Transcription of Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings
Written by Lindsey Beckley
Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss
Voice actor reading newspaper headlines: Jackie Robinson hits bias in Monster Meeting talk. Secretary of State to talk at Monster Meeting at YMCA. Monster Meeting series schedule famous persons. Noted engineer to speak for YMCA. Martin Luther King like Moses. International singer to speak at Monster Meeting. Young Scientist on Monster Meeting. Educator of International fame opens Monster Meeting Governor Schriker to address Monster Meeting at YMCA.
[Talking Hoosier History theme music]
Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start talking Hoosier history. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.
[Talking Hoosier History theme music]
Lindsey Beckley: Before we get to the topic on hand, I wanted to give a bit of a disclaimer. In this episode, as in most episodes, we’ll be using quotes from early and mid-twentieth century newspapers. Some of the language in those excerpts concerning race, while widely used at that time, would not be acceptable today. In the interest of preserving the historical authenticity of these sources, we have left them unchanged and uncensored, but please know that we do not condone nor would we use this language.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, young men flocked to the bustling metropolis of London, England in search of jobs in the growing industrial sector. While they found their way into the factories, they also discovered the city’s more unsavory gathering places, like brothels and taverns, and one suspects, a decent amount of trouble.
One London newcomer, George Williams, dreamed of a more wholesome gathering place for these young industrial workers with the idea that, given a suitable alternative, they would steer clear of London’s underbelly. In 1844 those ideas came to fruition with the establishment of the Young Men’s Christian Association, otherwise known as the YMCA.
By 1851, less than a decade later the new association had spread around the world with chapters in Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Two years later a formerly enslaved man, Anthony Bowen organized the first YMCA serving African American men and boys in Washington D.C. For nearly a century afterwards the United States YMCA would promote, but not mandate, segregated facilities for its black and white members.
White YMCA activities in central Indiana can be traced back as far as 1854. In the early years, up until the late 1880s, black men weren’t officially barred from membership, as in, there was no rule on the books saying they weren’t allowed…but none had actually tried to join so the issue hadn’t been raised. In 1888, two or three black men attempted to join the Indianapolis Y. When their applications were denied, the de facto segregation of the Indianapolis YMCA was brought into sharp focus and it became clear that African Americans would not be welcomed in the association, weather there was an official rule or not.
In 1900, a group of African Americans formed a Young Men’s Prayer Band in Indianapolis. Two years later, the band merged into a “colored Y.M.C.A.” The establishment of this YMCA provided facilities for those men who had been excluded from the central organization. In an Indiana Magazine of History article, Dr. Stanley Warren points out that “the necessity of finding a way to survive within a limiting system driven by segregationist tendencies has been the base from which many great African-American traditions and organizations have begun.” In the capital city, the organization then called “The Indianapolis Colored YMCA” is a shining example of this. Emerging due to the discriminatory practices of Indianapolis, this branch of the “Y” would become one of the largest and most influential black YMCAs in the country.
Beckley: Before that could happen though, they needed a building able to accommodate their rapidly growing membership. By 1911, just 9 years after its formation, the YMCA outgrew its building located at California and North Streets in the city. To remedy this, they proposed the construction of a new building.
The estimated building cost was $100,000, a figure that seemed unobtainable to many in the community, where even the working professionals were barely getting by due to the limited job opportunities available to them. Fortunately, just as the YMCA members began planning their fund raising strategy, they gained a rather unlikely ally in a white, Jewish, Chicago businessman. Julius Rosenwald, part-owner of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, announced that he would give $25,000 to any community able to rise $75,000 towards the construction of a Colored Young Men’s Christian Association building.
With this motivation, the members of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA joined forces with the white members of the Central YMCA for what would be an incredible fund raising push. Two teams were formed, one for the white members and one for the black, and they set out on their mission. In just 10 days, the $75,000 goal was surpassed.
On July 28, 1912 with a crowd of over 5,000 people in attendance YMCA committee men broke ground on the site of the new building. Three months later another celebration with thousands of spectators was held for the laying of the cornerstone. Construction was completed on the building, located at the corner of Michigan Street and Senate Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, in July, 1913.
Beckley: YMCA members held a week of festivities and ceremonies in celebration of the opening of the new Senate Avenue Y, including a ladies night, a fraternal night, and athletic night. The highlight of the week, though, was Tuesday July 8 – the official dedication, which featured an address by Booker T. Washington, civil rights activist and founder of Tuskegee institute.
In his address, Washington commended the citizens of the city, black and white, for banding together to make the Senate Avenue Y a reality. Then, he said:
Voice actor reading from Washington: I am proud of being a member of the Negro race and never more so than tonight. I spurn the men who sympathize with me because I am a member of the Negro race. We have work to do and difficulties to overcome…Let the white people know about the good deeds in our race. In too many cases white people hear only of crime. They do not hear about the hard-working, industrious, sober colored men, and Indianapolis has many of the latter class.
Beckley: In many cases, African American churches were at the heart of the community. The Indianapolis Colored YMCA, itself a Christian organization, became another center of the African American community in Indianapolis. The Y opened at the tail end of a major influx of African Americans to the city following the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the 40 years between 1860 and 1900, the African American population of Indianapolis grew 3000 percent. White residents did not welcome these newcomers. Oftentimes, they were relegated to segregated areas of the city due to housing discrimination and exclusion from facilities. Indiana Avenue was at the center of the largest African American community in the city, with 30,000 black residents living within a 10 mile radius of the Avenue by the 1950s.
Majority black neighborhoods such as this did not have access to the same social, recreational, and charitable organizations as the white communities. Because of these segregationist policies, black communities had long provided these things for themselves, often led by their churches. This is where the Senate Avenue Y stepped in, building on and expanding the work of African American churches. The Y was located in the heart of the Indiana Avenue African American community and offered adult education classes, held bible studies, provided meeting space for a variety of organizations, and even established an amateur basketball team. These programs, according to historians, “fostered self-respect and self-reliance and tried to provide young men with proper role models and male companionship…[they] served as sanctuaries which preserved African American Masculinity and prepared black men and boys for their leadership role in the struggle for equality that lay ahead.”
In order to reach more and more young men and boys, the Y held annual membership drives.
Beckley: These campaigns borrowed military organizational structures, dividing members into divisions of “enlisted men.” These men worked hard to recruit as many new members as possible. Those groups that enlisted the most new members were inducted into the Society of High Producers and The Royal Order of the Spizzerinktum which, I looked it up, and it’s a real word meaning “the will to succeed,” which is rather fitting. These tactics worked fabulously! Membership jumped from just 52 in 1903 to over 5000 by 1930.
These wildly successful membership drives turned the Senate Avenue Y into one of the largest African American YMCA branches in the country. But being large doesn’t necessarily make an organization important or influential. To understand the influence of the Y, we need to go right back to the very beginning of the branch, to the establishment of what were called Monster Meetings.
The roots of what would become the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings can be traced to the very early years of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA, and executive secretary Thomas Taylor. He instituted public forums where first men, and later all people, would gather on Sunday afternoons between November and March to listen to lectures on a wide variety of topics. Originally, Taylor wanted to call the forums “Big Meetings” but the proposal was rejected by the Central YMCA board because their annual meeting was already called the Big Meeting. So, Taylor one-upped them and labeled his forum series the Monster Meetings. Taylor couldn’t have known just how fitting that name would become.
In the Taylor years, the meetings featured local religious leaders speaking almost exclusively on religious matters but in 1916 a new executive secretary took the meetings to a whole new level. That executive secretary was Faburn Defrantz. Long time listeners of the podcast may remember from our first episode that DeFrantz led the campaign against the segregation of the Indiana University men’s basketball team in the 1940s. In 1916, he had been in Indianapolis for just 3 years and advanced to the top position of the Senate Avenue YMCA with ambitious goals.
During DeFrantz’s tenure, Monster Meetings continued to feature local ministers delivering religious messages. But they soon expanded to include some of the most well-known African American leaders of the nation speaking on a variety of hot-button issues. In his seminal article “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis,” Dr. Stanley Warren provides a list that sampled a few of the hundreds of speakers and topics featured at Monster Meetings during the DeFrantz years. When reading this list, the thing that initially jumped out at me was the variety of speakers included; there were authors, NAACP leaders, professors, University Presidents, politicians, newspapermen, famous athletes, religious leaders, and a former first lady.
When analyzing the list a bit further, I started to notice trends. You can see history unfolding before you just in the titles of the lectures.
Beckley: In early 1930, at the very beginning of the Great Depression, Freeman Ransom gave a lecture on…
Voice actor fades in: “Unemployment and How to Solve It.”
Beckley: In 1931, 11 years into America’s “great experiment” of prohibition, Reverend Charles H. Winders and Boyd Gurley debated the question
Voice actor fades in: “Prohibition: Shall Indiana Stay Dry?”
Beckley: In 1940, as World War II raged in Europe, Dr. Max Yergan spoke on
Voice actor fades in: “Democracy: A Goal to Defend.”
Beckley: And after US entry into World War II , Dr. Lorenzo Greene spoke on
Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in National Defense,”
Beckley: Phillip Randolph lectured on:
Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in War and Peace,”
and William Hastie talked on
Voice actor fades in: “The Fight Against Discrimination in the Armed Forces.”
Beckley: Then, in the post-war era, you see
Voice actor fades in: “The Colonies in the Post-War World”
Beckley: by Freida Newgabower, and
Voice actor fades in: “Implications of the Atomic Bomb”
Beckley: by Mordecai Johnson.
In 1947, one year after the Froebel School Board in Gary, Indiana voted for desegregation after hundreds of white students staged a walk out in protest of integration, Joseph Chapman spoke on “Democracy in Gary Schools.” Leading up to and during the Civil Rights movement, speeches such as “This is the Hour,” “Integrated Society or a Segregated Society,” “The Civil Rights Crisis and American Democracy,” and “The Civil Rights Resolution in America” demonstrate that the black citizens of Indianapolis were having the same discussions and debates as black citizens around the nation.
Unfortunately, there is no collection or archive of the speeches given at these monster meetings, at least not that I have been able to locate. Luckily, preserved in the pages of newspapers like the Indianapolis Recorder, there are snippets of some of the lectures. And there was no way we could do a podcast about Monster Meetings and not include the words of the leaders who spoke at those meetings. Now let’s reach back into the pages of the recorder and hear from a few of the powerful speakers to have graced the stage of the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings.
Dr. Mordecai Johnson was a fixture of the Monster Meeting schedule, opening the meeting season for over 40 consecutive years. He became involved with the YMCA in 1916, when he served as a student secretary and was a life-long supporter of the association. Dr. Johnson became the first African American president of Howard University, one of the nation’s historically black universities, in 1926. He served in that capacity until 1960. During his decades speaking at the Monster Meetings, he covered a wide range of topics, including
Voice actor: “Anti-Semitism and the Negro Ministry,” “Civilization’s Civil War,” “Freedom’s Challenge,” “Implications of the Atomic Bomb,” “Ghandi and the Liberation of India,” “A Troubled World in the Middle East,” and “Segregation is Suicide.”
Beckley: Described as a man who “made people listen even when they did not believe,” Johnson was a powerful speaker and he lent his skill to important topics. For example, as Cold War tensions mounted, he spoke of the dangers American segregation posed to the nation. He said:
Voice actor reading from Johnson: Through our nation’s moral weakness caused by segregation, we are committing scientific and technical suicide. We are five years behind militarily due to this moral weakness. Oh my brothers, let us pray it is not too late – only Almighty God knows whether it is not too late already…:
Beckley: He went on to address the recent affirmation of Brown vs. Board of Education seen in the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock.
Voice actor reading from Johnson: It is my judgement that the death knell of segregation has been sounded. I see no disposition on the part of the Supreme Court to yield to the opponents of integration. The Court is informed by a sense of world duty which is inexorable.
Beckley: Another name which appears more than once in the list of prominent figures featured at Monster Meetings is that of A. Philips Randolph. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was the first labor union comprised principally of African American workers. He was a major Civil Rights activist, and played a large part in pressuring President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order that banned discrimination in World War II defense industries. He also pressured President Harry Truman to issue an Executive Order to end segregation in the armed forces. Randolph wasn’t satisfied with those successes, though. In 1955, he stood in the Senate Avenue YMCA and declared:
Voice actor reading from Randolph: Negroes are yet second class citizens. Civil revolution was never completed, free public schools were never established, Negroes cannot buy property where they wish, nor can they enter certain businesses. They cannot join all the various unions. The Negroes cannot vote in some parts of this county; therefore they are not yet free.
Beckley: Later, in 1963, Randolph organized the March on Washington, where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, a speech which highlighted the injustice of many of the same racist, segregationist policies Randolph underscored in his Monster Meeting lecture.
In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. himself, possibly the most widely recognized name of the Civil Rights Movement, also made an appearance on the YMCA Monster Meeting roster. Due to high interest in King’s lecture, the venue was moved to Cadle Tabernacle to accommodate a larger audience. In one of his first public appearances since he suffered a brutal attack, the Baptist minister kept his message of nonviolence, urging the use of love in the face of violence.
Voice actor reading from King: A new age of justice is challenging us to love our oppressors…We must not assume this new freedom with attitudes of bitterness and recrimination, for, if we do, the new age will be nothing but a duplicate of the old one…A new world is being born, and the old world will die. We must be prepared for the new world to come. Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties and complexities. If our democracy is to live, segregation must die.
Beckley: He went on, saying:
Voice actor reading from King: Use love. Love is a sure winner. Remember that as Christians we are working with god. If we do it the way God wants us to do it, we will be able to sing with pride, ‘My Country ‘tis of thee’ for Freedom must ring from every mountainside.
Beckley: The Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings played a central role in not only educating members about topics of local, national, and international importance, but also in galvanizing the community into action. According to Dr. Warren, “As the popularity and importance of these mass education meetings grew, both the public and YMCA members exhibited a higher level of community activism.”
For those who regularly attended Monster Meetings, the YMCA became a foundation for the changes that they worked towards in the coming decades. The meetings were a place where, in the words of Dr. Mordecai Johnson,
Voice actor reading from Johnson: The redcap and the lawyer, the laborer and the doctor, seek together to find answers to social and political questions…
[Talking Hoosier History theme music]
Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about the Senate Avenue YMCA or Monster meetings, check out Dr. Stanley Warren’s book “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys.” A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, for being the voice of the various civil rights leaders quoted in this episode. And as always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, for bringing our words to life. Stay connected by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist on twitter and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.
Show Notes for Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings
Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.
Mjagkij, Nina. Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946. University Press of Kentucky, 1994.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
Pierce, Richard. “’Little Progress Happens’: Faburn E. DeFrantz and the Indianapolis Senate Avenue YMCA.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 108, Issue 2, June 2012.
Warren, Stanley. “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 91, Issue 1, March 1995.
“Martin Luther King ‘Like Moses of Old.” The Indianapolis Recorder, December 20, 1958.
“New Y.M.C.A. Opened.” The Indianapolis Freeman, July 2, 1913
“Voice of the Eastside.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 26, 1955.
“Segregation Is Suicide, Mordecai Johnson Warns.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 16, 1957.
Senate Avenue YMCA Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau
A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis for giving voice to the Civil Rights leaders quoted in this episode.
Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing.
Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.
Music and Audio Notes
“We Are Americans, Praise the Lord,” performed by Bertha Houston, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/ftvbib000059/
“Oh Jonah,” performed by Golden Jubilee Quartet, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/ftvbib000061/
“Death Is An Awful Thing,” performed by Middle Georgia Four, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/ftvbib000062/
“Recording of A Capella Singing Convention at Stranger Homer Baptist Church, Part 1,” recorded by Beverly J. Robinson, Chicago, Illinois, May 22, 1977, Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed https://www.loc.gov/item/afc1981004_afs20625a/
“Hip Hop Instrumental (Crying Over You),” Chris Morrow 4 No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiYs5z4xdBU
“Better Days,” Bensound No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_qYQkGjuVI
“Acoustic Inspiring,” OrangeHead No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWWppImxYnk
“Crossing the Divide,” Kevin MacLeod No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, published by Filmmaking Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leja-D6HQkk
“Days Are Long,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMWPj0wu1Dw
“March to Victory,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEktSBG6SO8
“Military March,” Monviando Royalty Free Production Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9T8ZG4ZbNU
“Upbeat Jazz Music (New York, 1924),” Ross Bugden No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnPLbKmYCKQ
Clip of Booker T. Washington accessed “Voices from the Past: Booker T. Washington,” Talk of the Nation, NPR, accessed https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5319922
Clips of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. accessed “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Open Vault, WBGH Media Library and Archives, accessed http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/A_A014C398246A48308919615DE8676DFC
Clip of Marian Anderson singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” accessed “Denied A Stage, She Sang for a Nation, Morning Edition, NPR, accessed https://www.npr.org/2014/04/09/298760473/denied-a-stage-she-sang-for-a-nation