History Unfolded Project Part 5: Jewish Refugees, Hoosier Rescue

“Group portrait of Youth Aliyah children from the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in front of a train before their departure on the first leg of their journey to Palestine,” Photograph Number 97807, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Alex Knobler, accessed USHMM.org

$360. That was the cost in May 1938 to rescue a Jewish child from Nazi controlled Austria. $360 would pay for her relocation to a new home in Palestine, and care for her for two years. All this for $360. $360 to save the life of a child.

Richmond (Indiana) Item, March 29, 1938, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

In May 1938, the national Youth Aliyah Committee identified 1,000 Jewish Austrian children who could leave the country with valid visas, but only until September 30 when the passes to leave Austria expired. One Indianapolis woman refused to allow this brief window of opportunity to close without trying to save these young Austrians. After all, Sarah Wolf Goodman was herself a Jew born in Austria who must have felt great empathy for those who shared her homeland. She was not alone. While the U.S. government was slow to act, many private citizens worked to aid refugees fleeing Germany and Austria after the Anschluss in 1938. And some of these notable American activists were Hoosiers.

History Unfolded

Indianapolis Star, May 10, 1936, 33, accessed Newspapers.com

Over the last year, we have been looking at Indiana newspapers to try and determine how much information Hoosiers received through the press about the events leading up the Holocaust. In the last History Unfolded post (Part 4) we also met the tireless and prescient diplomat, James G. McDonald, who tried to warn the world about the impending atrocities. In this post, we will examine the failed Evian Conference, news articles about the deepening refugee crisis, and editorials about how Hoosiers believed the U.S. should respond. We’ll continue to follow McDonald who attended the conference and we’ll meet Sarah Wolf Goodman, another bold and industrious Hoosier who showed her community what could be accomplished without leaving home.

The purpose of this project is twofold: 1. to contribute Indiana newspaper articles to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s History Unfolded database to help the museum determine what the average American knew about the Holocaust; and 2. to analyze these articles and share with our readers our findings on what Hoosiers knew and how they responded. Hopefully, a greater understanding of the events surrounding the Holocaust can inform our responses to current world crises. Anyone can contribute articles to History Unfolded. Find out how through the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum (USHMM).

Anschluss

In January 1933, Jewish Germans made up about one percent of the country’s total  population. The greatest number of Jews resided in Berlin. Over the following years, the Nazis banned Jews from civil service, boycotted Jewish businesses, and stripped away their citizenship rights with the declaration of the Nuremberg Laws. By 1938, the Nazis made life so difficult for German Jews that about 150,000 left the country, according to the USHMM. This was one-fourth of the entire Jewish population. When Germany annexed neighboring Austria in March 1938, many more Jewish people were forced to flee their homes, resulting in a major refugee crisis.

Anschluss, March 1938, map, US Holocaust Museum, accessed USHMM.org.

Since the end of World War I, most Austrians supported a union with Germany. However, this consolidation of power was forbidden by the Versailles Treaty. By the mid-1930s, Austria, suffering under a poor economy, saw Hitler as the solution. A bombardment of Nazi propaganda solidified public opinion. Thus, on March 12, 1938, when Nazi troops entered Austria, they were greeted by cheering crowds.

Members of the League of German Girls wave Nazi flags in support of the German annexation of Austria. Vienna, Austria, March 1938; Dokumentationsarchiv des Oesterreichischen Widerstandes, accessed USHMM.org.

This German-Austrian union, called Anschluss, brought another 185,000 Jews under Nazi rule – all of whom now faced persecution. According to the editors of Refugees and Rescue:*

Austrian anti-Semites, members of the Nazi Party, and police and SS officials immediately attacked, arrested, and humiliated Jews and political opponents in Austria. Confiscation of Jewish property and public scenes such as forcing Jews to scrub sidewalks were everyday occurrences. Hundreds of Austrian Jews committed suicide, and tens of thousands sought to leave as quickly as possible.

“Austrian Nazis and local residents look on as Jews are forced to get on their hands and knees and scrub the pavement,” photograph, 1938, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, accessed collections.ushmm.org.

The German-Austrian Refugee Crises

These tens of thousands of Austrian Jews joined those from Germany who felt they had no choice other than to leave their homes. However, many who tried to flee were unable to find a country to accept them. According to the USHMM, “a substantial percentage tried to go to the United States.” However, the Immigration Act of 1924, passed during a period of xenophobia and Klan influence, sharply restricted immigration to the United States. Jews were among the ethnic groups deemed undesirable by the legislation and only a very small number were issued immigration visas in the years following the quota enactment. This did not change in 1938. Even in the face of the mounting refugee crises, the United States government largely turned its back on the Jews of Europe.

“Terre Haute Bread Line,” photograph, 1931, Martin’s Photo Shop Collection, Indiana Historical Society, accessed images.indianahistory.org.

Widespread American prejudice and anti-Semitism that extending into federal government service definitely contributed to the lack of action, but there were other issues as well. The Great Depression still affected many Americans who feared further competition for jobs. African Americans faced racism and prejudice in addition to the horrors of lynching. It would be hard for many African Americans to see why they should care about injustices across the Atlantic when they faced injustice at home. For other Americans, it simply seemed like a faraway problem of little practical concern to them. Many people simply had their own immediate struggles and problems to make ends meet. Plus, the United States fought in “the war to end all wars” only twenty years earlier. Many just wanted to stay out of what was viewed as Europe’s problem.

For example, in an editorial for the Indianapolis Recorder, African American writer Fletcher Henderson called the annexation of Austria “interesting . . . headline reading for the American people,” but because Hitler was not threatening America, noted it was “nothing for us to become alarmed about.” He stated succinctly, “While we deplore the rape of any nation, it is none of our affair.” Henderson called for the U.S. government, and especially President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to mind its own business. He stated, “If the administration in Washington would bend all of its efforts to end the depression in the United States, it would not have the time even to read of the happenings in the rest of the world.”

James G. McDonald: Stirring the American Conscience

However, there were Americans of conscience who worked relentlessly to find ways to save the Jews of Austria and Germany, some of them Hoosiers. Starting as early as 1933, former Indiana University professor James G. McDonald shared his fears with world leaders that Hitler would eventually order the execution of all the Jewish people under Nazi rule. (Read more about McDonald in the previous post: Part 4). By the time of the Anschluss, McDonald worked tirelessly and traveled widely to spread this warning and raise awareness for the plight of fleeing Jewish refugees. His diary and letters* tell of the frustrating, often bureaucratic, work he undertook in an attempt to convince government, religious, and philanthropic organizations to work together and to connect those who had authority to act with those who had the means to act.

“James G. McDonald arrives in Jerusalem with the members of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine,” photograph, 1946, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of James McDonald, accessed collections.ushmm.org.

In March 1938, McDonald spoke to a group of potential Jewish donors in New City about the urgent need to give money to save the Jews of Europe who faced annihilation. According to a summary of his speech, McDonald stated:

The war that the Nazis are waging is not a war against the Jews of Germany, but against all Jews, whose influence must be obliterated and who themselves should either be exterminated or driven out of all civilized lands . . . If you think that because you live in the United States you are immune, you are very foolish. Nothing counts these days except money with which to carry on your work of relief, of emigration, and of service to your fellow Jews. Mass meetings, parades, demonstrations, resolutions, getting nice letters from friendly Christians, are all very well, but they don’t actually save a single Jewish life, feed a starving Jewish boy or girl, train a single youth, pay for his emigration, or enable him to start life anew anywhere else.

“James G. McDonald delivers an address in Atlantic City, New Jersey,” photograph, n.d., United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of James McDonald, accessed collections.ushmm.org.

All over the country and to all kinds of audiences, McDonald reiterated his earlier statements that the refugee crisis was not a Jewish problem but a human one. McDonald called the Nazi persecution of Jews an “attack upon the principles of civilized society” and expressed his disappointment that all Americans were not rising to meet the crises. In accepting the Professor Albert Einstein Medal for Humanitarian Services, he stated:

New York Times, June 16, 1938, 3, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Until Protestants and Catholics as well as Jews understand, come to see that the things they hold dear, even as the things Jews hold dear, are threatened – not until then will there be an adequate response to enable refugees from Central Europe to be cared for.

McDonald closed his speech by refuting other political leaders’ claims that these refugees who had been stripped of their assets would be a liability and reminded his American audience that they live in a “country of refugees.” In yet another speech, this time to the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, he again appealed to his audience’s conscious and pocketbooks:

This problem will require thinking in terms not of a few million dollars, but in terms of tens of millions of dollars. Moreover, the problem is not a Jewish problem. The conscience of America has been stirred.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, April 29, 1938, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

These Americans, whose consciences has been stirred, placed immense pressure on the U.S. government to act on behalf of those fleeing Nazi persecution. On April 29, 1938, the Jewish Post, published in Indianapolis, reported that “10,000 Americans visited the offices of HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) since Anschluss to learn how to bring their relatives to the United States from Austria.” Charitable and religious organizations did not wait for the government to take the lead. For example, the Jewish Welfare Federation advertised a fundraising campaign in the Jewish Post with an $81,640 goal. The ad pleaded for Jewish American aid:

 Against the storm, against the fold of misery, against dire suffering there is only one great barrier . . . the barrier erected by American help. Compared with the need, what we can do is perhaps little, But the little is the only hope of MILLIONS of our fellow Jews. So Give! Be glad you can Give! Give even if it means self-denial! Give so THEY may have a chance to LIVE!

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, April 29, 1938, 5, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.


Road to Evian

By May 1938, in response to mounting pressure, the U.S. government attempted to organize a solution in the form of the International Committee for Refugees (later Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees). On May 12, the New York Times reported that the U.S. government suggested the creation of an international committee  “to facilitate the emigration of political refugees from Germany and Austria.” The article reported that the U.S. State Department had consulted with over thirty other countries and scheduled a meeting for July 6 in Evian, France. According to Refugees and Rescue, President Roosevelt “launched [this] initiative without consulting the state department, inviting a range of other governments” to attend the Evian Conference.**

“President Gets Luxemburg Stamps,” photograph, 1935, Harris & Ewing photograph collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA , accessed www.LOC.gov. McDonald is on the right.
New York Times, May 17, 1938, 4, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Meanwhile, President Roosevelt also organized his own group of advisers on the refugee crisis. On May 16, this group, the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees, organized and elected James G. McDonald as chairman. According to an account of the founding meeting by Samuel McCrea Cavert of the Federal Council of Churches, President Roosevelt “opened the conference by remarking that the United States has always been deeply sympathetic with political refugees and that the time had come when our country had another historic opportunity to show this sympathy.” However, the president carefully called the emigrants “political refugees” and avoided the term “Jewish refugees.” He seemed more concerned about public opinion than proposed rescue efforts. According to Cavert, in response to proposals that the government loan money to private organizations in position to effect immediate rescue, President Roosevelt stated that “at least for the present it would be unwise to put forward any proposal which would occasion public dispute and controversy, such as a change in the immigration quotas or appropriations or loans from public funds.”  It was clear that raising money would be the key to any successful rescue efforts. And if it were to come in time to help the Jews of Germany and Austria, it would have to come from private organizations, not the government.

“Refugee Advisory Committee Reports to President Roosevelt,” photograph, 1938, Harris & Ewing photograph collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C., accessed www.LOC.gov.

As the world awaited the upcoming Evian Conference, the crises mounted. In an article printed in the Indianapolis News in late June, AP Foreign Correspondent, DeWitt Mackenzie described the problems facing the conference. Mackenzie estimated that 450,000 Jews in Austria and Germany were in need of a new country if they were to survive Nazi persecution. However, he speculated that this was perhaps only the beginning of the crisis. Mackenzie wrote:

The anti-Semitic forces in other central and eastern European countries such as Poland, Rumania [sic], Hungary and Lithuania, have been strengthened by events in Germany. Jewish leaders express fear the refugee problem may assume extraordinary proportions if anti-Semitic governments and organizations get the impression that they can solve their Jewish problem by expelling their Jews and trusting the rest of the world to absorb them.

Mackenzie continued by theorizing on how those diplomats about to meet in Evian would handle the crisis. He estimated that they would first attempt to determine the feasibility of convincing the oppressive governments to “diminish anti-Semitic pressure” and allow fleeing emigrants to bring the whole of their property with them. Second, they would try and determine where these refugees would find homes. Like McDonald, Mackenzie made clear that money would be the determining factor in how successful any rescue attempts would be.

“Peter Reis, a Jewish refugee child, sits on the deck of the SS Virgilio,” photograph, 1939,United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Leo Spitzer, accessed collections.ushmm.org

On July 2, 1938, just a few days before leaving for the Evian Conference, McDonald served as a sponsor for a Youth Aliyah benefit in New York. “Aliyah” is the Hebrew word for a Jew immigrating to Israel. The Hadassah-sponsored organization aimed to rescue young Jewish refugees and find them new homes in Palestine. The New York Times reported that the proceeds would be used to transport German, Austrian, and Polish refugees to Palestine on 1,100 British visas available until they expired in September. While James G. McDonald worked in New York to raise the $360 per child needed for transportation and two years of care, another Hoosier was hard at work for the same cause back in Indianapolis.

Sarah Wolf Goodman’s “Immediate and Wholehearted Action”

St. Louis Star and Times, April 30, 1924, 2, accessed Newspapers.com.

Sarah Goodman was a fixture of Indianapolis society, a prominent Jewish civic leader and supporter of the arts. She was born in Vienna in 1886 and came to St. Louis as a young child. She moved to Indianapolis after her marriage in 1924 to Jack A. Goodman, founder of the Real Silk Hosiery Mills. She was smart, ambitious, and well-connected. She commanded respect and could sway public opinion. In May 1938, she did exactly that.

Goodman devised a plan to address the same issue that faced McDonald: raising enough money for Youth Aliyah to transfer child refugees to Palestine before the September 30 deadline. Goodman shared with the readers of the Jewish Post on May 20 a letter she received from a fourteen-year-old girl who started a “little club of girls, all of about her age” and raised $10 “energetically baking and selling cookies.” The girls sent the money to Goodman asking her to “please accept the enclosed check for $10 and send it on to help save the lives of these poor children” of Austria.

These selfless girls inspired Goodman. She wrote that she believed that young Jewish people in Indiana wanted to help those their age who were suffering Nazi persecution:

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, May 20, 1938, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

In a few weeks many of these eager youngsters will be confirmed or will be graduated from grade school, high school, or college. We, their relatives, will show our love for them by showering them with gifts, some of which will be useful, some of which will never be looked at . . . Children appreciate gifts and the thoughts they express, but more important this year is the fact that they want to share with the Austrian children who have nothing.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, May 20, 1938, 5, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Goodman’s plan was simple. She encouraged the families and friends of graduates to make a donation in the name of the graduate, in lieu of a gift, which she would send to the Youth Aliyah fund. The graduate would then receive a “fine” card. She wrote that any amount was acceptable but “only immediate and wholehearted action will suffice,” as the visas expired in a matter of a few months. Goodman stated, “Every one unused represents an opportunity lost forever to snatch a boy or girl from the hell that has been made of a fair country.” The country where she was born.

The Jewish Post supported her endeavors. The editor wrote:

It is to be hoped that Mrs. Goodman’s plan will be seized upon and carried through one hundred per cent. Let the card Mrs. Goodman described become so fashinable [sic] and popular that the tie or book as a gift will become outmoded and in its stead a symbol of Jewish charity on its highest plane – the salvaging of the life of a child will take its place as the finest present possible.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, May 20, 1938, 2, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The Indianapolis Star briefly mentioned a lunch fundraiser for Youth Aliyah on its society page, but made no mention of Goodman’s plan. Other Indiana newspapers were silent.

The Evian Conference

Historical Film Footage, Evian, France, 1938 [silent, 0:35]. UCLA Film and Television Archive, accessed USHMM.org.
Meanwhile, the world waited on the Evian Conference. New York Times reporter Clarence K. Streit wired a report from Evian back to New York on the eve of the parlay. His impression was that the gathered representatives of the world’s democracies were not taking the issue seriously enough and compared the atmosphere to a poker game.

New York Times, July 6, 1938, 1, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

 

Streit began his report with a reminder to the attendees that the refugees have lost everything “because of their refusal to recant what democrats believe to be true” or because they were born Jewish. He said he repeated this well-known fact in the article because “it seems to be in some danger of being lost at the start.” He took issue with the fact that the negotiations were starting from the perspective of viewing refugees as a burden; their humanity was being lost among the poker-like game of negotiating how that burden would be shared. His impression was spot on.

The Hotel Royal, site of the Evian Conference on Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Evian-les-Bains, France, July 1938, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md., accessed USHMM.org

The conference began July 6, 1938 at a lavish resort on Lake Geneva. Delegates from thirty-two countries attended. President Roosevelt sent Myron C. Taylor as the U.S. representative and James G. McDonald to advise him. Taylor was a wealthy businessman with little previous diplomatic experience. The U.S. agenda for the conference, as determined in a series of June meetings between U.S. State Department representatives and the President’s Advisory Committee chaired by McDonald, represented a weak compromise between their opposing visions. The U.S. would allow political refugees from any country (not just Germany as argued by the State Department) but only within existing quotas (to the chagrin of McDonald and the committee). They would tread carefully on the subject of Palestine to not upset the British delegation, which controlled the region. McDonald was cautiously optimistic that the conference would encourage other countries to accept Jewish refugees. He would be disappointed.

Scene during the Evian Conference on Jewish refugees. On the far right are two of the US delegates: Myron Taylor and James McDonald of the President’s Advisory Committee on Political Refugees. Evian-les-Bains, France, July 1938, Leo Baeck Institute, accessed USHMM.org.

Myron C. Taylor addressed the conference on the opening day. He expressed sympathy for the plight of the refugees but noted that all of the countries present were dealing with a depressed economy and widespread unemployment. He noted that the assembled governments must act “promptly and effectively in a long-range program” to aid the refugees, but also noted that “the problem of political refugees” was “thrust upon them by the policies of some other governments.” He reviewed a world history of voluntary migration and then stated:

Now we have a form of compulsory migration, artificially stimulated by governmental practices in some countries which force upon the world at large great bodies of reluctant migrants who must be absorbed in abnormal circumstances with a disregard of economic conditions at a time of stress.

“Myron Taylor Addresses the International Conference on Refugees at Evian-les-Bains,” photograph, 1938, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, accessed collections.ushmm.org.
Taylor stated that the problem was so large, the conference could do nothing more than “put in motion the machinery, and correlate it with existing machinery.” He meant well, but his hands were tied by a U.S. government afraid of public criticism for easing quotas. Again, citing the enormity of the problem, he tried to focus the conference on addressing only German and Austrian refugees (despite the position of McDonald and others on the Advisory Committee). He spent a good amount of his address pondering how the participating governments would document the refugees, and of course, how this immigration would be funded. He offered no solutions other than advising delegates to speak to McDonald about his knowledge of aiding and financing refugees. The other countries followed Taylor’s lead. According to the USHMM:

During the nine-day meeting, delegate after delegate rose to express sympathy for the refugees. But most countries, including the United States and Britain, offered excuses for not letting in more refugees. Only the Dominican Republic agreed to accept additional refugees.

“German and Austrian Refugee Children Pose with Albanian Children Shortly After Their Arrival,” photograph, 1939, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Johanna Neumann, accessed collections.ushmm.org.

A New York Times article from July 14, succinctly summed up the Evian Conference. The reporter stated that the delegates “did not find a landing place for the thousands of refugees cast upon the world” and that “no doors were thrown open to the involuntary exiles.” The Times writer concluded: “All the delegates professed a sincere desire to do what they could, but none offered to relax the quotas and restrictions that every country has put on immigration.”

Before the conference even ended, McDonald turned his attention to gaining approval and support from the Vatican on addressing the human crisis. He left for Rome immediately after the conference closed. He did not even record his reaction to the Evian Conference in his diary. (Check back for Part 6 which will look at the widely varying Catholic response to the events leading up to the Holocaust and McDonald’s work to influence the Vatican.)

 Goodman and “The Dignity of Man”

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, May 21, 1943, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles.

With little encouragement from world events, Sarah Goodman continued her campaign in Indiana to raise funds for the rescue of children from Austria. In all, she was able to save two children, with a total of $750 dollars raised, through her plan to collect donations in lieu of graduation gifts. This might not seem like much. However, this was in the midst of the Great Depression. The average income was just over $1,000 a year. Thus, Goodman raised almost a year’s salary for the effort. Additionally, she received no promotion for her idea from any newspapers beside the Jewish Post. Her plan, however, managed to spread. Cincinnati, Nashville, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington followed suit.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, September 23, 1938, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.

In September, the Jewish Post enthusiastically reported:

Out from under the blighting shadow of the Nazi swastika over Austria, Jewish boys and girls are sailing away to a life of opportunity and human service in Palestine as the result of a plan translated into action by Indianapolis’ own Mrs. Jack Goodman.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, November 25, 1938, 3, Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Star, June 22, 1941, 54, accessed Newspapers.com,

On Thanksgiving Day, appropriately, Goodman shared the thanks of two children with the readers of the Post. She wrote:

On this our Thanksgiving weekend I have been instructed to transmit to all of you the heart-felt thanks of two young people whose lives will be forever yours. They are the youths whose lives were saved by the graduation, confirmation, birthday and other gifts which were made in your names last summer.

 A thousand children were saved by this push for the Youth Aliyah fund. Goodman wrote that “it will never be forgotten that two of this number were saved by the young people of Indiana.” And really, it was the children who led the way, from the young girl who inspired Goodman’s actions to those who sacrificed gifts to help others. One recently confirmed child told the Post that the fund was “a living memorial of the fact that we are lucky to be giving and not getting.”

(Louisville) Courier-Journal, January 8, 1939, 23, accessed Newspapers.com.

By September of 1939, around 282,000 Jews had fled from Germany and 117,000 from Austria, according to the USHMM. However, around 202,000 German Jews and 57,000 Austrian Jews were unable to escape, many because of old age. Their numbers fell to 163,000 by October 1941, when then Nazi regime ended Jewish emigration. Again according to the USHMM, “The vast majority of those Jews still in Germany were murdered in Nazi camps and ghettos during the Holocaust.”

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, March 29, 1957, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles. Meeting of the Jewish Welfare Federation campaign. Goodman is in the center.

Sarah Wolf Goodman did not quit after the drive to help Austrian children ended. She did not quit as the horrific details of the Holocaust trickled and then flooded into newspapers. She spoke around the country, continued to raise money for Hadassah and Youth Aliyah, and helped form new chapters in other cities. She traveled to Palestine to visit the clinics, schools, and scientific farms set up by the Hadassah, of which she was vice-president by the 1940s. Despite her gender, the Jewish Post named her Indiana’s Jewish Man of the Year for 1945. In 1953 she became the first woman president of the Indianapolis Jewish Welfare Federation. In 1956, the Post referred to her as “without a doubt the most prominent Jewish woman in the state” and in 1958 she became chairman of the United Jewish Appeal.

(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, January 25, 1946, 1, 4, Hoosier State Chronicles.
(Indianapolis) Jewish Post, October 18, 1974, 1, Hoosier State Chronicles. Goodman on her 85th birthday.

At her 85th birthday, she looked back on her accomplishments, and perhaps to the 1938 drive to save the children of Austria. She stated:

Anything one does that helps in any way to make the life of another more livable is the greatest reward one can reap. My interest is in the dignity of man – regardless of his denomination.

 

References

Primary sources cited concerning McDonald, Roosevelt, the U.S. State Department, and the President’s Advisory Committee were accessed:

Richard Breitman, Barbara McDonald Stewart, and Severin Hochberg, Eds, Refugees and Rescue: The Diaries and Papers of James G. McDonald (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press & Washington, D.C.: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2009), 121-159.

Contextual information on the Refugee Crisis and the Evian Conference was accessed via the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at ushmm.org. Articles cited include: “German Prewar Expansion,” “Austria,” “German Jewish Refugees- 1933-1939,” “Emigration and the Evian Conference,” and “The Evian Conference.”

The Jewish Post was accessed via Hoosier State Chronicles. This resource is freely searchable and accessible to anyone.

Other newspapers accessed Newspapers.com, ProQuest Historical Newspapers, and NYTimes.com.

Notes

*Refugees and Rescue is the second of a three-volume set of McDonald’s papers and diaries. Cited above.

**President Franklin D. Roosevelt left behind a complex legacy from this period. He called for the Evian Conference but did not ease immigration quotas. He had many Jewish advisors and yet provided no public funds to aid Jewish refugees. According to the USHMM, he took “significant, yet limited action, in response to the persecution of Jews in Germany, the refugee crisis of the 1930s, and the ’Final Solution.’” For a comprehensive study of FDR’s response to the crisis, see Allan J. Lichtman and Richard Breitman, FDR and the Jews (Belknap Press, 2013).

Monster Meetings at the Senate Avenue YMCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to historians, these Senate Avenue programs:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Mordecai Johnson. Photo courtesy of The Atlantic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder.

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

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

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

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

THH Episode 13: The Revolutions of George Rogers Clark

­­­­Transcript of The Revolutions of George Rogers Clark

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Peter DeCarlo

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

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

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

First man Speaking: A Virginian, I believe…

[Transition music]

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

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

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

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

[Sound effects]

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

[Sound effects]

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

[Sound effects]

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

[Music]

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

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

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

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

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

[Menacing music]

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

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

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

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

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

[Inquisitive music]

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

[Transitional music]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

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

Show Notes for The Revolutions of George Rogers Clark

Episode Eleven Show Notes

Books

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

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

Other

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

Newspapers

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

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

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

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

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

Special Thanks

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

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

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

Music Credits

Theme Song

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

Featured Sample

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

Other Audio

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

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

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

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

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