See Part I to learn about Roberta West Nicholson’s efforts to educate the public about sexual health, her Anti-Heart Balm Bill, and the sexism she faced as the only woman legislator in the 1935-1936 Indiana General Assembly.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from Nicholson’s six-part interview with the Indiana State Library.
At the conclusion of Nicholson’s term in the Indiana House of Representatives, the country was still in the grip of the Great Depression. Nicholson recalled witnessing a woman standing atop the Governor Oliver P. Morton Statue at the Statehouse to rally Hoosiers from across the state to press Governor Paul McNutt for jobs. She was struck by the fact that the woman was wearing a flour sack as a dress, on which the Acme Evans label was still visible.
To see for herself if conditions were as dire as she’d heard-despite some local newspapers denying the extent of the poverty-Nicholson took a job at a canning factory. There she learned that the “economic condition was as bad or worse than I had feared.” She hoped to ease this struggle as the Marion County Director of Women’s and Professional Work for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
As Director, she got further confirmation about the impoverished conditions of Hoosiers during a visit to a transient shelter on Capitol Avenue. She reported:
I couldn’t tell you the dimensions of it, but there were fifteen hundred men on the move that were in this one room and there wasn’t room for them to sit down, much less lie down. They stood all night. They just were in out of the weather. You see, these men were on the move because one of the things about that Depression was that there was lack of real communication, and rumors would go around for blue collar work and they’d say, “They’re hiring in St. Louis,” which proved to be incorrect.
In her role at the Indiana WPA, Nicholson managed all jobs undertaken by women and professionals, which included bookbinding and sewing. She also helped supervise the WPA’s Writer’s Project, consisting of a group of ex-teachers and writers who compiled an Indiana history and traveler’s guide. This project was led by Ross Lockridge Sr., historian and father of famous Raintree County author, Ross Lockridge Jr. Nicholson noted that Lockridge Jr.’s book “had more to do with making me fall in love with my adopted state than anything I can tell you.”
One of Nicholson’s largest tasks involved instructing WPA seamstresses to turn out thousands of garments for victims of the Ohio River Flood in 1937. The workers were headquartered at the State Fair Grounds, where the flood victims were also transported by the Red Cross during the disaster. Nicholson noted that many of the women of the sewing project worked because their husbands had left the family as “hobos,” traveling across the country to look for work; in order to support their families the women made clothes for the “next lower strata of society.”
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited their WPA Project, headquartered at the RCA building. The 1500 women continued their work as though nothing were different. Mrs. Roosevelt’s approval seemed to validate the project, especially since the women “were constantly being made fun of for boondoggling and not really doing any work and just drawing down fifty dollars a month.” Nicholson spoke with the First Lady throughout day, concluding “I’ll never forget what a natural, lovely and simple person she was, as I guess all real people are. I was pretty young and it seemed marvelous to me that the president’s wife could be just so easy and talk like anybody else.”
In the early 1940s, Governor Henry F. Schricker appointed Nicholson to a commission on Indianapolis housing conditions. The reformer, who grew up “without a scintilla of prejudice,” concluded that the real estate lobby was at the center of the disenfranchisement of African Americans. As she saw it in 1977, the lobby prevented:
[W]hat we now call ‘upward mobility’ of blacks. I don’t think we would have this school problem in Indianapolis we have now if the emerging class of blacks with education and with decent jobs had not been thwarted in their attempts to live other than in the ghetto. They were thwarted by the real estate laws.
She added that black residents were essentially prohibited to live “anyplace but in the circumscribed areas which the real estate lobby approved . . . And now we have school problems and I think it’s a crying shame that we put the burden for directing past injustices on the backs of little children.”
While World War II lifted the country out of the Depression, it magnified discrimination against African Americans. After passage of the Selective Service Act, the City of Indianapolis hoped to provide recreation for servicemen, creating the Indianapolis Servicemen’s Center, on which Nicholson served. She noted that they were able to readily procure facilities for white regiments, such as at the Traction Terminal Building, but locating them for black troops proved a struggle.
Although a black regiment was stationed at Camp Atterbury near Edinburg, Indiana, Nicholson reported that:
The only place to go for any entertainment from Edinburg, Indiana is Indianapolis. Well, what were these black soldiers going to do? They couldn’t go to the hotels, they couldn’t go to any eating place. There was no question of integration at that point. It’s difficult to believe, but this is true; because the Army itself was segregated.
She recalled that her task was so difficult because “There was nowhere near the openness and generosity toward the black soldier that there was toward the white, although they were wearing the same uniform and facing the same kind of dangers.” Lynn W. Turner‘s 1956 “Indiana in World War II-A Progress Report,” reiterated this, describing:
[T]he shameful reluctance of either the USO or the nearby local communities to provide adequate recreational opportunities for Negro troops stationed at Camps Atterbury and Breckenridge and at George and Freeman Air Fields.
Upon this observation, Nicholson fought for black servicemen to be able to utilize the exact same amenities as their white counterparts. One of her tasks included providing troops with a dormitory in the city because “there was no place where these young black men could sleep.” After being turned away by various building owners, Nicholson was allowed to rent a building with “money from bigoted people,” but then came the “job of furnishing it.” With wartime shortages, this proved exceptionally difficult. Nicholson approached the department store L. S. Ayres, demanding bed sheets for the black servicemen. According to Nicholson, some of the Ayres personnel did not understand why the black troops needed sheets if they had blankets. She contended “the white ones had sheets and I didn’t see why the black ones should be denied any of the amenities that the white ones were getting.” Nicholson succeeded in procuring the sheets and a recreation facility at Camp Atterbury for African American soldiers.
Never one to bend to societal, political, or ideological pressure, Nicholson encountered vicious resistance in her support of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), a national network advocating for the education, safety, and health of children through programming and legislation. She noted that support of the organization was frowned upon in the state because:
[T]hese were the witch-hunting years, you know, and anything that came out of the federal government was bad, and in Indiana that feeling was rife. It was a matter of federal aid education and in Indiana there was a great deal of militant resentment of that federal aid education.
According to Nicholson, a coalition of institutions like the Chamber of Commerce and the Indianapolis Star, along with “some very rich, very ambitious women who wanted to get into the public eye” aligned to destroy the PTA in Indiana. Nicholson recalled that her support of the PTA on one occasion caused a woman to approach her and spit in her face. Ultimately, Nicholson’s opposition won, and defeated the PTA. Nicholson noted that as a result Indiana’s organizations were called “PTOs and they have no connection with the national.” At the time of her ISL interview, she lamented that “without that program for schools where disadvantaged children go, a lot of the schools just simply couldn’t function.”
Nicholson also described a brush with the Red Scare of the 1950s. In a series of articles, an Indianapolis Star journalist accused the State Welfare Department of “being riddled with communism and so forth.” Knowing she was affiliated with one of the women in the department, Governor Schricker summoned Nicholson to his office about the allegations. She noted that while the accused woman was “kinda kooky,” Nicholson was able to assure from “my own knowledge that these two women were possibly off in left field, but that I thought the whole operation was just as clean as anything in the world could be.”
In 1952, desiring respite from the city, the tireless reformer and her husband bought a broken down house in Brown County to fix up for weekend visits. After suffering from ulcers, likely from over-exertion, Nicholson officially retired as the first director of the Indianapolis Social Hygiene Association on December 31, 1960 (serving since 1943). Nicholson passed away in 1987, leaving a positive and enduring imprint on the city’s marginalized population.
Regarding her career, Nicholson combated allegations that she only did what she did because she wanted to be around men. Perhaps an apt summation of her life, Nicholson noted “My way was sort of greased-had a good name and had done some things. I had a reputation for being able to get things done.”
Prior to the Civil War, Indiana experienced a swell in its African American population due to the migration of free persons of color from other states. The arrival of recently emancipated people and freedom seekers also contributed to the growth in Indiana’s black population. As population increased, so did discrimination against African Americans. The Indiana General Assembly passed laws requiring African Americans to register with county authorities and pay a bond as guarantee of good behavior. They were also prohibited from voting, serving in the state militia, testifying in court cases against white persons, and their children were banned from attending public schools.
Land ownership offered African Americans the opportunity to circumvent this oppression. James Overall, a free black man, purchased land in Corydon, Indiana as early as 1817 before moving and acquiring land in Indianapolis in 1830. The ownership of land afforded him prominence in his community, as did his work as a trustee for the African Methodist Episcopal church.
Overall was also notable for his efforts to aid escaping slaves. One such slave from Tennessee, Jermain Loguen, was told to seek the help of “Mr. Overrals of Indianapolis.” After escaping slavery, Loguen became a well-known New York Underground Railroad activist. He described Overall as “an educated man, and had a large character and acquaintance among colored people; and was much respected by white ones, for his probity, industry and good sense. He received and befriended the fugitives, as was his custom with all other who came to him.”
Indianapolis in the 1830s was a violent place, as described by early Indianapolis historian Ignatius Brown:
The work on the National road . . . had attracted many men of bad character and habits to this point. These, banded together under a leader of great size and strength, were long known as ‘the chain gang,’ and kept the town in a half subjugated state. Assaults were often committed, citizens threatened and insulted, and petty outrages perpetrated.
The events of the night of March 18, 1836 reflected the tense atmosphere. According to Overall, David Leach and other members of a white gang came to Overall’s door carrying arms and fence rails, trying to break into the home and threatening to kill Overall and his family. Overall defended his property and family by shooting the white gang member. White allies came to Overall’s aid and his testimony was corroborated by prominent white Indianapolis citizen Calvin Fletcher.
Despite an 1831 Indiana law that barred black testimony against whites in court, Overall sought legal protection from further attack. His affidavit of the attack put Leach in jail for a short time. He was released on bond, pending a hearing in Marion County Circuit Court. On the first day of the Term, May 2, 1836, Overall declined to proceed with his complaint against Leach. However, public outcry about whether Overall, a black man, could “make an oath against Leach, a white man,” prompted Marion County Circuit Court Judge William W. Wick to write a lengthy statement that was printed May 7, 1836 on the front page of the Indianapolis Journal.
The judge’s opinion affirmed Overall’s “natural rights” to defend his family and property from attack. He wrote:
The sages who formed our constitution did not leave those rights undefined. On the contrary they have declared them in language so clear as to set at defiance the mystification of sophistry, and all perversions, but the blind misapprehensions of visionary philosophy, stupid bigotry, or mistaken violence. The rights thus secured are, 1st. The defence of life and liberty. 2d. The acquisition, possession and protection of property; and 3d. The pursuit and obtention of happiness and safety.
However, Judge Wick’s interpretation of an Indiana law in 1836 did not affect any change in the actual law. African Americans in Indiana continued to be without legal recourse in causes where only black testimony was available against a white party.
*This post is based on research conducted by IHB historian Dani Pfaff for a historical marker commemorating Overall, and can be found here.
George Washington Julian was a radical political leader defined by his strong moral convictions. During a period marked by slavery, Civil War, monopolies, and discrimination against African Americans, immigrants, and women, Julian tirelessly advocated for abolition, equal rights, and land reform. He served as a U.S. representative from 1849-1851, served as an attorney in several fugitive slave cases in the 1850s (one which included a daring escape plan), ran for vice president on the Free Soil ticket in 1852, and again served as a U.S. representative 1861-1871.
Julian was born 1817 in Centerville (then called Centreville), Indiana. He resided there for most of his life and maintained a law practice. Julian was admitted to the Indiana bar in 1840 and practiced law when not serving in Congress. Julian worked within the legal system and various political parties to achieve goals shaped by his moral convictions. His commitment to abolition and equal rights (including equality in land distribution) remained remarkably consistent for over fifty years. In order to pursue reform in those areas, Julian often changed political parties, working with whichever party would advance these goals. He explained his position repeatedly throughout his career in his letters, articles, and speeches, including a description of his conversion to these causes in the Unitarian Review. In 1853 he wrote to fellow abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, “you will not be blinded or disheartened by the irregular ebb and flow of political currents, or by facts which drift about upon their surface, but you will penetrate beneath it, to those great moral tides, which underlie, and heave onward, the political, the religious, and the whole framework of society.” While he modified arguments and approaches he never wavered from working toward equality. In the introduction to a collection of his Speeches on Political Questions, he wrote that “while in a few instances opinions are advanced which have since been modified, my constant and inspiring aim was to declare what I believed to be the truth.” An examination of the table of contents to this collection of speeches shows that he constantly and consistently addressed abolition, equal rights, and land reforms, in Congress and throughout the country. Looking back on his career to 1884, Julian wrote in his Political Recollections, “My triumph had no taint of compromise in it.”
United State House of Representatives, Thirty-First Congress
Julian took office in 1849 as U.S. Representative of the Fourth Indiana Congressional District, a largely Quaker and antislavery area based around Wayne County referred to as the “Burnt District.” Julian was a Free Soil Party leader, a single-issue party dedicated to opposing slavery extension, and later the institution of slavery itself. During his term, he supported legislation providing for abolition and equal access to public lands.
Julian gave several speeches in Congress advocating for the end of slavery and the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. His most poignant speech was likely “The Slavery Question” which he delivered to the House in 1850. He also frequently presented petitions from abolitionist citizens of states across the county where he spoke or attended meetings. In 1851, he presented petitions from citizens of Massachusetts for the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act. Julian also presented a petition from Indiana Quakers “against the existence of slavery generally and particularly against the Fugitive Slave Law.” Julian then requested that the committee to which the petition was referred “report a bill for the repeal of the fugitive slave law.”
In 1851, Julian spoke to Congress about why he supported the Homestead Bill, which would distribute public land in limited quantities freely to settlers who would live on and improve their plot, or “homestead.” Julian argued that all people had an “inalienable” and “natural right” to make a home from the soil. He argued against the contemporary practice of providing large grants to companies and speculators who then required that people work for and rent from them. He referred to land monopolies in the North as “white slavery.” He used the opportunity to make a strong argument against slavery as well. He argued in front of Congress that the vast plantations of rich slave owners were not as productive as they would be if they were broken into plots held by individual owners. Julian said:
“The freedom of the public lands is therefore an anti-slavery measure. It will weaken the slave power by lending the official sanction of the government to the natural right of man, as man, to a home upon the soil, and of course to the fruits of his own labor. It will weaken the system of chattel slavery, by making war upon its kindred system of wage slavery, giving homes and employment to its victims, and equalizing the condition of the people.”
The bill failed in both the House and the Senate. According to historian James L. Roark’s 1968 article in the Indiana Magazine of History, Julian’s abolition argument may have hurt the bill’s chances of passing. Eleven years later however, after Julian’s return to Congress, the Homestead Act was passed.
Nomination for Vice-Presidency, 1852
The 1852 presidential election was mainly a contest between Whig candidate General Winfield Scott and Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce. The Free Soil Party, however was the strongest third party in the running, ahead of the Know-Nothings, Union, and Southern Rights parties. The Free Soil Party named founding member Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire as their candidate and chose George Washington Julian as his running mate. The Free Soilers had little hope of winning. Most people were tired of the agitation around slavery issues and were satisfied by the Compromise of 1850, which temporarily neutralized the problem for many. However, for those morally opposed to slavery, a compromise was unthinkable and so they continued their political agitation for free soil. Wanting to maintain unity for the Union, most people voted for those candidates who supported the Compromise. The Hale-Julian ticket received only 155,825 votes out of over three million cast and no electoral votes. However, the Free Soil Party leaders, including Julian, went on to become essential in the establishment of the new Republican Party only two years later. After the loss, Julian returned to his law practice.
Fugitive Slave Cases
In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act , which not only prohibited Hoosiers from aiding escaping slaves but required them to return self-emancipated African Americans to their enslavers. Many opposed the law and challenged it in the courts. In the 1850s, Julian acted as a lawyer both for African Americans who were claimed as slaves and for those white Hoosiers who had helped slaves escape. According to Julian biographer Patrick W. Riddleberger, “after 1850 a lawyer in any of the states lying on the north shore of the Ohio River could, if he were so inclined, devote some of his practice to fugitive slave cases.”
In December 1854, Julian and E. H. Brackett acted as defense attorneys in a case against Benjamin Waterhouse, who was accused of harboring fugitive slaves named Tom and Jim. Tom and Jim allegedly escaped from Kentucky slave master Daniel Payne and travelled through Indiana to Canada. Waterhouse was found guilty of harboring the men while in Indiana. The law provided for a much harsher penalty, but due to Julian and Brackett’s efforts, Waterhouse served only one hour in prison and paid a $50 fine – a small success for those working to defeat the Fugitive Slave Act.
In December 1857, Julian served as an attorney in a complex set of related cases challenging the Fugitive Slave Act on behalf of an African American man, likely named West. A Kentucky slaveholder named Austin Vallandingham claimed that West was his slave and that he had escaped into Illinois. Vallandingham sent a slavecatcher to apprehend West. When the slavecatcher took West from Illinois, intending to bring him to Kentucky, they passed through Indianapolis. This gave Julian and other abolitionist lawyers an opportunity to challenge the Fugitive Slave Act and possibly aid West. The abolitionists tried several different tactics, and were involved in trials at the local and federal levels. They began by charging Vallandingham with kidnapping a free man. Indianapolis Judge William Wallace released West but he was immediately arrested by a U.S. marshal on charges from Vallandingham of being an escaped slave. Julian and other abolitionists now acted as West’s defense in a trial before U.S. Commissioner John H. Rea. Vallandingham was unable to provide official documentation of ownership and gave inconsistent testimony and evidence throughout the trial. Strangely, in an attempt to prove that West was indeed his slave, Vallandingham testified that he had cut off one of West’s finger joints — but West had no such injury. Among other tactics, the defense tried to delay the case, cited the Dred Scott Case, and argued that by bringing West into Indiana, where slavery was illegal, Vallandingham had unwittingly freed West. Despite their best efforts, the abolitionists were unable to help West. In his Political Recollections, Julian wrote, “After allowing secondary proof where the highest was attainable, and permitting hearsay evidence and mere rumor, the Commissioner [Rea] granted his certificate for the removal of the adjudged fugitive…” When the case was brought again to Judge Wallace, Julian explained that “under cover of an infamous law, and by the help of truculent officials, he [West] was remanded into slavery.”
When all hope of a fair outcome was lost, Julian and others sympathetic to West, attempted to plan his escape. Julian recalled:
“The counsel for the negro, with a dozen or more who joined them, resolved upon one further effort to save him. The project was that two or three men selected for the purpose were to ask of the jailer the privilege of seeing him the next morning and giving him goodbye; and while one of the party engaged the jailer in conversation, the negro was to make for the door, mount a horse hitched near by, and effect his escape… unfortunately [he] mounted the wrong horse…and when he saw the jailer in pursuit, and heard the report of his revolver, he surrendered, and was at once escorted South… This is the only felony in which I was ever involved, but none of the parties has any disposition whatever to confess it at the time.”
United State House of Representatives, Thirty-Seventh through Forty-First Congress
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed slavery into the U.S. Territories. The bill was sponsored by Illinois Democratic Senator Stephen Douglass and supported and signed into law by Democratic President Franklin Pierce. Opposition to the Democratic administration and especially the extension of slavery united various disparate political groups into a new party –called the Republican Party nationally, but called the People’s Party in Indiana. In 1854, the young Indiana party was more conservative than the national Republican Party. The People’s Party resisted adopting the name “Republican” because of its association with the eastern abolition movement that many Hoosiers saw as too radical. Henry S. Lane was essential in organizing the People’s Party in Indiana. Lane’s influence over the older Whigs brought most into the People’s Party, while abolitionists joined because of the anti-Kansas-Nebraska Act platform. A dynamic and popular speaker, Lane also helped to convince many Democrats and Know-Nothings who were opposed to slavery extension to join the People’s Party. With the goal of bringing as many people to the new party as possible, leaders maintained a moderate position in the 1850s, publicaly speaking against only the extension of slavery, not advocating for its abolition. Julian, however, was considered a Radical Republican as he opposed the institution itself and called for abolition.
In Indiana and nationally, many Republican leaders catered to the Know-Nothing members, but Julian vehemently opposed the nativist, xenophobic party. Julian believed that immigrants made the country stronger. In an 1855 speech delivered in Indianapolis, Julian said of immigrants:
“Let them come. Trodden down by kingly power, and hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of our free institutions, let them have a welcome on these shores. Their motive is a very natural and at the same time honorable one, — that of bettering their lot. They prefer our country and its government to every other. . . To proscribe him on account of his birthplace is mean and cowardly as to proscribe him for his religious faith or color of his skin. It is the rankest injustice, the most downright inhumanity”
Julian served as a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention, the first for the newly organized party. In 1860, Julian was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, this time as a Republican. The Goshen (Indiana) Times reported that Julian was elected by a “nearly 6,000 majority” and called him “one of the ablest men in the State.” Other newspapers complained that he was too radically abolitionist and would cause discord in the tentatively united and relatively new Republican Party where many were adamantly anti-African American despite being anti-slavery. Julian arrived in Washington D.C. February 1861, in time for the secession crisis. He opposed compromise measures that would have sacrificed the abolitionist cause to avoid secession. Julian disagreed with abolitionists who would have let the south secede, abandoning four million people into slavery.
During the Civil War, Julian served on the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War which investigated management of the war and encouraged emancipation and employment of African Americans, first as laborers, and later also as soldiers, as means of winning the war. In an 1862 congressional speech, Julian argued: “In the battles of the Revolution, and in the War of 1812, slaves and free men of color fought with a valor unexcelled by white men. Are we afraid that a like honor to the colored man would be repeated, and thus testify against his enslavement?”
Throughout the Civil War, he worked to make clear that slavery was the cause of the war and that only complete freedom for all people would justify the losses caused by that war. In an 1862 speech to Congress printed in the Liberty (Indiana) Weekly Herald, Julian stated:
“Sir, the people of the loyal states understand . . . They know that slavery lies at the bottom of all our troubles. They know that but for this curse this horrid revolt against liberty and law would not have occurred. They know that all the unutterable agonies of our many battlefields, all the terrible sorrows which rend so many thousands of loving hearts, all the ravages and desolation of this stupendous conflict, are to be charged to slavery.”
According to Vernon Burton’s 2001 essay in A Companion to 19th Century America, “Despite the mountains of scholarship that has been produced, no consensus exists on the causes or consequences of the war, except that all serious historians credit slavery as its underlying root.” Julian and other Radical Republicans were ahead of their time in recognizing slavery as the main cause of unrest and war. Once abolition was achieved Julian worked toward rights for African Americans and women, especially that of suffrage. He also fought for the common person’s right to hold land, standing up to large railroad companies that were taking public lands for private use. However, he did see a shift in attitude in his own lifetime. Julian wrote in his Political Recollections, “step by step I saw my constituents march up to my position” and accept that ending slavery was essential to moving forward as a democratic nation.
Julian argued in Congress in support of the Homestead Act in 1862 as a measure to benefit the Union. By this time, land appropriation by railroads, capitalist groups, and speculators had increased and a more effective homestead measure was called for by Republicans. Julian spoke during the debate, advocating for homesteading as the best way to bring money to the Union and repay the nation’s debt to it’s soldiers, black and white. Lincoln signed the Homestead Act May 20, 1862. Julian stated that its passage was “a magnificent triumph of freedom and free labor over the slave power.”
Julian also supported the Second Confiscation Act of 1862 which would confiscate all property from rebels and redistribute it as homesteads for people who had aided the Union – including African American soldiers and laborers. He championed bringing homesteading to the South to break up the plantations, thus destroying both the aristocracy and the land monopolies. Julian furthered his ideas on abolition and land confiscation during a debate in Congress in 1862. He stated that the war was a fight to end slavery and demanded “instant, decisive, defiant action” to emancipate enslaved people (not just a proclamation of emancipation). His plan included: arming freedmen, confiscation of all rebel property, and redistribution of plantation land to freedmen. Redistribution of rebel lands to freedman became one of Julian’s main concerns during the war.
Julian was appointed Chairman of the Committee on Public Lands in December 1863. For the next eight years he used this office to work to combine abolition (later reconstruction) and land reform. Julian presented a sweeping land reform bill to Congress March of 1864, that would redistribute millions of acres of southern land to soldiers and freedmen, a repeal of the joint resolution of the previous year. Julian argued for homesteads for black soldiers in Congress:
“They have enlisted in the service of their country; they are enduring all the perils and hardships of war; they are helping by their valor achieve our victories and save the nation from impending destruction; they are to-day covering themselves with glory under General Grant, in driving back General Lee and his legions . . . Why would [one] . . . refuse to grant them, at the end of the war, a home on the land of their oppressors, who have enslaved their race for more than two hundred years, and at last sought both their lives and the life of the Republic?”
The bill narrowly passed the House May 12, 1864, but before it reached the Senate, the Attorney General ended confiscation. In 1866 Congress passed Julian’s Southern Homestead Bill which gave 50,000,000 acres of public land in the South to homesteaders.
In 1865, Julian argued for suffrage rights for southern blacks. In a speech to Congress, Julian advocated for “the immediate bestowal of the elective franchise on all loyal men of the South, irrespective of color.” According to the Union City (Indiana) Eagle, “Not alone from motive of philanthropy or of exclusive justice to the black man — by the aid of whose blood and toil the rebellion had ultimately prostrated — was this urged, but also from the consideration that the best interests of the entire country, and especially the salvation of the Sothern States, demanded it.” The Indiana State Sentinel reported that Julian made a speech in Muncie in which he said the people of Indiana will have to decide on negro suffrage, not Congress but that he “fully committed himself to the principle of universal suffrage.” While Julian believed in universal suffrage, he worked to achieve the vote for southern blacks first as it was more likely to be granted because northerners worried about southern leaders returning to power. Julian recalled this suffrage campaign in his Political Recollections:
“My task was an arduous one, but I found the people steadily yielding up their prejudices, and ready to lay hold of the truth when fairly and dispassionately presented… The question involved the welfare of both races … not merely the fate of the negro, but the safety of society. It was, moreover, a question of national honor and gratitude, from which no escape was morally possible. To leave the ballot in the hands of the ex-rebels, and withhold it from these helpless millions, would be to turn them over to the unhindered tyranny and misrule of their enemies…and making the condition of the freedmen more intolerable than slavery itself through local laws and police regulations.”
According to the House Journal and Congressional Globe, Julian proposed a constitutional amendment to Congress December 8, 1868 (H.R. 371). The bill was ordered to be printed, but does not appear with the other Bills and Resolutions of the 40th Congress. According to Julian’s Political Recollections, the amendment read: “the right of suffrage in the United States shall be based on citizenship, and shall be regulated by Congress… all citizens of the United States whether native or naturalized shall enjoy this right equally, without any distinction or discrimination whatever founded on race, color or sex.” After the resolution was voted down, Julian attempted to make further inroads for women’s suffrage by presenting more targeted bills, including House Resolution 1530 which would have given the women of the District of Columbia the right to vote, and House Resolution 1531 which would have provided women in the territories with the right to vote. He continued this tactic for the rest of his term in the House. According to the House Journal and the Congressional Globe, Julian introduced another resolution (H. R. 15) during the 41st Congress, First Session, proposing a constitutional amendment granting universal suffrage in the next Congress, which he modeled after the recently passed Fifteenth Amendment. Women were not granted the right to vote until Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
Julian slowed the pace of his work only slightly after he left Congress in 1871. He moved from his long-time home in Centerville to Irvington (Marion County) in 1873. (Julian’s home in the Irvington Historic District still stands). By this time he had become disillusioned with the corruption of the Grant administration, and drifted from the Republican Party to a tentative commitment to the Liberal Republican movement which was working for civil service reform. Julian represented Indiana at the Liberal Republican Convention of 1872 where the other delegates put his name forward as a vice-presidential candidate, but he did not receive the nomination.
At the 1872 Democratic Convention, Julian’s name was put forward as a congressional candidate. While this may seem strange, there are several reason Julian would have been amenable to this proposal. Again, there was his dissatisfaction with the Republican Party, but also Julian had changed his views on southern Democrats drastically. While he called for their punishment immediately following the war, he now felt that the 14th and 15th Amendments had settled the war and the goal should be peace, amnesty, and unity. In many ways, he naively though that his work for equal rights for African Americans had been successful and accomplished. The Liberal Republicans were overwhelmingly defeated in 1872 and Julian moved further toward the Democratic Party. By 1876 he actively campaigned for the Democrats, while stressing his role as an independent voter and political parties as temporary organizations useful only as long as they work for specific goals. Still claiming his independence, Julian campaigned for the Democrats in 1880 and 1884. In 1885 Julian took public office for the last time in his life. President Grover Cleveland appointed him Surveyor General of New Mexico as a reward for his service to the party. He served until 1889, dealing mostly with land claims. In 1889 he moved back to Irvington where he lived relatively privately and quietly until his death in 1899. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.
This blog post is an expanded version of Nicole Poletika’s original marker review essay, which can be viewed here.
The presidency of the United States is seen by many as the ultimate prize in American politics. It has been held by lawyers, philanthropists, and even actors. The State of Indiana has been at the center of presidential history, claiming Hoosier Presidents Benjamin Harrison and his grandfather, William Henry Harrison. However, one year sticks out more for what didn’t happen than what did: 1940.
That year, Hoosier natives Wendell Willkie and Paul V. McNutt, came very close to winning the presidency but ultimately lost, in their own ways, to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). This is the first of two blogs dedicated to the Indiana men who ran for the highest office in America.
Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican Candidate for President, was born in 1892 in Elwood, Indiana. Willkie attended Indiana University, where he became friends with another budding young student, Paul V. McNutt. When McNutt was the President of the Student Union, Willkie was the President of the Jackson Club, a Democratic leaning political group. Their paths continued to cross throughout the rest of their lives. Willkie received his law degree from Indiana University in 1916. In 1929, after practicing law in Akron, Ohio for the Firestone Tire Co, he provided legal counsel for The Commonwealth & Southern Corporation, a large public utilities company, of which he later became president.
After gaining the attention of Republican politicians with his outspoken belief in free enterprise, Willkie was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate to run against FDR in 1940 in what was described by the Indianapolis News as “one of the most dramatic events in American political history.” Despite never holding political office, much like modern Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Willkie was nominated after the sixth ballot was taken at the Republican National Convention. He defeated well-known political figures such as Governor Thomas E. Dewey and Senator Robert A. Taft. It was here that he earned the campaign moniker of “Dark Horse,” since his candidacy was such a political upset. Republicans sought a fresh candidate to represent the party as World War II intensified abroad and Americans became more determined than ever to avoid war at home.
Around this same time, his IU colleague and friend Paul McNutt, dropped out of consideration for the Democratic nomination, giving in to Roosevelt’s desire for an unprecedented third term. Had McNutt been nominated, both major party candidates for President would have been from the State of Indiana.
Despite a well-fought campaign, Willkie lost the election to Roosevelt in alandslide, earning only 82 electoral votes to Roosevelt’s 449. He also lost the popular vote by nearly five million. Many commentators thought that his progressive position on civil rights and support of liberal internationalism alienated him from his party. Voters also struggled to identify his position on major causes because he covered a wide range of issues briefly.
Even though he lost the presidential election in 1940, Willkie and FDR became friends and political allies, as they held similar views on foreign policy and civil rights. In particular, Willkie, both during and after the campaign, went against many in his party with his support of FDR’s policy to dispatch war aid to Britain in 1940, as opposed to fighting abroad or remaining isolated from the war. Historian Justin H. Libby describes Willkie’s support of war aid as the “forerunner of the bipartisan policy.”
Willkie’s support for aid eventually gained favor among the general public, allowing FDR to pass the Lend-Lease Bill in 1941, which postponed U.S. involvement in the war. He also served the President by traveling the globe as a U.S. emissary to observe the war abroad and meet with foreign leaders, reporting on his experiences. As an internationalist, Willkie worked for “world peace,” presenting a bipartisan resolution to the Republican National Committee in 1942 that was eventually passed.
On the home front, Willkie avidly defended the rights of African Americans and publicly advocated for the improved housing, education and health of black citizens. He was widely concerned with the treatment of African Americans in the Armed Forces, arguing in various articles that they should be afforded the same freedom at home that they fought for abroad.
In his 1944 article “Citizens of Negro Blood” for Collier’s Magazine, Willkie stated that World War II “has made us conscious of the contradictions between our treatment of our Negro minority and the ideals for which we are fighting. The equitable treatment of racial minorities in America is basic to our chance for a just and lasting peace.” He appealed to political figures to strengthen anti-lynching measures and to eliminate state poll taxes that often prevented African Americans from voting. Willkie ultimately brought attention to the struggles of all minority citizens, arguing in the New York Times that they were “rich assets of democracy.”
Willkie sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1944, but dropped out of the race in April after a poor showing in the Wisconsin primaries. Constant comparisons to FDR, his liberal stance on civic and international issues, and general independence from other Republican members resulted in the loss of party support.
Willkie died October 8, 1944 and was buried in East Hill Cemetery in Rushville, Indiana. President Roosevelt issued a statement honoring Willkie as “one of the great men of our time.” In addition to the memorial erected at his gravesite, memorials to Willkie were dedicated in Elwood and in the State House Rotunda in Indianapolis. The Willkie Memorial Building, created to serve as a center for the Freedom House and other causes he supported, was dedicated in New York on the first anniversary of his death. Willkie, with the support of Eleanor Roosevelt, helped established Freedom House in 1941 as an organization that could “strengthen human rights and civil liberties in the United States.” As of 2016, the Freedom House still advocates for human rights.
Wendell Willkie’s ambitions for the White House never materialized, but his influence on American politics can still be felt, especially in his stances on international relations, civil rights, business, and foreign policy. His friendship and support of Franklin Roosevelt, even after losing to him, benefited the country during wartime. Willkie was a results man; he believed deeply in the power of institutions and people to get the job done right, whether in politics or in business. His bipartisanship and amiable demeanor earned him respect from leaders all across the country. In the end, the “Dark Horse” became a statesman on par with almost any President.
Whenever the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and the State of Indiana are mentioned together, it is usually in reference to the mobbing of Douglass at Pendleton. Interestingly, were it not for a typographical error, a Westfield man would be included in the historic accounts as one of the defenders of Douglass. However, even aside from his brush with history, Micajah C. White and his connection to the anti-slavery movement make for an inspiring story.
The story of Douglass’ assault is well known. In 1843, he was on a speaking tour of the midwestern states. He and several members of the New England Anti-Slavery Society were trying to rouse abolitionist support in what was then considered the Western U.S. Regrettably, they were met with hostility and threats. On September 16, they were to speak at a church meeting in Pendleton. As they tried to speak, a mob stormed the platform, tearing it down and attacking the speakers. Douglass attempted to defend himself and the others by grabbing a club and swinging it vigorously. However, a stone was thrown, breaking his hand, and another stone knocked him briefly unconscious. Eventually the mob relented, and the party retreated to a safe house.
In Douglass’s autobiography, My Life and Times (1881), he used a curious sentence to describe what happened, saying, “They tore down the platform on which we stood, assaulted Mr. White and knocked out several of his teeth, dealt a heavy blow on William A. White, striking him on the back part of the head, badly cutting his scalp and felling him to the ground.” Most historians have assumed that it was William A. White of Massachusetts who received this terrible beating alone. However, it turns out that an overzealous editor simply trimmed someone out of the manuscript.
Other sources supply the name. William A. White himself wrote a description of the event in the October 13, 1843 issue of the newspaper The Liberator. Indiana Quaker abolitionist Levi Coffin mentions it in his Reminiscences published in 1876. Frederick Douglass himself mentions it in an August, 1889 article for Cosmopolitan. After Douglass died in February of 1895, Thomas Lindley of Westfield and J. B. Lewis of Fall Creek Township wrote down their memories of the incident which were published in the local papers. Lindley’s father had been at the meeting and had gotten his hat knocked off. Lewis did not witness the assault, but he was able to see Douglass speak a few nights later at Jonesboro, Indiana. According to all of these people, the injured man was Micajah C. White of Westfield, Indiana. This would explain the odd sentence in the autobiography. Obviously, someone was confused by the two men named White.
Unfortunately this confusion has obscured Micajah White’s involvement, a man who deserves to be mentioned with the early abolitionists. He was born in New Garden, North Carolina in 1819 to a family of staunch Quakers with strong abolitionist leanings. His father’s sister married Levi Coffin, the famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. The family moved from North Carolina to Milford, Indiana, in 1827, and from there to Hamilton County. In 1833, the Whites were founding members of the Spiceland Quaker Meeting and in 1838, at the age of 19, Micajah was appointed recorder of Meeting Minutes. Sometime in the 1840’s, he married his first wife, Elizabeth. In 1845, his sister Martha began keeping a diary, which presents a clear picture of the family’s fortunes.
Micajah, or “M.C.” as his family called him, joined the newly formed Anti-Slavery Meeting in Eagletown in 1845, two years after the assault. This was a group of dissident Quakers who felt they needed to take a proactive stance on the ending of slavery. These people were the ones most commonly involved in the local Underground Railroad. M.C. was disowned by the Spiceland Meeting for this action.
It seems to be obvious that M.C. would be involved in the Underground Railroad. There is the standard problem that, because it was a secret organization, there is little written evidence of its activities. However, Levi Coffin reported in his Reminiscences that M.C. did assist him.
The only local story that survives about M.C.’s activities in the UGRR involves a slave woman who reached Westfield just a step ahead of slave-hunters sometime around 1850. M.C.’s mother, Louisa White, owned an inn and the fugitive was placed in hiding there just as the slave-hunters happened to walk in and asked for food and lodging. Mrs. White calmly served them and then dressed the slave woman in some of her own clothes, including a large bonnet. The two of them coolly walked past the hunters and over to her son M.C.’s house, where the woman was helped on her way.
Of course, there were other concerns in M.C.’s life. His daughter, Madeline, had been born in 1851. His second child, Eugene, was born in January of 1852. Tragically, his wife died in March and his son died in April of that year. He had to balance his own grief with the lives of the people he was assisting.
M.C. was recognized as a key figure in the local anti-slavery movement. His mother’s brother, William Bundun, died in 1855. M.C. and Martha’s husband, Aaron Talbert, were witnesses of his will. After making bequeaths to his wife and children, Bundun said, “I direct also that the sum of 100 dollars when collected by placed in the hands of Micajah C. White or Aaron V. Talbert for the purpose of aiding or assisting destitute fugitive slaves on their way in making their escape from slavery to a land of Liberty – to Canada”. The Talbert and White families were very close. When M.C. remarried in 1856, his new wife was Aaron’s sister, Patience.
Because of their abolitionist sympathies, the Whites were probably more aware of national affairs than most people. The execution of John Brown on Dec. 2 1859, takes up two pages in Martha Talbert’s diary. It was particularly sad for her because it was the same date that her adored infant daughter had died seven years before. M.C. and Aaron Talbert went to the Republican National Convention in Chicago in May of 1860. It is unknown whether they attended as delegates or just spectators. This was, of course, the convention where Abraham Lincoln was nominated to the presidency.
While at the Convention, Underground Railroad activity continued at home and Martha Talbert possibly referenced escaped slaves in her diary. She refers to the people as “Kentucky refugees” and simply states that they are staying there. Any more detail probably would have been dangerous to write down.
When the Civil War started in April of 1861, members of the White family left the Quaker church and joined the Army. M.C.’s brother Isaac joined the 12th Indiana Infantry, a one-year regiment. In 1862, he re-enlisted and joined the 101st Indiana and was appointed a Second Lieutenant. The regiment saw action in Kentucky and Tennessee and Isaac was later promoted to Captain. Another brother, Mordecai, became a recruiter for one of the new black regiments. He traveled to Vicksburg in 1864 to try to enlist ex-slaves. He finally enlisted himself in March of 1865 at about the same time Isaac was discharged for disability.
M.C. probably would have been more proactive at the beginning of the war, but was suffering from a series of lung ailments. In 1862, he became the Military Agent for Washington Township. The job of the Military Agent was to assist the families of soldiers who may have been suffering while the breadwinner was away from home. Then in October of 1863, M.C. decided to move his family to Minneapolis, Minnesota, probably for better economic opportunity. Whatever the reason, he was eventually joined by his sister Martha’s family, his mother, and the rest of his brothers and sisters. They prospered there and M.C. became a druggist. He died at the age of 70 on March 31, 1889, six years before Frederick Douglass.
Check out Part I to learn about Bill Garrett’s time on the Shelbyville High School basketball team, the “gentleman’s agreement,” and Garrett’s entry in Big Ten basketball. Or check out our podcast!
In an oral history interview in June 1970, Bill Garrett reflected on his early experiences at IU and on the school’s varsity basketball team. Garrett noted that “it was somewhat of an adjustment as far as the team players were concerned” and that it made things “rough at the start.” Despite encountering discrimination from some of the squad’s older players and while on the road for away games, Garrett quickly made a name for himself on IU’s team. In a February 1949 article, the Bloomington Daily Herald commended Garrett on his talent, and noted the positive impact that he and other young players were having on the team. By the end of the season, Garrett had tallied 220 points, the highest total on the squad that season. This success continued into his junior and senior years, with newspapers commenting on his speed and play-making ability. In a January 5, 1950 article, the Wisconsin State Journal reported:
Indiana’s attack is built around William Garrett, a lithe Negro who stands only 6-2 1/2 but plays offensive center. He is quick as a cat and has a devastating one-handed shot.
The following month, the Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper, referred to him as “the most spectacular member on the team coached by Branch McCracken.”
During Garrett’s time on the varsity basketball squad, the team’s record improved greatly. According to the Indiana Basketball Men’s Database, in the 1947-1948 season, the year before Garrett joined the team, IU won only eight games and lost twelve. The following season, Garrett’s first with the varsity squad, they improved to fourteen wins, and by his senior year (1950-1951), they went 19-3 and were ranked seventh in the nation.
Much of the team’s success during this period stemmed from Garrett’s talent on the court. On March 6, 1951, the Jasper Daily Herald reported that Garrett had broken IU’s four-year career scoring record with a total of 792 points in only three seasons of play. His 193 Big Ten points during the 1950-1951 season also broke the old record set in the 1946-1947 season.
On February 24, 1951, the Indianapolis Recorder announced that Sporting News, a well-respected sports publication in the country, named Garrett to its All-American team. The Recorder quoted sportswriter Cy Kritzer in its February 24, 1951 issue regarding the selection. Kritzer remarked:
“Above all, he [Garrett] was a playmaker. The game has none better than the Hoosier star on the fast break.”
Just a few weeks later, the United Press named Garrett a second-team All-American. The All-American team was selected by a poll of the nation’s leading sportswriters and radio broadcasters. Garrett’s teammates also voted him Most Valuable Player of the season.
While at IU, Garrett was the only African American to play on a Big Ten varsity basketball team. On March 11, 1950, the Indianapolis Recorder published an article entitled “Bill Garrett Needs Company” in which it reported that Garrett was disappointed about being the only black basketball player in the conference. The article noted that in addition to Indiana University, DePauw, Earlham, and Anderson College all had African American students on their teams that season, and it encouraged Big Ten schools to follow their lead. However, by the following year, as Garrett’s final college basketball season was coming to an end, some feared that the Big Ten might revert to an all-white status again.
In their book Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball, Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody note that African Americans John Codwell at the University of Michigan and Rickey Ayala at Michigan State were playing freshman basketball during Garrett’s senior year. At this time, freshman could not play on varsity teams except for the 1951-1952 season, which included an exception because the Korean War made it difficult to field a team.
Although no African American players joined him at the varsity level before he graduated, Garrett’s example on and off the court helped create opportunities for others in the future. On March 6, 1951, with his college career winding down, the Indiana Daily Student ran an article on Garrett, noting the school body’s pride in him and how much he would be missed the next year. According to the paper, Garrett was “one fine model for a young athlete to pattern himself after.” At a time when segregation was still practiced in many areas of the state, and black athletes were still scarce in certain sports, this was saying a lot. It was a testament to both his talent and character, and again called into question why blacks should not be permitted to play Big Ten basketball.
Garrett graduated from IU with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education in June 1951. In the season immediately following his graduation, at least seven black basketball players made Big Ten teams. On November 17, 1951, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Ernie Hall had become the first African American basketball player at Purdue, and that Bob Jewell, who played at Crispus Attucks, made the University of Michigan’s team. In January 1952, the Recorder noted that in addition to Jewell, Michigan had two other African American players that season: Don Eaddy and Jonn Codwell. The paper traced this progress back to Bill Garrett, stating:
Following the path opened by Bill Garrett at Indiana University, sepia cagers are now making Big 10 and other leading teams in increasing numbers.
Likewise, the Capitol Times of Madison, Wisconsin also credited Garrett, noting that he was “the Jackie Robinson of the cage court” and that he had “blazed the way for others of his race in the college game this season.” Other African American players during the 1951-1952 year included Rickey Ayala at Michigan State, Walt Moore at Illinois, and Deacon Davis at Iowa. Notre Dame also challenged the color barrier at the school during this period, with African Americans Joe Bertrand and Entee Shine joining the Irish squad.
Though racial prejudice in sports did not end, black players continued to find success on Big Ten and other Midwest basketball teams.
On May 5, 1951, Bill Garrett was drafted by the Boston Celtics to play in the NBA. Though the league was still in its infancy, it was already attracting some of the best players from around the country. Again Garrett’s selection was a testament to his talent on the court. According to the Indianapolis Recorder, Garrett “found himself the only Negro among 86 stars who were drafted” to play professional basketball that year. However, Garrett would never get his opportunity to join the team. On August 25, 1951, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that he had been drafted into the U.S. Army. The Korean War (1950-1953) was already in full swing by this time, and Garrett was ordered to report for induction into the Army by September 7.
It is unclear when the Celtics released Garrett. According to a March 29, 1952 article in the Indianapolis Recorder, Garrett took his regular Army furlough with the Harlem Globetrotters in April of that year. One year later, on September 26, 1953, the Recorder reported that he was discharged from the Army and signed a contract to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. According to Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody, NBA teams limited the number of African American players on their rosters during this period and the Celtics already had two others.
Garrett played with the Globetrotters until 1955, when he decided to leave the team. According to his wife, Betty Garrett Inskeep, “he wasn’t happy playing for them. He was a very easygoing person, but he was competitive when you’re supposed to be competitive, so what the Globetrotters did did not suit him at all.”
Two years later, on July 13, 1957, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Garrett had been hired to succeed Ray Crowe as head basketball coach at Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. Garrett had his work cut out for him. Crowe had led the all-black high school to the state basketball title in 1955 and 1956.
In his first year on the job, Garrett helped the team win its sixth straight sectional crown. Just one year later, he coached Attucks to the state championship, again bringing glory to the school. The Indiana Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association named Garrett Coach of the Year soon after the tournament.
Garrett coached Attucks for ten years before assuming the position of athletic director at the school in 1968. In 1974, he was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Sadly, Garrett died of a heart attack just a few months later, on August 7, 1974, at the age of 45. He was assistant dean for student services at IUPUI at the time of his death.
Though his name is not as widely recognized as Jackie Robinson’s or other pioneers in race relations, Garrett’s influence and contributions in helping to diminish racial discrimination in both high school and college basketball in the mid-1900s should not be forgotten.
Be sure to follow IHB’s Facebook page for information on the upcoming dedication of a new state historical marker to commemorate Garrett and the integration of Big Ten basketball later this year.
In 1947, Jackie Robinson made history when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. Robinson set the precedent, and in the years following, many African American players would follow his lead to join big league teams. In 1948, just one year after Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers, Indiana witnessed its own trailblazer in sports, as Shelbyville’s Bill Garrett broke the ironically named “gentleman’s agreement” that had barred African Americans from playing Big Ten college basketball (the Big Ten became the Big Nine in 1946 when the University of Chicago withdrew its membership. In 1949, Michigan State College – now Michigan State University – joined the conference, and it again assumed the name the Big Ten).
Bill Garrett was born in 1929, at a time when segregation and racial discrimination were rampant in Indiana. The Indianapolis Times had just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for exposing the Ku Klux Klan’s influence in state politics the year before, and just one year later the state would experience the horrific lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion. In their thoroughly researched book Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball, authors Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody note that Shelbyville avoided much of the racial violence that other Indiana communities experienced at this time, but that segregation was nevertheless commonplace. Garrett, like other African Americans there, attended the segregated Booker T. Washington Elementary School, and when he entered Shelbyville High School in the 1940s, he was one of only a few black students in his class.
Despite this, Garrett became widely recognized for his skills on the basketball court, and by his senior year in high school (1946-1947), he was one of the star players on Shelbyville’s varsity basketball team. Newspapers across the state praised him for his play. On January 9, 1947, one day after Garrett helped lead the Shelbyville Golden Bears to a decisive 59-40 victory over Greencastle, the Greencastle Daily Banner recognized him as “one of the smoothest performers and best shots” to appear on the Greencastle court over the years. He was quick, clever, and had a “natural talent” for the game. Many regarded him as the second Johnny Wilson. Wilson, also African American, had graduated the year before from Anderson High School, where he led the team to the state basketball title and was named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball.” The Indianapolis Recorder noted the similarities between the two in a March 22, 1947 article, stating that the resemblance in their play was “uncanny.”
The mark of greatness, however, in Garrett as in Wilson, is the ability to sweep through the opposition and turn a stalemated contest into a rout. It is that extra speed and split-second timing which stamps an all-state player as distinguished from a good player. It is cool floor-generalship and flawless ball-handling – and Garrett has them all.
When the 1947 Indiana high school basketball tournament kicked off in late February that year, 781 teams competed for a shot at the title. Despite the odds, Garrett, along with starters Emerson Johnson, Marshall Murray, Hank Hemingway, and Bill Breck, helped lead Shelbyville to the school’s first basketball championship. On March 22, Shelbyville defeated the East Chicago Washington Senators 54-46 and advanced to the title game where they beat undefeated Terre Haute Garfield 68-58.
At a time when segregation was prevalent in the state, Shelbyville’s team featured three African American starters: Murray, Johnson, and Garrett, each of whom had captured the hearts of Shelbyville fans.
Garrett had set a new individual state tournament scoring record during the competition. His 91 points in the final four games broke the 85-point record set by Johnny Wilson the year before. And like Wilson, he too was named “Mr. Basketball” for the season.
After the 1947 title game, many wondered where Garrett would continue his basketball career. Despite the fact that he, Wilson, and other African American players were leading their teams to high school titles and were considered some of the best players in the state, the “gentleman’s agreement” barred them from playing college basketball on Big Ten varsity teams into the late 1940s. Reports out of Indiana University at this time note that there was “no written rule in the Big Ten regarding participation in athletics. The unwritten rule subscribed to by all schools precludes colored boys from participating in basketball, swimming, and wrestling.”
In the years following, many would question the inconsistency of this rule, as blacks participated in football and other Big Ten sports during this period. Some speculated that the reason for the discrepancy was that basketball was played in more intimate settings with briefer uniforms, thus increasing the chance of contact between white players’ and black players’ skin.
Referred to as the” gentleman’s agreement,” the “unwritten rule,” or the “lily-white rule,” the color line in basketball came under increasing attack throughout the 1940s as more and more talented black players were being overlooked solely because of their race. In 1944, African American Richard (Dick) Culbertson played varsity at the University of Iowa, but coaches largely regarded his participation as an exception rather than the rule. Culbertson was a substitute rather than a starter, and wartime conditions had made it more difficult to field a team, leading to slightly relaxed rules.
On March 25, 1947, after watching Bill Garrett, Emerson Johnson, and Marshall Murray help Shelbyville win the state championship, John Whitaker of the Hammond Times wrote an open letter to the commissioner of the Big Ten in which he asked why the “unwritten agreement” existed:
If the biggest, braggingest athletic conference in the middle of the greatest country in the world can use Negroes like Buddy Young, Ike Owen, Dallas Ward, Duke Slater, George Taliaferro and the like to draw $200,000 crowds for football . . . and Negroes like Jesse Owen[s] and Eddie Tolan to win Olympic crowns . . . why can’t it use them in basketball.
In June 1947, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that despite Garrett’s hopes to play Big Ten basketball at IU or Purdue, the “gentleman’s agreement” might force him to continue his career in California. The news disappointed many who had hoped to see Garrett stay in state, and prompted Recorder writer Charles S. Preston to call out the state and the Big Ten conference in hopes of bringing an end to the ban:
What in Hades is the matter with the Hoosier state, when we are going to let one of our best basketball players of all time get away from us, and go out to California to play! And all because of a ridiculous ‘unwritten law’ that doesn’t begin to make sense!
Though some denied that such an agreement barring blacks from Big Ten basketball existed, the continued absence of African Americans on these teams indicated otherwise.
Fearful that Garrett would be bypassed by Big Ten teams like others before him, black leaders in Indianapolis banded together in order to persuade IU to give him an opportunity to make the school’s team. Faburn DeFrantz, Executive Director of the Senate Avenue YMCA in Indianapolis, spearheaded the effort, and in the months following the 1947 state high school tournament, he and other black leaders drove down to Bloomington to meet with IU President Herman B Wells on Garrett’s behalf.
President Wells was eager to end racial discrimination and segregation at IU, and had already been doing so quietly in other parts of the campus at this time. After meeting with DeFrantz and the others, Wells asked IU basketball coach Branch McCracken to give Garrett a chance to make the team, noting that he would handle any potential backlash from other Big Ten coaches.
In DeFrantz’s unpublished autobiography, excerpts of which were obtained by Graham and Cody during their research, DeFrantz acknowledges Wells’ role in helping to break down racial barriers at IU:
In Indiana University’s President Herman B Wells democracy found an ally. No overhaul of policy such as that accomplished at Indiana University could have been possible without the cooperation he gave.
In an October 4, 1947 article, the Indianapolis Recorder praised DeFrantz and others for their efforts to get Garrett to IU and recognized them as “key figures in the victory for democracy.” In January 1949, during Garrett’s first season on the varsity team, the Recorder named DeFrantz to its 1948 Race Relations Honor Roll, noting his unremitting campaign to help end racial discrimination in sports. Two years later, Garrett would also be named to this Honor Roll.
Garrett was admitted to IU in the fall of 1947 and played one year on the freshman basketball squad. He made his regular-season varsity debut in December 1948 as IU beat DePauw 61-48. In doing so, he became the first African American player on an IU varsity basketball team. More importantly, the Recorder recognized on December 11, 1948, that “Garrett’s entry into the Big Nine ranks may prove to be the beginning of the end for an anti-Negro ‘gentleman’s agreement’. . .”
Integration in basketball, both at the high school and eventually the college level went a long way in improving race relations in the state, as fans cheered their teams to victory regardless of the color of their players’ skin. On February 18, 1950, the Recorder reported on the influence that sports had on blurring the color line, stating:
Race prejudice, too, has generally been given the bum’s rush by the fans who lose sight of everything but the fortunes of OUR TEAM. The performances of such athletes as Bill Garrett, Johnny Wilson, and a host of others have probably done as much as anything else to kill the Ku Klux Klan spirit in Indiana. A quick field goal by a Negro player will do more to “convert” the ordinary Hoosier than all the Race Relations Days in a century.
Garrett helped “convert” thousands in Shelbyville and across the state during his high school years and he would work to do the same while playing at IU.
Check out Part II coming later this week to learn about Garrett’s achievements while on IU’s squad, his impact on other African-American players, and his career after graduating.
Learn about Charlestown’s rapid transformation resulting from the WWII smokeless powder plant in Part I.
Employment of women and African Americans at the Charlestown smokeless powder ordnance facility, groups that often faced exclusion or discrimination in the workplace, contributed to the plant’s nationally-recognized production accomplishments.
WWII defense needs quickly brought women into the labor force, particularly later in the war as men left factories to enter into combat. The New York Times reported on October 19, 1941 that “entry of women into the defense factories of the nation is something that is just beginning on a considerable scale . . . now they are utilized for a wide variety of tasks by at least nineteen large plants.” The article asserted that women surpassed male workers in “finger dexterity” and “powers of observation” and possessed “superior traits in number memory,” completing tasks like painting planes, covering oil lines and packing powder bags. The article also reported that thousands of women had begun to produce smokeless powder at plants in Indiana, Alabama and Virginia and that “care is taken to select only women who are emotionally stable for these hazardous tasks.”
As with the nation, Indiana began employing women en masse at munitions factories and by 1944 the Indianapolis Star reported that while industrial work was once considered “unsuitable for women . . . this view has been abandoned since employers have found that women can and have been willing to adjust themselves to practically any type of labor if given the opportunity.”
Women were hired in large numbers at Charlestown’s ordnance facility and, while originally serving as mail runners and lab technicians, they eventually replaced men as powder cutting machine attendants. The bag-loading plant known as HOP employed 3,200 workers by December 1941, most of whom were women, who sewed bags and packed them with powder. By 1942, so many women worked at the Charlestown plants that the town had to rapidly expand child care facilities, enlarging the community center nursery at Pleasant Ridge Project.
In addition to child care, transportation proved an obstacle to women hoping to enter Charlestown’s workforce. The Charlestown Courier reported that women were prohibited from riding the “four special trains bringing employes to the Powder Plant. They have to find some other way to get to their jobs here.” Additionally, the New York Times reported that women working industrial jobs made “only about 60 percent of that of men doing comparable work.”
“Trailer wives” in Charlestown felt they too contributed to defense efforts by relocating their families to ordnance towns where their husbands found employment. The Indianapolis Star described these women as a “gallant band who ‘follow construction’ in order to keep the family life being lived as a unit and not subject themselves and their husbands to the hardships of separation.”
Much like women in WWII, defense needs partially opened the labor force to African Americans. A questionnaire from the Indiana State Defense Council reported that from July 1, 1941 to July 1, 1942 those firms reporting African American employment experienced a net increase of 82% in the number of blacks employed. Initially African Americans worked at Charlestown’s smokeless powder plant primarily in janitorial and unskilled fields. However, by the end of 1942, due to a labor shortage, they found employment in various roles, such as chemists, plant laborers, and plant operators.
Former plant employees stated in interviews that they witnessed little or no segregation, but that separate restrooms may have existed at one time. However, housing and schooling for African Americans in Charlestown was segregated and often in poor condition. Due to protests by some white residents regarding mixed housing units, a section of 130 units were separated for black workers with a 300 foot wide area. A 1942 Louisville Courier-Journal article about the deplorable state of Clark County African-American schools, particularly in Charlestown Township, stated that grade school students:
were broken out in a rash of goose pimples yesterday morning as they shivered at their antiquated desks. . . . A not unbitter wind whistled thru broken window panes and thru cracks in the walls of the sixty-five year old frame building as twenty-three students . . . huddled together and with stiffened fingers signed up for a year of ‘education.’
The boom afforded limited employment opportunities for African Americans outside the plant, despite earlier employer prejudice, which often barred them from working at local Charlestown businesses.
In the spring of 1945, after deliberation by the Army, War Production Board, and union officials, approximately 1,000 German prisoners of war were transferred to Charlestown to supplement construction of the rocket powder plant (IOW2), the third WWII ordnance plant at the facility. The Charlestown Courier described the POWs:
“Far from supermen, the German POWs employed on the Rocket Plant are predominantly youthful, many never having required a razor to date. They seem to be in good spirits and are healthy and husky. A surprisingly large number speak English and don’t hesitate to say they would rather remain in this country.”
The Indianapolis Star reported on August 19, 1945 that the POWs had left the plant and returned to Fort Knox and other camps where they were “obtained.” Newspapers located by IHB staff did not report on the POWs’ contributions, but Steve Gaither and Kimberly Kane state in their report on the facility that it was “doubtful that the POWs contributed directly to construction.”
The massive Charlestown ordnance facility produced more than one billion pounds of smokeless powder in World War II, nearly as much as the “total volume of military explosives made for the United States in World War I” (Indianapolis Star Magazine, 1948). Output levels were so high that the military nationally recognized the facility’s production and safety records, conferring upon the plant the Army-Navy “E” Award, awarded to only 5% of the estimated war plants in the country during WWII.
National munitions production wound down with termination of the two-front war, which concluded first on May 7, 1945 with German surrender and Japan’s informal agreement to surrender on August 14, 1945. The plants at Charlestown gradually reduced payroll in August before eventually shutting down. The Richmond Palladium noted that after reductions “scarcely a wheel turned, or a hammer fell. Now there are just a few thousand ‘running out’ the powder which was in process, and putting the whole installation in weather-tight conditions.”
The Indianapolis Star reported on August 19 of that year that Charlestown is “dying with the same gusto with which it was born.” The Richmond Palladium described Charlestown folding up “like an Arabian tent village,” as trailer caravans departed and workers returned to various states across the nation. Although the abrupt exodus shocked local residents, worried about maintaining their postwar economy, a trickle of new residents soon arrived, including veterans and their families. Boom town activity returned to Charlestown during the Korean and Vietnam wars when the ordnance facility again began producing powder, reuniting workers from the WWII era.
Charlestown’s 1940s ordnance plants illustrated how WWII energized local economies and afforded women and African Americans job opportunities. Accommodating the massive facility transformed Charlestown from a town to a city and led to its first sewage system,the resurfacing and improvement of miles of roads, and two major housing projects.