civil rights laws or integrate bathrooms or even to trouble America’s conscience. They were battling for the minds of blacks, bent on persuading them of their potential and power, trying to open them, layer by layer, to their own lost beauty.

She argued that this movement, comprised also of African American music, theater, films, and novels were black artists’ way of “lighting candles in the darkness.” Knight would become a quintessential voice of the Black Arts Movement, described by Larry Neal as “’radically opposed to any concept of the artist that alienates him from his community. Black Arts is the aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept. As such, it envisions art that speaks directly to the needs and aspirations of Black America.’”

Knight did not immediately illuminate the darkness at the Indiana State Prison, where he became embittered by “racist guards and racist parole boards.” According to a 1972 Baltimore Sun article, he began writing poetry 18 months into his sentence, inspired by other black poets like Gwendolyn Brooks (who later visited him in prison) and Langston Hughes. He recalled “I read Walt Whitman and the European poets, too . . . I could never really get to them as I got to Hughes and Brooks.”

According to the Poetry Foundation, Knight “was already an accomplished reciter of “‘toasts'” before he entered the penitentiary. These toasts were long, narrative poems spoken from memory that related to “‘sexual exploits, drug activities, and violent aggressive conflicts involving a cast of familiar folk . . . using street slang, drug and other specialized argot, and often obscenities.'” At the Indiana State Prison, he “toasted,” amidst cell doors slamming and prisoners shouting. Other times, Knight recalled, “Sometimes in the joint . . . I’d back people up against the wall and say, ‘Here, you want to hear this?’ After all budding poets do need an audience, and where better to find one with time to listen?”

Knight later stated that “Poetry and a few people in there trying to stay human saved me . . . I knew that I couldn’t just deaden all my feeling the way some people did.” This poetry explored themes like “suffering and survival, trial and tribute, loss and love.” The Richmond Palladium-Item reported that through his words he “lashed out at the power brokers in prison and in literature with equal intensity and humor.” At first the budding poet encountered no trouble mailing out his poetry in an attempt to get published. The authorities did not resist, he recalled, because they considered James Whitcomb Riley to be a poet and “they didn’t understand what I was all about.”

His first published piece, a tribute to Dinah Washington, appeared in the Negro Digest about a year after he started writing from prison. Once published, prison officials began censoring his mail and prohibited him from mailing out his poetry. Knight responded by “smuggling material out to friends . . . who worked on the outside.” This resistance to prison life manifested not only in words, but in behavior and he spent time in solitary confinement, or, as he termed it the “hole” and “on the rock.”

Courtesy of The Paris Review article “Terence Hayes Brings Etheridge Knight Into Focus”

“The more oppressive the system you live under, the louder the poets scream,” Knight contended in 1989. And scream he did. His short stories and verses written in the penitentiary, were published in periodicals, anthologies, and the Journal of Black Poetry. Most famously, he published his book Poems from Prison, which included poems like “Cell Song” and “A Wasp Woman Visits a Black Junkie in Prison.” When he left prison in 1968 he worked as a punch press operator at a factory in Indianapolis. By 1972 his scream had been heard across the country and he had taught students creative writing at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and the University of Pittsburgh, and served as poet-in-residence at Lincoln University in Springfield, MO. He alleged that year that “There is more creativity going on in college campuses and prisons than any other places in the country.”

Knight assessed his years in prison, “My time made me see that prisons don’t rehabilitate. If you come out with any degree of sanity at all, you’re lucky. Prison is inhuman. It kills you.”

But poetry brought him back to life. Knight went on to establish Free People’s Poetry Workshops to counteract the “domination of the publishing industry by moneyed white males.” His books and spoken word garnered popular and critical acclaim and he received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, won the American Book Award, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Knight at typewriter, ca. 1960s, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The poet, described by modern African American poet Terrence Hayes, as a “talented, ex-con, con man, blues-blooded rambling romantic” died in 1991 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery. For an in-depth examination of Knight’s works, see


Material for this post was derived from:
“Poet Gains Worldwide Acclaim,” Indianapolis Recorder, July 27, 1968, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Helen Fogel, Detroit Free Press, February 22, 1969, accessed

Randi M. Pollack, “Etheridge Knight Talks on Prison,” The Baltimore Sun, February 18, 1972, accessed

Mike Fitzgerald, Palladium-Item (Richmond, Indiana), March 18, 1984, accessed

“Etheridge Knight: Going Against Safe Literary Doctrine,” The Indianapolis Star, March 12, 1989, accessed

The Cleveland Clique’s Elusive Grasp for Control of the Bee Line Railroad

See Part IV to learn how the Cleveland Clique leveraged on John Brough to solidify its control of the Bee Line and a route to St. Louis.

John Brough, Henry B. Payne
(L) John Brough, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection. (R) Henry B. Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

With John Brough’s election to president of the Indianapolis and Bellefontiane Railroad [I&B] on June 30, 1853, the Cleveland Clique cemented its position as the Midwest’s dominant railway cabal. Brough’s dual roles, both there and as president of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad (about to initiate construction between Terre Haute and St. Louis), personified the Clique’s reach.

It was also a visible sign of president Henry B Payne’s effectiveness crafting and implementing the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad’s [CC&C’s] growth strategy. Now his attention turned to commanding the Bee Line component railroads and a line to St. Louis, both physically and legally. But, the Cleveland Clique’s grasp for control of the Bee Line Railroad would be elusive at best.

Map of railroads between Indianapolis and Cleveland c1860, annotated to show component Bee Line railroads, and the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana railroad
Map of the Bee Line component lines: CC&C, B&I in red, I&B in blue; Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad (CP&I) in brown, courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.

Just prior to Brough’s promotion, the I&B’s Clique-influenced board had resolved to convert its 4’ 8½” ‘standard gauge’ track (lateral dimension between rails) to the 4’ 10” ‘Ohio gauge.’ By law, the Ohio legislature had mandated that all railroads chartered there must be constructed to this dimension. As a result both Ohio legs of the Bee Line, the Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I] and CC&C, had been built to this dictated standard. The Indiana-chartered I&B’s non-conforming gauge, however, prevented uninterrupted service between Cleveland and Indianapolis.

The I&B moved carefully to implement its gauge-change resolution. This was because, in early 1852, former president Oliver H. Smith had come to terms on a through-line agreement with a rail line being built between Columbus OH and Union IN – the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad [CP&I]. When completed, this important link would provide a connection to lines extending toward Pittsburgh, and on to Philadelphia over one of the growing trunk line giants: the Pennsylvania Railroad.

image of Oliver H. Smith
Oliver H. Smith, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

As part of through-line negotiations to coordinate schedules and share facilities, the CP&I had acceded to Smith’s demand that it petition Ohio’s legislature to build to the I&B’s ‘standard’ gauge. It soon received a legislative exemption and began building. However, the CP&I met financial headwinds almost immediately – most notably from the Pennsylvania Railroad, which failed to meet its guarantee commitment when the company defaulted on construction bonds. Unfortunately, following bankruptcy reorganization, the CP&I would not complete construction to Union until 1859.

From the I&B’s perspective, the CP&I’s financial problems and construction delays seemed insurmountable. In contrast, the temptation to avail itself of lucrative east-west business across the combination of Ohio gauge B&I and CC&C lines proved irresistible. Under cover of a finely crafted resolution to skirt its through-line agreement with the CP&I, the I&B board resolved to lay track using the Ohio gauge as “other circumstances and relations for the welfare of the Road may require.” Under this guise, by the summer of 1853, it had re-laid track between Union and Muncie to the “Ohio gauge”.

Given this developing situation, the CP&I felt compelled to act. It successfully sought a preliminary injunction to block further track/gauge conversion. The Bee Line was effectively stymied in its effort to achieve a uniform gauge run from Cleveland to Indianapolis. Although the I&B argued the 1852 through-line agreement was silent on the CP&I’s track conversion accord, Smith’s apparent sidebar pact proved compelling to the court. I&B president John Brough, backed by a new board replete with Clique members, was directed to move decisively to resolve the problem in late summer 1853. It proved to be a particularly costly settlement.

Together, all component roads of the Bee Line agreed to guarantee the CP&I’s performance on $400,000 of bonds issued to complete the road to Union. Beyond eventually finding themselves on the hook for this issue, the Bee Line roads would provide another, and then another tranche of funding by the time the CP&I limped into Union in 1859. At least the I&B could now finish its Ohio gauge track conversion between Muncie and Indianapolis. And, under terms of the settlement, the CP&I also re-laid its track to the Ohio gauge.

Winding up the CP&I lawsuit had been a prerequisite to inking a Cleveland Clique-initiated through-line agreement among all Bee Line component roads. The day after securing the CP&I settlement, the Bee Line’s through-line agreement was signed. There were two telling provisions that spoke to the different vantage point of the Cleveland Clique and Hoosier Partisans.

Map of midwestern railroads c1860, annotated to show Bee Line component railroads and intersecting rail lines to Pittsburgh
Map of the Bee Line component railroad: I&B, B&I in blue, CC&C in red; lines to Pittsburgh in brown: CP&I to S&I/P&S, O&P, courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.

On the one hand, the agreement allowed the B&I and I&B to make “fair and eligible connections and business arrangements . . . to secure . . . their legitimate share of the business between the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.” While this clause provided a degree of freedom for the Hoosier Partisans and their Ohio counterpart to step away from their CC&C overseer, the other clause was engineered to reign in these independently minded stepchildren: “The B&I and I&B shall be consolidated at the earliest practicable moment.”

As to the latter clause, it would be easier for the Cleveland Clique to do its bidding if the Hoosier Partisans’ influence was diluted in a newly constituted board. At the same time, combining the two lines could prevent the Partisans from cutting their own agreement with the CP&I to carry traffic back and forth to Columbus and toward Pittsburgh via Union – totally avoiding carriage over the B&I and CC&C. And there was also a second option to reach Pittsburgh, via the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P) – passing near the B&I’s eastern terminus at Galion OH. Still, at the time, the Clique’s consolidation mandate only served to draw the two smaller lines more closely together in their common struggle for independent decision-making. As unfolded for the Cleveland Clique, however, its consolidation directive would not be accomplished easily or quickly.

image of David Kilgore
David Kilgore, from the author’s personal collection.

Squirming under the Clique’s dictate, and recognizing its strategic position as the funnel for rail traffic to and from Indianapolis to either Cleveland (and New York) or Pittsburgh (and Philadelphia), the I&B board served up its own subtle message. Essentially touting its option to bypass Cleveland through separate links to Pittsburgh, Hoosier Partisan David Kilgore proposed a name change “from and after the first day of February 1855. . . . The said Corporation shall be known by the name and style of the ‘Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Cleveland Railroad Company’ [IP&C].” It was overwhelmingly adopted.

The name change really symbolized much more. The locally controlled and focused I&B railroad era was gone. The newly rechristened road would now test its wings as a regional player—hoping, like a teenager seeking freedom from parental control, to stand apart from the clearly parental CC&C.

Map of the proposed Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad route from excerpt of Map of the Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad 1852
Map of the proposed route of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad. Excerpt from “Map of the Bellefontaine and Indiana Railroad and connecting lines” (W. Milnor Roberts, Chief Engineer: 1852). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Separately, in 1854, John Brough was ramping up his Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A] – destined to link Terre Haute and St. Louis. After an arduous legal effort to validate its claim to an Illinois charter, the M&A had prevailed against Chicago and Mississippi River town political interests earlier in the year. However, it would soon be faced with another trumped-up legal challenge and a concerted public relations effort to undermine its viability and management capabilities. Such obstacles were having a detrimental effect on Wall Street investors.

In March 1854 a legal opinion by Abraham Lincoln’s Illinois law office asserted the illegality of the M&A’s corporate existence. Then, a New York newspaper article questioned Brough’s managerial track record at the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. The investor community was beginning to shy away from the M&A.

Nonetheless, with short-term funding secured, Brough pressed on with the M&A’s building phase. He issued a marketing circular and let contracts for the whole line by May, announcing the line would be completed by the summer of 1856. Brough would spend an increasing amount of time on this effort as 1854 wound down.

By the beginning of 1855 it was becoming clear Brough had the M&A on his mind. At the very least, the M&A’s pivotal role in the Cleveland Clique’s Midwest control strategy virtually mandated Brough’s full-time attention. Rumblings of his imminent departure reached IP&C board members by early February. He resigned as IP&C president on February 15, noting “experience has demonstrated to me that in this event my entire time and attention will be required on that [M&A] line.”

image of Calvin Fletcher
Calvin Fletcher, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Former I&B director (1852-53) Calvin Fletcher, among Indianapolis’ most prominent civic and business leaders, was elected president in Brough’s stead. Reluctantly thrust into the role, Fletcher noted, upon hearing of his election: “I learned to my regret I was appointed President of the Bellefontaine R.R. Co.”

Fletcher’s reticence to assume the post was understandable, based on his close familiarity with the affairs of the I&B. “I fear their affairs are desperate . . . It needed my character & acquaintance to unravel the mischief of the finances. . . . The president Brouff [Brough] has no influence on the road. All employees eschew his authority & claim that the Superintendent is the man to look to & not the President. The road & its business is [sic] in great confusion.”

image of James F. D. Lanier, c1877
James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier, self-published, 1877.
image of Chauncey Rose
Chauncey Rose, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Even though Brough was dealing with M&A matters full time beginning in mid-February 1855, the concerted efforts of powerful Chicago and Mississippi River town political interests had swept away investor confidence. James F. D. Lanier, the M&A’s financier through the Wall Street firm that bore his name – Winslow, Lanier & Co. – decided to take desperate action.

On May 20th the M&A board, controlled by Lanier, demoted Brough to Vice President in favor of Chauncey Rose. Rose, founder of the Terre Haute and Richmond Railroad linking Indianapolis with Terre Haute, assumed the presidential mantle. In spite of his impeccable reputation as a railroad executive, Rose’s presence failed to sway the investor community.

John Brough would not live to see the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad completed to St. Louis. And, more to the point, how would the Cleveland Clique view Brough as their pawn in its broader Midwest railroad control strategy?

Check back for Part VI to learn more about the Hoosier Partisans move for autonomy as the Cleveland Clique tightened its grip on the Bee Line Railroad.

Continue reading “The Cleveland Clique’s Elusive Grasp for Control of the Bee Line Railroad”

THH Episode 3: George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Transcript for George Washington Julian vs. Slavery

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from the research and blog posts of Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

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


Beckley: A political leader defined by his moral convictions – an advocate for the abolition of slavery – a tireless worker for equal rights and land reform – a Whig – a Free Soiler – a Republican – A Liberal Republican – and a Democrat. It’s hard to believe that all of these labels could refer to the same person, but during the course of his long career, the 19th century Hoosier politician George Washington Julian could be described as all of these. Through half a century and five political parties, Julian worked toward greater equality for Americans regardless of race or gender. With the 200th anniversary of his birth on May 5, 2017, it’s the perfect time to tell the story of this brave Hoosier reformer and leader.

George Washington Julian was born to Quaker parents Issac and Rebecca Julian on May 5, 1817 in Centreville, Indiana. After the death of his father, Julian’s older brother John took on the role of head of the family. John often read to them from the works of famous politicians and ideologues, which may be where George Julian first came to contemplate political questions. In 1835, at the age of 18, Julian decided to follow the same career path as his father and brother John and became a teacher. But soon, he grew disenchanted with teaching and began searching for an occupation better suited to his ever expanding intellectual interests. During a trip to Iowa in 1839 Dr. Thomas Willets, a former resident of Wayne County and Julian family friend, advised him to study law. Julian apparently took that advice to heart as he was licensed to practice the next fall.

In 1841, Julian moved to Greenfield, Indiana. There, he became very close friends with George Pattison, another young lawyer in the area. Julian had always been a timid and nervous public speaker, an unfortunate attribute for a lawyer, and Pattison must have also suffered from the same anxieties because together, the young men formed a club to hone their public speaking skills. They named this benign club the rather sinister sounding name Dark Lyceum, since meetings were held in total darkness. At meetings, the members, just Julian and Pattison at this time, would orate to one another on legal and political topics. On his move back to Centerville in 1843, Julian continued and expanded the club while practicing law with his brother Jacob.

The Dark Lyceum must have improved his confidence because during the 1844 presidential election, Julian gave local stump speeches in support of the Whig ticket. On March 12, 1845 he announced his candidacy for the Indiana House of representatives, again on the Whig ticket. Julian disagreed with the party on some economic and land policy issues, but for him the issue of slavery was paramount and the anti-slavery faction of the Whigs offered him the best platform to fight from. Despite opposition from some fellow Whigs, Julian’s campaign was successful. And so Julian embarked on a political career which would span over 50 years.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Being raised in a Quaker household, it would be easy to assume that Julian came to his anti-slavery political convictions from the influence of the Society of Friends and it’s probable that the seeds of these sentiments were planted very early, but Julian himself credits the influence of the Unitarian preacher Dr. William Channing with connecting anti-slavery ideals with politics. Julian came to the works of Channing struggling with some aspects of Christianity but also spiritually unsatisfied with religious skepticism. In Unitarianism, Julian found a religion that both satisfied his spiritual needs and his sense of reason. As far as Channing’s influence on his political career, Julian said:

Voice actor reading from Julian: His anti-slavery tracts and addresses set me to thinking, and roused within me a spirit and purpose kindred to his own. Hostility to slavery was henceforward to be the controlling principle of my politics.

Beckley: And so, when he set out on his political career path, he did so as an ardent abolitionist.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Julian left the Whig party after their nomination of slaveholder Zachary Taylor for president in 1848. He was one of many so called “Conscience” Whigs who, along with the alienated anti-slavery wing of the Democratic Party, formed the Free Soil party, which focused on halting the expansion of slavery. Julian served as a delegate from Indiana to the first Free Soil national convention, where the new party nominated Martin Van Buren for president. After returning home, Julian began a vigorous campaign stumping for the Free Soil ticket, a bold move considering his brother and law partner Jacob, and many of their clients remained Whigs. By the end of the election, political tensions lead Jacob to request that their partnership be dissolved, perhaps the first of many sacrifices Julian made in pursuit of freedom and equality.

Julian ran as a Free Soil candidate for the United States House of Representatives in 1849 and won a close victory in what was traditionally a very Whiggish district by garnering votes from Democrats, Free Soilers, and Independent Whigs. He and his wife Anne traveled to Washington DC so he could take up his post. During what would be his only term in the Congress as a Free Soiler, Julian presented antislavery petitions from abolitionists throughout the country, argued strongly against the passage of the Compromise of 1850, and gave what was possibly his most poignant anti-slavery speech, “The Slavery Question.” In this speech he responded to several Southern representatives who had decried the anti-slavery movement as fanatical, then said:

Voice actor reading from Julian: Mr. Chairman, I will speak seriously. I need not further multiply these examples of Southern opinion and feeling. I have brought them forward because, while the cry of “Northern Fanaticism” is incessantly ringing in our ears, I desire the country to judge whether a much larger share of fanaticism does not exist in the Southern States; and whether this slaveholding fanaticism is not infinitely less excusable than that which prevails in the North. Sir, I can respect the man who, under the impulse of philanthropy or patriotism, deals his ill-judged blows at an institution which is crushing the dearest rights of millions, and now seeks at all hazards to curse new regions with its presence; but it is difficult to respect the slaveholder who, with his foot upon the neck of his brother, sits down with his Bible in one hand and his metaphysics in the other, to argue with me, that the truths of the Declaration of Independence are mere sophisms, and that the forcible stripping of three millions of human beings of all their rights, even their humanity itself, receives the sanction of the Almighty, and is a blessing to both tyrant and slave.

Beckley: Despite the best efforts of Julian and other Free Soilers, Congress passed the Compromise of 1850 near the end of the session. The compromise temporarily defused the growing tensions between free and slave states regarding the status of slavery in new territories in the west. However, it convinced many Americans that the issue of slavery had been permanently settled, causing the anti-slavery movement to lose steam and greatly weakening the Free Soil Party. This contributed to Julian’s loss when he ran for re-election in 1851. The party, though weak, held a convention to nominate their 1852 candidates for president and vice president. When the party convened in Pittsburgh that August, it was no surprise when John P. Hale was nominated as presidential candidate. What was a surprise, though, was the almost unanimous nomination of Julian for Vice Presidential candidate. Julian traveled to six states of the Old Northwest on the campaign trail, speaking as passionately as ever on the issue of slavery. Ultimately, the free soil party only received 5% of the popular vote in that election.

The passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, which put the question of slavery in those states to a popular vote, dispelled the balance between north and south provided by the Compromise of 1850 and provided the various fractured political parties in the north with a goal worth uniting over: the repeal of the act. To that end, Northern Whigs, Free Soilers, Know Nothings, and some anti-slavery Democrats abandoned their largely failing political parties and formed a new party which they hoped would have the combined strength to overthrow the Democratic majority in the next election. In Indiana, this party adopted the name People’s Party. Nationally, they were called the “Republicans”.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Although consisting of the same basic factions as the national party, the Hoosier People’s Party was more conservative than the national Republican Party and resisted the association with the eastern anti-slavery factions of the party. Julian, of course, was a staunch abolitionist and the platform that lead to a People’s party success in the 1854 state election was not nearly tough enough on slavery for his liking.

Julian blamed the party’s weak stance on slavery on the Know Nothing members and started a crusade against them in June of 1855. A large part of the Know Nothing platform was based on anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiments and Julian opposed their nativist, xenophobia policies. In a speech delivered in Indianapolis, Julian argued the merits of immigration, saying

Voice actor reading from Julian: Let them come. Trodden down by kingly power, and hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of our free institutions, 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. They prefer our country and its government to every other…To proscribe him on account of his birthplace is as 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.

Beckley: Overall, Julian found that he had little power in the new political party since his views on slavery were more radical than most of the party, which opposed only the extension of slavery and not slavery itself and were more likely to drive away voters than to attract them. This tendency towards conservatism meant that Julian had a fraught relationship with the Indiana party. So, while he was active at the state and national level, attending conventions and delivering speeches, he did not hold an elected office at this time and returned to practicing law. He continued to work towards the goal of freedom for African Americans by devoting some of his time defending people charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act. In these cases, Julian represented both white citizens accused of aiding enslaved persons seeking freedom and African Americans charged with being runaways by southern slave-owners.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: Since you’re listening to this, chances are you love Hoosier history just as much as we do. If you’re interested in conducting your own research, but don’t know where to start, check out Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s digital historic newspaper program, at The project is operated by the Indiana state library with financial support from the US institute of museum and library services, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper program. You’ll find many great resources at Hoosier State Chronicles. You can explore yesteryears newspapers at your fingertips at Now, back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: In perhaps the most interesting set of fugitive slave cases Julian worked on during this time, he represented an African American man known as West. A Kentucky slaveholder named Austin Vallandingham claimed that West was his slave who had escaped into Illinois, although evidence would prove this highly unlikely. Vallandingham sent a slavecatcher to apprehend West and bring him back to Kentucky. On their way from Illinois to Kentucky, the two passed through Indianapolis, giving Julian and other abolitionist lawyers in the area an opportunity to challenge the Fugitive Slave Act while attempting to aid West. The group of lawyers first charged Vallandingham with kidnapping a free man. An Indianapolis judge released West but he was immediately rearrested by a U.S. marshal on accusations from Vallandingham that he was an escaped slave. In an odd attempt to prove West was indeed his slave, Vallandingham testified that he had cut off one of West’s finger joints. However, West had no such injury. Julian and the other lawyers cited the Dred Scott case and argued that by bringing west into Indiana, where slavery was illegal, Vallandingham had unwittingly released West. Despite defending west through multiple trials at the local and federal levels, their tactics were unsuccessful and West was ordered to be sent to Kentucky. When all hope that West would be lawfully released had been lost, Julian and the other lawyers hatched a plan for his escape.

[Dramatic music]

Beckley: On the day when West was to be transported back to Kentucky, Julian and the rest of his defense counsel arrived at the jail and asked the marshal for permission to bid West goodbye. Two or three of them went inside while the rest stayed and spoke with the marshal, distracting him. While he was preoccupied talking and rigging his horse to the cart which would be used to take West to the Indiana Kentucky border, West made his break for liberty. Darting out of the jail to what he thought was his get-away horse, West mounted and rode north. Unfortunately, West had taken the wrong horse and was a clumsy rider to boot. The marshal soon realized that his prisoner had escapred and, unhitching his horse from the cart, took off in pursuit. Hot on West’s heels, the marshal fired two shots, and while neither hit him, they were enough to frighten him into surrender. Thus ended the escape attempt, which Julian stated was “the only felony in which [he] was ever involved.”

In 1860, Julian was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, this time as a Republican. This was the same year Abraham Lincoln was elected to the Presidency and just in time for the secession crisis. That was the 4 month period between the succession of the first state from the union in December 1860 and the start of the Civil War in April 1861. While it is safely said that Julian opposed the various compromise measures put fourth during this time, there is little to indicate more than that about his views on the situation. He was, as one biographer stated, “still so involved in local politics that his role in the secession crisis was somewhat parochial.” By this, he meant that Julian’s fixation on those issues he held dear limited his ability to get along with many of his colleagues.

Due to his stubborn convictions, he was often embroiled in personal feuds which were often covered extensively by the press. Even in his youth, he’d lost jobs due to his quarrelsome tendencies and those tendencies hadn’t lessened with age. Visiting Lincoln in Springfield in 1861 before leaving for D.C., Julian tried to block three fellow Hoosiers, whom he though incompetent, from political appointments in Washington. The most violent of his disputes was between Julian and Solomon Meredith, future Colonel and leader of the Iron Brigade. The animosity culminated in an 1865 incident when Meredith cornered Julian in a train station, hit him over the head, took a cowhide whip from his coat and began lashing him, this was something the newspapers described as the “Julian and Meredith Difficulty” and at various times labeled both men cowards for their involvement.

Given his relations with other people who he had political disagreements with, Julian’s writings on Lincoln were surprisingly affable. While he and other Radical Republicans, as the pro-abolitionist republicans were called, were critical of many of the President’s strategies that were seen as conciliatory, Julian wrote about his first meeting with Lincoln in fairly kind words. He remembered,

Voice actor reading from Julian: He was full of anecdote and humor, and readily found his way to the hearts of those who enjoyed a welcome to his fireside…On the subject of slavery I was gratified to find him less reserved and more emphatic than I expected.

Beckley: Personal affinity aside, Radicals criticized Lincoln especially harshly on his border state policy which treated slaveholding southern states with too much tenderness in their eyes, and on his dismissal of General John Fremont. Fremont had issued an unauthorized proclamation which put all of the Missouri territory under marshal saw and freed the slaves of any rebels in the state and then refused to reverse the order when asked to do so by Lincoln. Fremont’s actions and staunch anti-slavery stance had only served to further endear him to the radicals and his dismissal sowed seeds of animosity in the radicals.

One tool used by the radicals to pressure the administration to adopt more uncompromising policies was the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Julian had a spot in that committee from its beginning in December 1861 following a disastrous union loss at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Originally, the committee was charged with investigating errors in the military and civil conduct of the war but later got the power all aspects of the Union War effort and to make recommendations on policies, generals, and persecution of misconduct. Considering Julian’s only military service was an 8 day stint in 1863 when he volunteered to help defend Indiana during Morgan’s Raid, and considering that the rest of the committee members also lacked significant military experience the complaints that such men weren’t qualified to advise on military conduct may have held some truth.

However, they continued to advise and investigate. They championed emancipation and the employment of African Americans as laborers and soldiers, which was eventually done. They advocated for the dismissal of General George McClellan from his command of the Army of the Potomac, which was eventually done. And they argued for making emancipation a war aim, which was also eventually done. To what degree these actions were taken due to their recommendations is disputable, but the fact that they were proposing what were then radical measures that eventually became accepted policies is noteworthy in and of itself. The committee also investigated many Union officers for misconduct, often without permitting them to face their accusers or informing them of the source of the allegations against them, something they received criticism for then and now.

Aside from his work on the committee, Julian campaigned to make clear that slavery was the cause of the Civil War and that only complete freedom and equality for all people would justify the losses caused by it. In an 1862 speech to congress, Julian said:

Voice actor reading from Julian: The people of the loyal states understand…they know that slavery lies at the bottom of all our troubles. They know that but for this curse this horrid revolt against liberty and law would not have occurred. They know that all the unutterable agonies of our many battlefields, all the terrible sorrows which rend so many thousands of loving hearts, all the ravages and desolation on this stupendous conflict, are to be charged to slavery.

[Transition music]

Beckley: A little over 6 months after Julian spoke those words to congress, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, making the statement that this war for the union had officially become a war for freedom, a sentiment he reinforced in his second inaugural speech when he said “These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.” While the proclamation declared freedom for all enslaved persons residing in actively rebellious states, it left slavery untouched in Border States and areas already under Union control. These limits were not overlooked by Julian and the other radicals but they were pleased that Lincoln had finally came around to their stance that this war was being fought in the name of freedom.

Julian was ahead of many people in this conclusion, as he was on so many issues. More than a year before the end of the war, he began looking towards reconstruction, advocating for African American suffrage, and supporting a bill that would grant soldiers and freedmen tracts of land confiscated from southern rebels. It was his belief that this would have the twofold effect of allowing freedmen to better their own fortunes through farming and break the hold which the plantation system had on the south. To fail to do so would mean “The proprietors of the great estates…will be feudal lords, while the poor will have no feudal rights.” Although this bill did not pass, land reform would be something that Julian continued to promote throughout and after the war, seeing it as a tool for equality.

Julian’s re-election campaign of 1864 was a contentious one back home in the eastern Indiana. His opponent was his old enemy General Solomon Meredith, a wounded Civil War veteran who even before running against Julian had been quoted in one newspaper saying

Voice actor reading from a newspaper: I denounce this man, and publish him to the world as a coward, a liar, and a humbug who should receive a kick from every honest man who passes him

Beckley: Meredith didn’t soften his words now that the stakes were higher than ever. Julian was accused of participating in a plot to select an Ohio politician for republican nominee over Lincoln as well as forming a party within the party with the goal of keeping him in his position as representative. Despite all the accusations, Julian came out the victor and returned to Washington for his 3rd term as a U.S. representative.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Upon their return to Congress, the Radical Republicans were met with good news; in a welcoming address, President Lincoln announced his intention to stand by the emancipation proclamation and work to ensure that emancipation spread beyond the borders of the rebellious South to all enslaved people in America. Julian and his cohorts were pleased that the President seemed to be inching ever closer to their aims for the end of the war. But relations once again broke down when Lincoln pocket vetoed the Wade-Davis bill, which would have excluded ex-Confederate sympathizers from the government and made re-admittance of confederate states more difficult than the lenient plan proposed by Lincoln. This would fuel contentions between conservatives, moderates and radicals through the end of the war and into reconstruction.

On January 31, 1865 the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery in all states passed in the House. In his personal journal, Julian described the scene in the House: Voice actor reading from Julian: The greatest event of this century occurred yesterday in the passage of the Constitutional Amendment in the House. The spectacle during the vote was the most solemn and impressive I ever witnessed. The result for a good while remained in doubt, and the suspense produced perfect stillness. When it was certainly known that the measure had carried, the cheering in the hall and densely packed galleries exceeded anything I ever before saw and beggared description. Members joined in shouting, and kept it up for some minutes. Some embraced one another, others wept like children. I never before felt as I then did, and thanked God for the blessed opportunity of recording my name where it will be as honored as those of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Beckley: While Julian remained in the House until 1871, and fought for land reform, African American suffrage, and women’s suffrage, the passage of the 13th amendment marked the conclusion of George Julian’s lifelong campaign against the practice of slavery in the United States.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about George Washington Julian’s later work or the formation of the Republican Party in Indiana, you can see a list of sources I used in researching this episode in the show notes. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss for answering my many many questions I had while writing and for being an awesome recording engineer and editor. Also, thanks to Justin Clark who is the voice of all newspaper clips here on Talking Hoosier History. He’s a project assistant for the Hoosier State Chronicles and works hard every day to bring you new issues of old Indiana Newspapers. And, lastly, thank you to Steve Barnet, Marion County Historian and executive director of the Irvington Historical Society, for giving a voice to George Julian. Find us on facebook at Indiana Historical Bureau and twitter at in_bureau. Read blog posts on this subject and many more on our blog, Blogging Hoosier History. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts!

Now, let’s hear one more time from Justin, in a new segment we’re calling newspaper corner. In this segment, Justin will cover something related to the main topic but that didn’t quite fit into the episode.

[Transitional music]

Justin Clark: Hey there! This is Justin Clark, project assistant of Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s state-wide digital newspaper program. I help Hoosiers understand the history of our state one newspaper issue at a time. This episode, we’ll be talking about Grace Julian Clarke, daughter of abolitionist and political visionary George Washington Julian.

Born on September 11, 1865, Grace Julian Clarke came from a long line of public servants. Both Clarke’s father and grandfather served in Congress, as abolitionists. After her father’s retirement from Congress, the family settled in Irvington, a suburb of Indianapolis. Gifted academically and fortunate to have been born into a prominent political family, Grace cultivated her talents at Butler University, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s in philosophy.

She married attorney Charles B. Clarke, whose own political appointment under Grace’s father in New Mexico likely facilitated their connection. Besides the usual, domestic engagements the Grace Julian Clarke attended to, her work in philanthropy and political activism became her enduring passion. Over the next 40 years of her life, Clarke devoted her time and energies to a variety of political and social organizations

However, one of her most influential positions within the political sphere of Indianapolis was the Legislative Council of Indiana Women. Originally founded by activist Luella Frances Smith McWhirter, the Legislative Council maintained a membership of 1,000 and played an integral role in the passage of women’s suffrage legislation in Indiana. As the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis noted, the Council even “offered home study classes to educate women on the voting process and the issues before the electorate. . . .” Clarke served as the first president of the Legislative Council of Indiana Women, touring the state giving lectures on the value of women’s suffrage and advocating for legislation before the Indiana General Assembly.

This episode’s article from Hoosier State Chronicles highlights Grace Julian Clarke’s commitment to women’s suffrage. In an article entitled “Rejoicing by Women on Suffrage Success” from the February 6, 1919 issue if the Indianapolis News, Clarke and other women’s suffrage activists commented on the Indiana legislature’s passage of the “presidential suffrage bill.” This bill, as described by historian Clifton J. Phillips, granted women the vote in the presidential election but also called “for the passage of the Federal Women’s suffrage amendment then pending in the United States Senate, the House of Representatives having acted upon it in the previous year.”

The article described the scene of the legislature:

Rejoicing was great in the Indiana woman suffrage camp today over the final passage in the legislature Wednesday afternoon of the presidential suffrage bill. Leaders in the fight for enactment of the measure are confident that the measure is constitutional, and Mrs. Edward Franklin White, president of the Legislative Council of Indiana Women, expressed the belief that the law will not even be tested in the courts.


Furthermore, the article quoted Grace Julian Clarke, who had since stepped down as council president:

Pioneers in the suffrage movement are gratified to see their efforts bearing fruit. Mrs. Grace Julian Clarke, who worked steadily through the dark days when suffrage was very unpopular, said:


‘I am delighted with the success of the measure, although a little sorry that the vote was not unanimous. I believe there is no danger that the law is unconstitutional.’


The lack of unanimity she referred to stemmed from state Senator Oliver Kline, who “spoke bitterly and at length against the bill,” when it was facing passage in the legislature.

While the suffrage law was passed, the suffrage fight continued on for nearly a year until the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution was approved by Congress and subsequently ratified by Indiana on January 16, 1920. It became the law of the US on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify it, cementing the two-thirds majority of states needed. Due to the efforts of generations of women’s suffrage activists, which Grace Julian Clarke was one of, women achieved the right to vote.

After her suffrage activism, Clarke continued her philanthropy and leadership in the community, particularly Irvington. She served as a member of the Marion County Board of Charities, the City Plan Commission, and Indianapolis’s employment office (she was appointed by President Woodrow Wilson). She also continued her newspaper column for the Indianapolis Star until 1929 and wrote pieces for the Indiana Magazine of History.

Grace Julian Clarke died of pneumonia on June 18, 1938, at the age of 72. Her legacy of philanthropy, publishing, and activism, in some respects, equals her father’s own immense impact. Her dedication to women’s suffrage certainly advanced the cause here in Indiana and helped to make it a national political right.

If you search her name in Hoosier State Chronicles, you get 478 hits covering 50 years of newspaper pieces. I have only shared one, integral piece in her larger story. To learn more about Grace Julian Clarke, visit to read more about one of Indiana’s most influential female voices. Until next time, this is Justin Clark and this has been Newspaper Corner.

Show Notes for George Washington Julian vs. Slavery


                Julian, George W. Political Recollections. Chicago: Jansen, McClurg & Company, 1884.

Julian, George W. Speeches on Political Questions. New York: Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1872.

Julian, George W. The Slavery Question, Delivered in the House of Representatives, May, 14, 1850. Washington D.C: The Congressional Globe Office, 1850.

                Nation, Richard and Towne, Stephen. Indiana’s War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009.

                Riddleberger, Patrick. George Washington Julian: Radical Republican (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. 45. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1966.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana in the Civil War, 1850-1880 (The History of Indiana Vol. III).  Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1965.

Clarke, Grace Julian. George W. Julian (Biographical Series Vol I). Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1923.


                “To the Public,” The Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, July 10, 1861, 1, Accessed

“Rejoicing by Women on Suffrage Success,” The Indianapolis News, February 6, 1919, 1, Accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Blog Posts

“Jill Weiss, “George Washington Julian: Radical Representative of Moral Conviction,” Blogging Hoosier History.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

Jill wrote the blog post “George Washington Julian: Radical Representative of Moral Conviction,” which I read in preparing for my research on this topic. She was               incredibly patient with me when I asked my many questions about this time period. Jill is the Digital Outreach Manager for the Indiana Historical Bureau. She also serves as my recording engineer, editor, and general master of the recording room.

Justin Clark

Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. In this episode, he played the part of newspaper announcer. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Steve Barnet

Steve is the Marion County Historian and Executive Director of the Irvington Historical Society. We were honored to have him join us on this episode playing the role of George Washington Julian.

Music Notes

Our featured track of Episode Two is “Look Back In” by the award-winning musician Moby. Hear it around the 18:20 mark.  The song was licensed to IHB for this production courtesy of MobyGratis, a unique resource providing Moby songs for creative projects.

“Look Back In” by Moby, courtesy of MobyGratis,

The Talking Hoosier History theme song is:

“Rock and Gravel” by Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids, courtesy PublicDomain4U, accessed

Indianapolis trio Syd Valentine recorded “Rock and Gravel” in 1929 in Richmond, Indiana.

Other Music from Episode Two:

“Cease” by A Himitsu, Soundcloud, accessed, creative commons

“Ether” by Silent Partner, YouTube Audio Library, accessed, creative commons

“Tomorrow” by Bensound, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed, creative commons

“Morning Walk” by Jingle Punks, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed, creative commons

“War” by GoSountrack, YouTube Audio Library, Royalty Free Music, accessed, creative commons