While conducting interviews for the Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative, I discussed with former Indiana state legislators quite a bit about the ins and outs of state politics. Our conversations covered topics like how legislators find themselves in politics, how the Indiana General Assembly has evolved over the years, and how elections are won and lost. Another interesting thing I learned, though, was how former legislators perceived of the general public during their time in office. In fact, during interviews I often asked former legislators about what they think the general public does not know about the Indiana General Assembly, as well as what they should know. Over the course of many interviews, I received a variety of answers. However, several important themes emerged, which some could argue, reflect a problematic trend for the State of Indiana.
For starters, the majority of former legislators that I interviewed told me point blank that the average Hoosier knows nothing or very little about the Indiana General Assembly and how it operates. Former Democratic Senator Thomas Teague, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1971 to 1978 and was the Senate Majority leader, stated the following when asked what the public does not know about the Indiana General Assembly: “Well, that would take about a library full . . . I don’t think the public knows very much at all about it. Maybe they don’t care. I think some do.” This belief was echoed by former Republican Representative Stephen Moberly, who served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1973 to 1990 and said “Well, they don’t know a lot about it…it’s a pretty superficial understanding of government, which is a shame.” This is obviously a big statement to make in regard to the Hoosier population and one that needs to be taken seriously, as it certainly does not bode well for our democracy and our ability to effect change in our state. Additionally, this lack of awareness limits our ability to hold legislators accountable for policies we may not like as citizens.
What exactly do Hoosiers not know about state government? First, interviewees noted that many people confuse state legislators for members of the U.S. Congress. This was pointed out by Indiana State Senator Frank Biddinger, who served from 1967 to 1969. He recounted the following story: “I would be at home, on a weekend, and . . . almost always, people would say to me, well, aren’t you supposed to be in Washington? They all thought I was a U.S. senator, I guess—they didn’t know the difference between a state senator and a U.S. senator.”
William Vobach, a Republican senator who served from 1983 to 1990, pointed out that because the public often conflates state legislators with U.S. lawmakers, there is an “idea that you have a staff that can run around and fix things and take care of agency problems…We haven’t got any of that.” He added that “there was just not understanding that we weren’t there all the time if something came up in the summer or something, you know? That, ‘why can’t you just go over and do it?’ [mentality].” This lack of understanding about basic civics and the functioning of state government is not relegated to Indiana. Recently, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation published a survey concluding that two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass the test immigrants take to become U.S. citizens. This is an alarming fact, considering test-takers are asked to name various ways to participate in democracy.
Former legislators also felt not enough citizens understand the nuances of government and how complex it is to get a bill passed into law. This was highlighted by former Republican Senator Farrell Duckworth, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1981 to 1984. He said:
They don’t realize what it takes to get a bill passed. They just don’t realize that . . . All of the hearings and everything to get the bill through and then get it kicked back in your face from the other house and have to go through it again or it completely dies and next year you’ve got to bring it back again. They don’t understand that. They think we just go up there and write the bills and that’s it. And get a big check [chuckles]. You’d be surprised how many people think that.
This observation was reiterated by former state legislators. This fact is unsurprising; if most Americans can’t pass a basic civics test, it’s unlikely they understand the complex process of how a bill becomes a law.
Additionally, a political majority—or even supermajority—does not ensure the passage of a bill. Recently in Indiana there has been disagreement within the Republican party, specifically between the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Eric Holcomb. The controversy centers around the ability of the governor to declare a state of emergency, without the intervention of the Indiana General Assembly. Essentially, a Republican in the House authored a bill that would allow the Indiana General Assembly to convene for an emergency legislative session, in the event that the governor declares a state of emergency. The process of getting this bill passed into law proved incredibly complicated.
To summarize, after being authored it was sent to the House Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures and passed through committee. Then it was sent to the House floor for a vote and was passed by the Indiana House of Representatives. Next, it was sent to the Indiana Senate’s Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedures, where it passed committee and was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. On the Senate floor, two amendments were made to the bill before it was finally passed by the Senate. As a result, it was sent back to the House, which disagreed with these amendments. Thus, it was then sent to the conference committee where leaders of the Indiana House and Senate get together to make agreements on bills in which they disagree. Finally, a conference committee version of the bill was agreed on and sent to the Governor of Indiana, who then vetoed it. In turn, the bill was sent back to the Indiana House and Senate, which voted to overrule the governor’s veto, which officially made the bill law. But, it is still technically not over yet because now the Governor of Indiana is suing the Indiana General Assembly over the legality of the law.
This recent event perfectly highlights how complex the legislative process is and why many Hoosiers, as well as Americans in general, may not quite grasp the ins and outs of how bills become law. And this is only a simplified version of the events. There are many other complexities of how bills become law because there are so many ways a bill can be killed or passed into law due to various legislative tactics. Republican Senator Robert Meeks, who served from 1983 to 1990, described the sometimes gritty legislative process:
Makin’ laws is like makin’ sausage. Doesn’t look good. And you know, General Assembly’s— the legislature was created to take the fighting off the streets and move it into a confined area called the chambers. That’s why it was done, take it off the streets and bring it in here. That’s exactly the way it was. So what goes on in there, in those meetings is generally not general knowledge of the public, they shouldn’t know about all that. Not that it’s bad, but it’s just that it’s sausage.
Conversely, Democratic legislator Earline Rogers noted that while there could be conflict among lawmakers, she told ILOHI that she doesn’t think the public recognizes “the camaraderie that’s there.” Political differences might complicate legislation, but “there’s a bond that political parties just can’t break up,” like the period when she and Republican colleague Tom Wyss were both caring for loved ones diagnosed with cancer.”
The last and perhaps most important thing many legislators wanted Hoosiers to know: don’t hesitate to contact your legislator. As former Indiana Senator Dennis Neary, who served in the Indiana Senate from 1976 to 1992, argued:
They need to know that their voice does count, and legislators will listen to them. They won’t always agree with them, but they will listen to them. And the more legislators hear from their constituents, the more they will react on an issue . . . that the person thinks is important.
This may seem like a basic idea, but many Hoosiers and Americans are actually quite passive politically, and don’t seem to be as interested as they could be in employing their political voices. Rep. Charlie Brown, a Democrat who served from 1982 to 2018 and member of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, described in practical terms how his constituents made their voices heard. He noted that during and after session, he attended public forums and mailed out surveys asking what legislative issues constituents wanted to pass. Rep. Brown noted that the information was “compiled by the staff and then it shows us the issues that are most important to the constituents back home.”
Indiana’s former legislators seem to emphasize that not enough is being done by everyday Hoosiers to nurture the health of the State of Indiana. Citizens should strive to be more politically active. Political passiveness towards state government may seem harmless, but bills that could one day affect your life, for better or worse, are being passed every session. We must remember that many around the world are fighting just for the opportunity to have a fraction of the amount of political influence that Hoosiers possess. The enactment of laws may not seem to be the most pressing issue in our day to day lives, but it has the potential to dramatically affect us whether we want it to or not. So it is critical to look into potential legislation and to weigh in by bringing your concerns and experiences to lawmakers. After all, they work for us.
Purdue’s “World’s Largest Drum”, made by Indianapolis’ Leedy Manufacturing Company in 1921, has been involved in many rivalries over its size. Learn more about its unique history from our latest video.
Music: “Regimented Instinct” by Teknoaxe, “Jumpin’ Boogie Woogie” by Audionautix, “Anchors Aweigh” by US Marine Corps Band, “National Emblem” by US Naval Academy Band, “Low Tide” by Silent Partner, “Jazz Bar” by Doug Maxwell, Media Right Productions, “Hail, Purdue” by Purdue All-American Marching Band
On the precipice of World War I, Hoosier women had reason to be hopeful that they had, at last, won their long fight for suffrage. The 1917 legislative session brought about three major suffrage measures, all of which passed. But the constitutionality of suffrage bills would soon be challenged, and when the United States formally entered the war on April 6, 1917, Hoosier suffragists and clubwomen stood at a crossroads. Should they continue fighting for the vote or should they pause their efforts to focus attention on assisting the homefront?
Historian Anita Morgan noted that during the Civil War, “women had dropped suffrage campaigning in exchange for tackling war work and thought, erroneously, that war work would win them suffrage. That disappointment yet festered, and this time, they would not make the same mistake.”[i] In fact, Dr. Morgan asserted that “what the war managed to do was to finally focus the energies of all these suffragists and club women so they acted in concert for one goal—win the war and in the process win suffrage for themselves.”[ii] Leaders believed that their best response to the U.S. entering World War I would be to support its efforts entirely while simultaneously continuing the fight for suffrage. Doing so would put President Wilson in their debt and earn the National American Woman Suffrage Association valuable supporters.[iii] It would also, incidentally, afford women a unique experience in which to hone their public speaking and organizational skills.
“Never again will suffrage be decried or ignored in Indiana,” declared fliers sent to women across Indiana by Marie Stuart Edwards, president of the Woman’s Franchise League (WFL). Edwards wrote to Indiana Federation of Clubs’ members around the state reporting that suffragists were intensifying their efforts, regardless of the war, writing: “plans are being made to carry the fight and you will hear about them.” She encouraged Hoosier women to “emphasize the relations between suffrage and patriotism” to enhance their credibility as future-voters. By combining the war effort with suffrage efforts, women could now band together and show the country and government why they were worthy of the vote. Edwards went on to say that “real patriotism demands that we serve the Government no matter how out of patience we get with state authorities. If possible, make a showing as a LEAGUE.”[i]
Indiana women, following Edwards’s suggestion, quickly mobilized. Reports from the WFL show that Lenore Hannah Cox requested names of prominent women from across the state, who might telegraph congressmen in regards to the passage of the federal suffrage amendment when called upon to do so.[ii] Financial reports of the Woman’s Franchise League similarly show that the league began collecting Liberty Bond donations as part of its budget, promoting the drive through their newspaper, The Hoosier Suffragist.[iii]
Prolific columnist and Indianapolis suffragist Grace Julian Clarke wrote in the Indianapolis Star, “more depends upon us in this matter than many persons realize, and it is a work that only women can perform.”[iv] She quickly assumed a leadership role in her community and volunteered to lead a sign-up station for the Red Cross at the Irvington post office. Other prominent club women around Indianapolis followed suit.[v] Clarke also introduced a resolution at a “patriotic meeting” held at the Y.W.C.A. in Indianapolis that urged local women to “pledge . . . to do our bit in war emergency relief work, and to induce others to do the same.”[vi] About 400 women registered their intent to take part in war relief work after Clarke’s address. By May 1917, Clarke had been appointed to supervise WFL war work, which required Clarke to process all of the records from the war work registration drive.[vii] Registrars had asked women to complete registration cards promising to help with some type of government service if called upon during the war.[viii]
In October of 1917, Hoosier suffragists like Clarke joined the “fourteen-minute women,” speaking before clubs, church societies, and other women’s organizations for about—you guessed it—fourteen minutes on the subject of food conservation. The group was “one wing of the army of talkers, pledgers, advertisers and boosters” that the local branch of the United States food administration, led by future U.S. president Herbert Hoover, expected to disseminate important facts regarding food conservation. The “fourteen-minute women,” organized by suffragist and former WFL secretary Julia C. Henderson as part of the speakers’ bureau for the Seventh District for food conservation work, collaborated with “four-minute men.”[ix]
Members of the “fourteen-minute women” included other locally prominent women in hundreds of speaking tours during the war, which helped develop their public speaking skills.[x] In January of 1918, the “fourteen-minute women” were enlisted in state service after their effort had been found to be “so effective that it was deemed advisable to enlarge and extend it beyond the 7th District.”[xi] This expansion included training women to speak on activities that were expected of women in the General Federation of Clubs as an aid in prosecuting the war, with an emphasis on food conservation. Clarke, among others, received unique training and experience in public speaking as a result, further elevating her reputation as a public figure. Of this link between war work and the drive for enfranchisement, she contended:
we [women] are truly patriotic, not only by knitting and doing the conventional kinds of war work, but by the utmost exertions to secure for the women of our country their rightful place as equal partners in the tremendously important enterprise of government . . . Women of all religious denominations, club women, women who work whether in the home or in the many fields outside, young women and old, colored women and white, all women with sufficient wit to discern right from wrong, daylight from night, should enlist in the present suffrage drive.[xii]
Women quite literally utilized war work to demonstrate their deservedness of full-enfranchisement. The state’s Constitutional Convention law was challenged in court on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary public expense,” and the partial suffrage law was challenged for simply costing too much to effectively double the number of voters in the state. Responding to these assertions, Hoosier suffragists attended an Indiana Supreme Court hearing, bringing supplies most likely as part of their “knitting for soldiers campaign to support the war effort, and stayed through four hours of arguments.” In their newsletter, The Hoosier Suffragist, WFL members further challenged these claims, writing “‘Mr. Hoover says he expects the women of this country to save enough to pay for the war,” and yet some men complained that “ballot boxes and ‘fixings’ for women to vote will cost at least six thousand dollars.” The author quipped “If we pay for the war can’t the men scrape up the money for those ballot boxes?”[xiii]
On May 7, 1919, 20,000 jubilant men and women cheered returning soldiers at the Welcome Home Parade in Indianapolis. The parade stretched for thirty-three blocks, and left the city awash in red, white, and blue. Trains unloaded returning Hoosier soldiers who displayed their regimental colors. Many attendees had survived the 1918 influenza pandemic, nursed the sick at Fort Harrison, or lost friends and relatives to the pandemic. While suffragists celebrated the end of the war and the dwindling of a catastrophic pandemic, their struggle for full-enfranchisement endured.
According to Talking Hoosier History, Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919, which then required thirty-six states to ratify in order to become law. Indiana suffragists immediately began calling for Governor Goodrich to convene a special session of the General Assembly to ratify the 19th Amendment. The governor, however, wanted to wait to see what other states would do before spending time and money on a special session. Months later, with still no sign of a special session, suffragists turned up the pressure and Franchise League president Helen Benbridge delivered petitions signed by 86,000 Hoosiers.
Their determination proved effective and Governor Goodrich agreed to call a special session. Historian Anita Morgan noted that Hoosier “legislators who spoke in favor of the [suffrage] measure gave women’s war work, which to them signified women’s loyalty, as the reason to support.”[i] On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Indianapolis News reported on the reaction of women at the statehouse when they heard the news:
As soon as the house passed the resolution, a band in the hall began playing ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah.’ Women joined in the singing. Scores rushed into the corridor and began embracing. Many shook hands and scenes of wildest joy and confusion prevailed.
The celebrations continued when, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and the measure became law.
Increasing patriotism, in alignment with a united outward appearance by suffragists, proved a calculated and successful political strategy used by women during the war. The war had illuminated women’s ability to use genuine patriotism as a political tactic to achieve the vote through club and suffrage work. Although women were challenged during a time when they were so close to achieving the goal that they had been working on for nearly a century, loyalty to their country ultimately advanced the “cause of humanity and progress.”
[i] Anita Morgan, “We Must Be Fearless:” The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2020), 196.
[i] Copy of flier attached to Mrs. Richard E. Edwards to Clarke, Nov. 3, 1917, GJC, Box 2, Folder 1, ISL.
[ii] Printed board letter and reports, Woman’s Franchise League of Indiana, Nov. 3, 1917, GJC, Box 2, Folder 1, ISL.
[iii] “Mrs. Fred M’Collough Head of Loan Drive,” The Hoosier Suffragist, October 26, 1917, p. 1.
[iv] Grace Julian Clarke, “Making Study of League to Enforce Peace,” Indianapolis Star, Oct. 27, 1918, 38.
[v] “Gaining Members Rapidly,” Indianapolis Star, April 7, 1917, 11.
[vi] “Many Women Enroll For War Relief Work,” Indianapolis News, April 12, 1917, 7.
[vii] “Supervisor of War Work,” Indianapolis News, May 9, 1917, 9.
[viii] “Census of Women Will Learn Qualifications for Aiding Government,” The Call-Leader (Elwood, Indiana), May 12, 1917, 1.
[ix] “Hoover Luncheon and Dinner,” Indianapolis News, October 19, 1917, 18.
[x] “Will Talk Wherever They Get the Chance,” Indianapolis News, October 16, 1917, 1.
[xi] “To Organize Speakers,” South Bend Tribune, January 18, 1918, 5.
[xii] Scrapbook regarding World War I, League of Nations, and suffrage, Grace Julian Clarke, vol. 422-11, Indiana State Library.
Washington Long woke up early at his daughter Anna’s house. He had not even heard the rooster crow yet, and the sky was still a dark blue as night faded away into the dawn. The old man slept in the front bedroom that Anna and Kellis Hoard added when he moved in. In the latter years of his life, Washington seemed aged and often forgetful. He moved in with his daughter and son-in-law in the new house down the hill from his own around 1919. Anna washed and ironed his clothes, as he set great store by how he looked, especially on a big day like today.
He noted his only daughter had set out his good summer suit, with freshly-pressed trousers and his Sunday shoes. A crisp white dress shirt and tie hung next to the suit. Washington dug into the dresser drawer and found his gold watch and chain. Today, he was going to look remarkable, a real gentleman farmer.
Washington no longer worked his land. Instead, his son-in-law, Kellis, and the hired man managed the farming at both the Hoard farm and Washington’s farm on the other side of Sugar Creek, Washington Township, Whitley County.
It was Thursday, August 19, 1926. Today might be a special day for Washington. He didn’t yet know. Since 1909, Whitley County had awarded loving cups to the oldest registered settler and the longest continuous resident at Old Settlers’ Days.
Would he be first in line to register at the Old Settlers’ tent near the Courthouse? Would this be the year he won a silver cup?
After a family breakfast, Kellis pulled his reliable Ford machine in front of the farmhouse door. The early morning sky was cloud-free and blue as the perennial periwinkles that overgrew on the south side of the summer kitchen—a perfect day for a festival. Granddaughter Zoe, Anna, and Washington got in the car, and they were off, east on the Washington Center Road past the school where the Long children had graduated. Then, they headed north on Indiana State Road 11 (later Indiana State Road 9) to the Whitley County Courthouse.
The stately courthouse in the middle of town was the center of Old Settlers’ Day events. The French Renaissance-style building rose to three stories of Indiana limestone, topped with an iron-covered dome. A few people wandered inside to see the relics room, treasures belonging to the first white settlers of Whitley County.
Registration began at 9 a.m. The South Whitley and Columbia City high school bands played lively music for those waiting in line.
The day featured events for the whole family, a greased pole climbing contest, free children’s show at the Columbia Theatre, and a horseshoe pitching contest with cash prizes at the Gun Club.
For Washington, the highlight was the official, early afternoon Old Settlers’ Day ceremony in front of the courthouse. Ralph Gates, a local attorney, and future governor of Indiana, gave a welcoming address, followed by the Baptist Reverend Charles Watkins of Muncie, who gave a lengthy speech entitled, “Faith of our Fathers.”
Reverend Watkins urged the large crowd to remember that the first structure in pioneer life was the home, followed by the church, followed by the school. “It is just a short distance to a church nowadays by machine. The importance of religion cannot be overestimated,” said Reverend Watkins.
“How much faith have the people in the future generation of boys and girls today?,” the speaker asked.
Washington was widely known to enjoy liberal religious views and supported several religious organizations financially. He may have thoroughly enjoyed the zeal of the speaker. Or his attention might have wandered to the Civil War monument on the courthouse lawn, which honored the Whitley County Civil War dead. Washington’s brother, Lewis Reuben Long, died of dysentery after Vicksburg on the western front in 1863.
Reverend Watkins answered his question about the future generation of boys and girls. “I do not feel the flapper, or the drug store sheik would fall when they came to meet their duties and responsibilities of life. One evidence of age frequently manifested was to begin to criticize the younger generation because they do not do like the other person did when he was a boy and to think that they are going pell-mell to the devil.”
The sun was still high above on this early August afternoon. Underneath its’ warm rays, some elders nodded off during the featured address and lunch.
Watkins concluded his remarks by saying that the boys and girls who make love in automobiles are no different than their parents who used to tie their reins around the whip and let Old Dobbin find his way home.
Finally, Reverend L.A. Luckenbill rose to present the two loving cups, one for the oldest resident and one for the most senior continuous resident.
“The winner of the oldest resident is Isaiah Johnson of Thorncreek Town-ship,” said Reverend Luckenbill. “Mr. Johnson was born on December 10, 1835, and is now 90 years, five months, and nine days.”
So much for being the most senior resident. The family held its collective breath. How many others here today had been born in a log cabin in Whitley County? In 1845?
“The longest continuous resident for 1926 is Washington Long of Washington Township. Mr. Long was born in Washington Township on February 23, 1845, and is 81 years, five months, and 27 days.”
Washington walked proudly to the bandstand, his green registration tag attached to his jacket lapel, his gold watch chain glimmering in the afternoon sun. He surveyed the large crowd that had gathered all along Van Buren from Main to Chauncey Street.
Reverend Luckenbill asked him to say a few words about his coveted award.
“Things ain’t like they used to was,” said the 81-year resident of Whitley County. And then he went back to his chair and sat to thunderous applause. Washington’s statement on constant change has become a family saying for generations.
The Hoards enjoyed visiting with friends into the evening as Washington accepted congratulations.
The Fort Wayne Colored Giants played the Columbia City Modern Woodmen at Carter Field in baseball. Others attended the Hog Calling Contest at the Band Stand, which offered cash prizes for the best call. For people who missed her afternoon show, Grace Gage, contortionist, and her two trained dogs gave a special performance on the courthouse lawn. Darkness came, and an illuminated aeroplane flew low over the crowd, followed by a 25-minute display of fireworks over Columbia City.
After a memorable day, the family returned home, still delighted Washington had finally received his due as a pioneer. He would not compete again, believing others should have their chance. His loving cup, however, became a treasured family heirloom.
 “The Aftermath of the Annual Old Settlers’ Day,” The Post (Columbia City, IN), August 20, 1926.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Program, Old Settlers’ Day, Columbia City, Indiana, Thursday, August 19, 1926, Peabody Library, Columbia City, Indiana.  “The Aftermath of the Annual Old Settlers’ Day,” August 20, 1926.
Sherman Minton’s willingness to find flexibility in the law and his own thinking helped end state-sanctioned discrimination toward African Americans in housing, employment, and education. Considering his rigid stance on judicial restraint, Minton’s reformist civil rights record is surprising at first glance. He believed that Congress, not the courts, should define the country’s laws. As an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1949-1956, Minton invariably deferred to both congressional and judicial precedent, opposing activism by the Court. A closer look at his role in several landmark desegregation cases shows how Minton was able to stretch precedent in order to bend the moral arc of the universe toward justice. His much-lauded judicial opinion on Barrows v. Jackson, the Supreme Court decision that ended discriminatory housing covenants, is particularly relevant. Today, much work remains to fully end discriminatory policies that create disparity in income and living conditions for millions of Black Americans, a sort of de facto segregation that lingers more than sixty years after these Civil Rights Era desegregation cases. The civil rights work of Sherman Minton is worth considering here, if for no other reason, because it remains unfinished.
Young Minton, better known as “Shay,” was a troublemaker. Born in Georgetown, Indiana, in 1890, he had to work from a young age to help support his struggling family. Yet, he somehow still found the energy to knock neighbors hats off with snowballs or loosen a wheel on his brother’s wagon, causing it to fall off and ruin his date. While Minton may have been rambunctious in his spare time, he was a serious student with a love of learning. He graduated from New Albany High School in 1910 and worked a series of jobs before enrolling at Indiana University in 1911.
At IU, Minton excelled in football, baseball, and debate. He took two years of undergraduate classes before entering the IU School of Law, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 1915. He then won a scholarship to Yale University School of Law where he earned his Master of Laws degree in 1916. While at Yale, Minton came under the tutelage of former President William Howard Taft, who himself would go on to serve as a Supreme Court justice (the only president to boast this accomplishment). Reportedly, after Shay argued with Taft over a lesson about a certain Supreme Court ruling, Taft told his student:
I’m afraid, Mr. Minton, that if you don’t like the way this law has been interpreted, you will have to get on the Supreme Court and change it.
Minton would later take the former president up on this suggestion.
Upon graduation from Yale, Minton set up a law practice in New Albany. Soon after, the United States entered WWI and Minton immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was commissioned as an infantry officer, trained at Fort Benjamin Harrison, and sent overseas in July of 1918 where he served on the French front.
After returning from war, Minton entered the Democratic primary to seek a congressional Senate seat. While he was unsuccessful in this 1920 election, he would remain active or interested in Democratic Party politics his entire life. For the following decade, he practiced law before making another unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate in 1930. During the 1930s, he became even more politically active, campaigning for Paul McNutt in the 1932 gubernatorial race. After McNutt was elected, the new governor rewarded Minton with his first public office, appointing him public counselor to the Public Service Commission. Minton began his work March 8, 1933, representing the public against utilities companies, and securing rate reductions in hundreds of cases.
In 1934, Minton again ran for Congress on a platform of staunch support for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal. That November 6th, Indiana voters finally sent Minton to Washington. He took his seat in the U.S. Senate next to future President Harry Truman in January 1935.
Minton would serve only one term in Congress, but the experience influenced his later judicial positions. As a member of a committee that investigated utility companies, he helped break up monopolies, work he would later continue from the bench. He was a vocal critic of the Supreme Court decisions that declared several New Deal policies unconstitutional, establishing his long-held view that the Court shouldn’t overturn the will of the people as expressed through their elected officials. And he became a spokesman for the administration, explaining complicated issues (like Roosevelt’s court packing plan) in plain language, a strength he would later bring to his written judicial opinions.
When it came to increasing or strengthening the rights of African Americans, he was swayed neither by the administration nor legislative precedent. Instead, Minton took a moral stand for civil rights. For example, he broke with the administration’s lack of action against lynching by advocating for anti-lynching legislation throughout his term. When opponents to a 1938 anti-lynching bill claimed that the states should regulate lynching, not Congress, Minton noted that there had been eight lynchings the previous year and none were prosecuted. “In other words,” Minton told his fellow senators, “there was 100 percent failure to prosecute the most heinous crime.” He finished with a moral argument for legislative interference to stop lynching, stating:
I am interested in State rights, but I am much more interested in human rights.
Minton was again nominated for his Senate seat in 1940, but lost as the Republican Party swept the Indiana elections. Recognizing his service to the Democratic Party and the administration, in January 1941, President Roosevelt made Minton his administrative assistant. Soon a position on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, a busy federal court located in Chicago, opened, and FDR nominated Minton for this prestigious judgeship. On May 7, 1941, the Senate confirmed the nomination and that October Minton joined the Seventh Circuit bench. 
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard a large number of cases and Minton wrote his share of opinions and dissents in his eight years on the bench in Chicago. Yet, even drawing on this large sample of cases, it can be difficult to understand his judicial philosophy. He seems full of contradictions at times.
An ardent New Dealer, Minton believed the government was responsible for improving the lives of its citizens, which included protecting consumers. Thus, Minton often decided against corporations engaging in monopolistic practices and usually decided for the rights of labor unions. However, it was the greater good of the majority of citizens that moved Minton, not necessarily the rights of individuals. Thus, he often decided in favor of government agencies at the expense of individual rights. This was especially true when the decision could potentially impact national security. Perhaps this is not surprising considering for much of his time on the Seventh Circuit bench, the world was at war and many in the United States feared both foreign and domestic enemy agents.
Minton was dedicated to judicial restraint and upholding legislative intent – two sides of the same coin. In other words, Minton believed that the courts should not overturn congressional legislation which was the will of the people made law. This dovetails with his interest in protecting the rights of the majority. By deferring to Congress, Minton believed he was deferring to the people of the United States who elected the congressmen. But in cases of individual freedoms, his position sometimes put him out of step with his colleagues who saw an opportunity to expand civil liberties through their decisions. Minton was not opposed to increased civil liberties, he just believed that such issues were under the purview of Congress, not the courts. He would adhere to this view as he ascended to the nation’s highest court.
In September 1949, President Harry Truman nominated Sherman Minton, his old friend from their years in the Senate, for the Supreme Court of the United States. Minton was confirmed and took his place on the bench that October. As an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Minton maintained his general position of restraint, tendency to side with legislative precedent and the administration against individuals, and his disinclination to overturn the rulings of state courts. Despite this determination, Minton maintained a consistently strong, activist position when it came to civil rights issues, especially desegregation, as evidenced by landmark cases such as McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, Sweatt v. Painter, Brown v. Board of Education, and Barrows v. Jackson.
On June 5, 1950, the Supreme Court decided both McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents and Sweatt v. Painter. These cases overturned the “separate but equal” precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson with the Court unanimously deciding that, at the level of graduate school and law school, segregation denied Black students equal educational opportunities, violating their Fourteenth Amendment rights to “equal protection of the laws.” Referring to the separate areas where a Black student was forced to eat and study, Chief Justice Fred Vinson wrote in the Court opinion:
Such restrictions impair and inhibit his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession . . . State imposed restrictions which produce such inequalities cannot be sustained.
These cases provided precedent for the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. In this historic case, the Court determined that, like the earlier cases dealing with higher education, segregation in public schools also violated the Fourteenth Amendment. In short, the justices determined that there was no such thing as “separate but equal” education. In his opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Chief Justice Warren felt that an unanimous decision was essential in Brown in order to convey to the public that the Court was taking a moral as well as a constitutional stand against segregation and that the issue was now decided unequivocally. Imparting that moral argument in the opinion for Brown, Justice Warren wrote:
To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
Legal historians Linda Gugin and James St. Clair argued that Sherman Minton played a vital role in making these decisions unanimous. The scholars called him “the Court’s strongest team player” because of the warm personal relationships he fostered with his colleagues. Minton was reportedly the only justice welcome in every one of their offices. He regularly organized group lunches and made sure to express his respect for his fellow justices when he dissented from their opinions. It was, therefore, quite possible that Minton was able to convey the importance of a united front on the Brown decision to his undecided colleagues.
Because the opinions in the aforementioned cases were written by the Chief Justice (Vinson for the 1950 cases and Warren in 1954), it is impossible to definitively analyze Minton’s impact on the decisions. However, in the 1953 case of Barrows v. Jackson, Minton penned the Court’s opinion, allowing us a rare opportunity to dissect his thinking and interpret his own views on segregation and civil rights. To summarize the complicated case of Barrows v. Jackson briefly, the white neighbors of Los Angeles resident Leola Jackson were suing her for damages after she sold her house to African American buyers. This sale violated the neighborhood’s “restrictive property covenant,” a clause forbidding the sale of property in the neighborhood to non-white buyers.
In the 1948 case Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court had ruled that while private discrimination was not unconstitutional, state courts could not enforce restrictive covenants because this would constitute state action in discrimination. Such state involvement would violate the State Action Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which affirms that “a state cannot make or enforce any law that abridges the privileges or immunities of any citizen.” In other words, white people were free to discriminate against African Americans by refusing to sell them homes in segregated neighborhoods, but the courts could not enforce such segregation or it would be the state itself that was discriminating against African Americans, which was unconstitutional.
White supporters of segregated neighborhoods quickly identified a weakness to exploit in the Shelley decision – the issue of damages. Was it legal for white home owners to sue for damages when their restrictive covenants were violated? If so, this blatant attempt to intimidate white sellers into not selling to Black buyers would make the spirit of Shelley, which was intended to end covenants, null and unenforceable. The Barrowsv. Jackson case would decide if state-sanctioned segregated neighborhoods could continue.
Minton’s decision in Barrows v. Jackson drew on this idea of state action as defined in Shelley and expanded it to finally end restrictive covenants for good. This required an advanced understanding of the technical aspects involved in the case, as well as a morally-based desire to end injustice in housing for African Americans. In order to end the unjust covenant practice, Minton had to engage in some complex legal maneuvering and creative use of precedent.
The first issue Minton addressed in his majority opinion in Barrowsv. Jackson was a relatively straightforward application of the “state action” determination in the Shelley decision. He argued that if the state were to award damages to Jackson’s neighbors for her violation of the covenant, this would constitute “state action.” This would then violate the Fourteenth Amendment State Action Clause.
The major legal challenge Minton resolved with his opinion, was that of the petitioners’ attempt to circumvent Shelley altogether. The white petitioners were not suing the Black buyers for damages, which would have made the discrimination obvious. They were suing the white seller. This was a carefully chosen legal strategy. Traditionally, the Court would not hear cases where the party being impacted, in this case discriminated against, was not present. The attorneys for the neighbors hoped that the case would be dismissed because the rights being violated were that of a third party (the Black buyers), who were not present in the courtroom. Here, Minton flipped the question. He asked the Barrows’ attorneys, “whose constitutional rights would be violated if California failed to award contract damages to the petitioners?” They had to reply “that no one’s rights would be violated.” So, where then was the damage? The petitioners would have to bring the racial issue into the courtroom if they were claiming some damage had been done in selling to a Black buyer.
Minton extended the Shelley decision to cover the missing third party issue by explaining that Jackson had a right to protect herself against the “coercion” of the petitioner. In short, the Shelley decision was intended to stop discrimination against African American buyers. If Jackson had to pay damages for violating the discriminatory covenant that Shelley had intended to invalidate then she would, in fact, be paying for failing to discriminate – a direct contradiction of the intent of Shelley. He determined that the interests of Jackson and the Black buyers were closely enough aligned that Jackson represented the buyers. Thus there was no missing third party and racial discrimination was the inherent issue.
Minton had little tolerance for the petitioners’ blatant attempt to circumvent the Shelley decision through such lawsuits aimed at technicalities. And he had no tolerance for continued discrimination against African Americans. He summed up his thinking eloquently and passionately in his written opinion:
The relation between the coercion exerted on respondent [Jackson] and her possible pecuniary loss thereby is so close to the purpose of the restrictive covenant to violate the constitutional rights of those discriminated against, that respondent is the only effective adversary of the unworthy covenant in its last stand. She will be permitted to protect herself and, by so doing, close the gap to the use of this covenant, so universally condemned by the courts.
Minton and his clerks cited several other cases, notably Pierce v. Society of Sisters, and wrote careful clauses further defining the third party issue. [See complete legal analysis here]. In summary, Minton closed the last loophole allowing restrictive covenants and state-sanctioned segregation. Legal scholars Gugin and St. Clair summarized the final decision thusly:
The court moved to make restrictive covenants virtually unenforceable in state courts by ruling that state courts cannot award damages when a restrictive covenant is violated because it is tantamount to the state itself discriminating on the basis of race, which it may not do under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Minton’s arguments as forwarded in his written opinion in Barrows v. Jackson may stand as his finest judicial moment. Gugin and St. Clair called it “Minton’s most memorable opinion” and noted that “he was praised in law review articles for his imaginative approach.” In fact, the Barrows decision has been classed among the most important desegregation events of the Civil Rights Era. Although Barrows determined that the state would not discriminate, de facto segregation continued.
In fact, neighborhoods remain segregated to this day. The real estate opportunities afforded white Americans and denied Black Americans in the 1950s helped widen the economic disparity between races. “White flight” from cities and government subsidies for suburbs have created new segregated neighborhoods. Zoning, housing codes, gentrification, and low-income housing areas have further separated economic classes, divided along racial lines. Recently, the Covid-19 pandemic further highlighted this disparity. More than twice as many Black Americans died as a result of “the inequitable living conditions, work circumstances, underlying conditions, and lower access to health care that characterize segregated neighborhoods.” According to the Brookings Institute:
Public policy and industry practice have produced a separate and unequal landscape of American neighborhoods, propagating multigenerational negative impacts on health, social mobility, and wealth for people of color as well as harmful divisions in our economy and society.
As the Supreme Court decided in the desegregation cases when Minton sat on the bench in the 1950s, there is no such thing as separate but equal. The work for equal rights for Black Americans and the perfection of the promises made in the United States Constitution continues.
1900 United States Federal Census, Georgetown Township, Floyd County, Indiana, page 8, line 36, Enumeration District: 0054; FHL microfilm: 1240371, Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.; “Twenty Pupils Suspended,” Plymouth Tribune, February 25, 1909, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; Linda C. Gugin and James E. St. Clair, Sherman Minton: New Deal Senator, Cold War Justice (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1997), 38-44.
 “Indiana University Debaters Who Will Meet Illinois and Ohio Orators in Annual Contest,” Indianapolis News, March 13, 1913, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton, Star Half Appears on Field,” South Bend Tribune, November 19, 1913, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Bryan Prize is Awarded,” Indianapolis Star, April 9, 1914, 18, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Lineup for Sunday’s Game,” Bloomington Evening World, April 23, 1915, 1, Newspapers.com.; “Medic and Law Graduate List,” Bloomington Evening World, May 28, 1915, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.
 “News of the Colleges,” Indianapolis News, September 29, 1915, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Enters Yale,” Bloomington Evening World, September 29, 1915, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; 1920 Alumni Directory of Yale University (New Haven: Yale University, 1920), 541, accessed HathiTrust.
 Gugin and St. Clair, 52.
 Sherman Minton Draft Registration Card, June 1, 1917, Floyd County, Indiana, Form 522, No. 46, U.S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.; “In Second Training Camp,” Indianapolis News, August 14, 1917, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.; U.S. Army, Passenger List of Organizations and Casuals Returning to the United States, July 7, 1919, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774-1985; National Archives at College Park, Record Group 92, Roll or Box 125, U.S., Army Transport Service Arriving and Departing Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, accessed AncestryLibrary.com.
 “Soldier Announces His Candidacy for Congress,” Jasper Herald, December 5, 1919, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “J. W. Ewing Wins Third District Nomination,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, May 8, 1920, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.
 “Democrats to Open Campaign Sept. 18,” Seymour Daily Tribune, September 13, 1914, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Democratic Speakings Announced for County,” Brownstown Banner, September 17, 1924, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Sherman Minton Has Brilliant Record,” Jeffersonville Evening News, reprinted Jasper Herald, January 24, 1930, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; Sherman Minton, “To The Voters of Dubois Co,” Jasper Herald, May 16, 1930, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Democrats in Jasper Rally,” Bedford Daily Mail, October 15, 1930, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
 “Meeting Shows M’Nutt Backing,” Indianapolis Star, February 8, 1932, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “McNutt Meeting Set for Tonight,” Boonville Enquirer, April 29, 1932, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
 Ralph L. Brooks, “State’s Commerce-Industry Division Affects All Citizens,” Indianapolis Sunday Star, September 17, 1933, 57, accessed Newspapers.com.
 “Republicans Sweep City, County; Minton Beats Robinson in Race for Senate Seat,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, November 7, 1934, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Leads Lake Ticket,” Hammond Times, November 8, 1934, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Winner,” Boonville Enquirer, November 9, 1934, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
 Gugin and St. Clair, Chapter Four: “Fulfilling His New Deal Promise.”
 “Senators Agree on One Point,” Muncie Evening Press,” August 6, 1937, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.; “May Use Anti-Lynch Bill in Filibuster,” Baltimore Sun, November 25, 1940, 7, accessed Newspapers.com.
 Congressional Record, 75th Congress, 3rd Session, 1938, vol. 83:2. 1931-45, cited in Gugin and St. Clair, 115.
 “Sherman Minton Is Named to Circuit Court of Appeals,” Muncie Evening Press, May 7, 1941, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Sworn In as U.S. Judge,” Indianapolis Star, May 31, 1941, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Induction Today,” Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1941, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Becomes U.S. Judge, Says Good-by, Politics,” Chicago Tribune, October 8, 1941, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.
 Gugin and St. Clair, Chapter Seven: “A Faithful Disciple of Judicial Restraint.”
 “Names Minton to High Court,” Terre Haute Tribune, September 15, 1949, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Is Confirmed for Court, 48 to 16,” New York Times, October 5, 1949, 1, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.; “Hoosier Sworn In As Supreme Court Justice,” Muncie Evening Press, October 12, 1949, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.; “Minton Sworn In As Supreme Court Justice,” New York Times, October 13, 1949, 18, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com.
 Supreme Court of the United States, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education et al., Decided June 5, 1950, 339 U.S. 637, Legal Information Institute.; Supreme Court of the United States, Sweatt v. Painter et al., Decided June 5, 1950, 339 U.S. 629, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
 Supreme Court, McLaurin v. Oklahoma State.
 Supreme Court of the United States, Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al., Decided May 17, 1954, 347 U.S. 483, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
 Gugin and St. Clair, 263.
 Supreme Court of the United States, Barrows et al. v. Jackson, Decided June 15, 1953, 346 U.S. 249, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.
 Supreme Court of the United States, Shelley et ux. v. Kraemer et ux. McGhee et ux. v. Sipes et al., Decided May 3, 1948, 334 U.S. 1, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School.