THH Episode 33: The Black Market Firebombing

Transcription for The Black Market Firebombing

Beckley: Even the largest college towns fall quiet during winter break. Students return home. Faculty too. The hustle and bustle of the end-of-semester exams relaxes into the stillness of life put on pause. And the day after Christmas is especially hushed, with families recovering from large meals or helping children assemble their new toys. At least, that’s how it should be. On December 26, 1968, the quiet was ripped away from one Midwestern college town. First, the sound of breaking glass. Then, the roar of a fire, followed by sirens. When the smoke had cleared, it was apparent that this was no accident, but rather a targeted attack.

On this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll explore the events leading up to the firebombing of the Black Market on December 26, 1968 in Bloomington, Indiana, and the reverberations of that attack that have lasted for decades.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

In the very literal sense of the word, 1968 was an extraordinary year. Even situated as it was within a decade characterized by social and political upheaval, 1968 was unique in the sheer number of transformative events. At the end of January, North Vietnam launched the Tet Offensive against U.S. and South Vietnamese troops. News coverage of the highly coordinated attacks shifted American views on the war dramatically and led many young people to protest ongoing U.S. involvement in the area.

In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, leading thousands to protest in the streets. In May, 3,000 impoverished people from across the nation arrived in Washington, D.C. and constructed a shantytown called “Resurrection City,” where they lived for 6 weeks in the Poor People’s Campaign. In September, feminists and civil rights advocates protested the Miss America contest, alleging that both sexism and racism were inherent in the structure of the pageant.

Interspersed within these events were other historic moments: the violence of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the controversial stripping of two Olympic medals from winners who rose their fists in protest against the treatment of Black Americans, the tragic assassination of Robert Kennedy . . . and the list just keeps going.

While the majority of these events occurred on the East and West Coasts of the United States, it would be a mistake to think that the Midwest was immune to the revolutionary spirit sweeping the nation. In fact, many of the movements seen at the national level also played out within the confines of the Indiana University campus in Bloomington.

The local chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, protested various aspects of the Vietnam War, eventually sending a list of demands to the acting university president, Herman B Wells, which declared,

Voice actor: “We condemn all ties which link IU to the military apparatus: recruiting in our recreational facilities, learning how to kill in our classrooms, performing military research in our laboratories.”

Beckley: Following student objections about racist judging standards, the university cancelled the IU Homecoming Queen pageant permanently. And African American students demanded more representation in all aspects of campus life, staging a sit-in at the annual bicycle race, the Little 500. That sit-in led directly to the removal of discriminatory covenants in the by-laws of Indiana University fraternities.

While this wave of revolutionary fervor was cresting both nationally and on IU’s campus, another was close behind – the “third wave” of the infamous hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. During the Klan’s second wave in the 1920s, the Indiana Klan wielded incredible political power, boasting 250,000 members. Their influence peaked in 1924, and the organization was largely dismantled by the end of the decade.

This new Klan, rising in response to the Civil Rights Movement, was much smaller, but much more violent. Approximately 40,000 members belonged to the Klan nationally in the 1950s and 60s. The relatively diverse, liberal campus of Indiana University and the surrounding city of Bloomington became a target for the local Klan’s hate.

In the spring of 1968, Klan members from nearby Morgan County attempted to establish a chapter of the terrorist organization in Monroe County. A membership drive, which was to consist of a gathering on the Bloomington courthouse square followed by a march through the business district, was scheduled for March 30, 1968. But before events could get underway, Monroe County Prosecutor Thomas Berry requested and was granted an order blocking the event, citing the possibility of violence.

This was neither the first nor the last appearance of the Klan in Bloomington. The Indiana Daily Student on November 7, 1922 described the supposed first appearance of the Klan in the city:

Voice Actor: “Marching with slow and solemn tread, 152 men paraded Bloomington streets, garbed in mysterious robes of white, with tall hoods masking their identity, and carrying aloft the flaming cross of the Klan, while hundreds of townspeople and students stood and witnessed [as] the pages of fiction and movie scenarios unfolded before their eyes.”

Beckley: Although county officials blocked a similar scene to that just described from playing out in 1968, the Klan still made its presence known in the city. During a Bloomington Human Relations Commission meeting on September 30, 1968, African American commission chairman Ernest Butler showed his fellow commissioners and others present at the meeting a card which had been left on his door. The card read, “The Ku Klux Klan is watching you.” Butler claimed to have received as many as ten such cards, as well as several threatening phone calls.

In the face of threats such as these, Black Indiana University students continued to come together to demand more representation and equal treatment on campus. An organization founded in the spring of 1967, the Afro-Afro-American Student’s Association, or AAASA, served as an organizing force within the Black community on campus. The AAASA had four separate areas of interest: artistic, educational, political, and social.  A Daily Student article lays out the aims of the organization, which were threefold:

Voice actor: “The first would be the general improvement of communications between black students. Out of communications, comes a greater sense of unity, the second aim of AAASA. The third aim of AAASA is to promote greater black student participation in campus affairs.”

Beckley: Through these aims, the organization hoped

Voice actor: “to cooperate with individuals and organizations dedicated to the eradication of those impediments to human progress such as racism and segregation.”

Beckley: It was in pursuit of this goal that the AAASA organized protests, such as that at the Little 500 against the segregation of fraternities. At the forefront of many of these protests was AAASA co-founder and sociology graduate student Clarence “Rollo” Turner.

In the fall of 1968, Turner shifted his attention towards a new project, one that had many of the same goals as the AAASA – The Black Market. Financed entirely by Black faculty and staff, the Black Market was a shop specializing in products made by African and African American artists. According to an article in IU’s student newspaper, the Indiana Daily Student, this included

Voice actor: “free-flowing African garb, Black literature and records, African and Afro-American fabrics, dangling earrings, and African artifacts.”

Beckley: As a leader in the African American community at Indiana University, Turner served as the shop’s manager and its public face. He and his backers had two main objectives when opening the shop, both of which aligned with AAASA’s. First, it was to act as a cultural center for Black students at the university, who had limited social opportunities in the predominantly white city. Second, he aimed to eliminate “misconceptions about black people” by exposing IU students and Bloomington locals to Black culture.

After its late-September opening, it seemed as though the shop would be a success. Joking that the Dashikis sold in the Black Market would soon supplant the more mainstream fashion of the day, the Daily Student said,

Voice actor: “suits and ties may eventually join the ranks of white socks and baggy slacks if the immediate success of The Black Market is a sign of things to come.”

Beckley: However, at the same time that the shop was proving to be a popular enterprise with IU students, factions within Bloomington were pushing back against its very existence. Larry Canada, the owner of the building in which the store was located, reported receiving threatening phone calls for renting the space out to Turner and his backers. These threats became reality when, on December 26, 1968 a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the front window of the store.

The resulting fire destroyed the entire stock of the Black Market and caused structural damage to adjacent businesses. To those most closely associated with the shop, the motive for the attack seemed obvious, especially considering the heightened presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the city. In the following comment from the alternative student newspaper The Spectator, we have redacted one offensive word. The paper commented:

Voice actor: “It was not very difficult, of course, to determine a ‘motive’ for the bombing. Since the construction of the Black Market in September, black students involved have been harassed periodically by abusive white ‘customers,’ . . . Larry Canada, owner of the building, had received telephoned bomb threats because he allowed the ‘n––rs’ to use the space for the store.”

Beckley: Two weeks later, 200 students attended a rally on the sidewalk outside of the burnt remains of the Black Market. Amidst calls for action from university and city officials and appeals to Black students to make a stand in the face of violence, Rollo Turner said, “the only reason this store was bombed was because it was a black store.” Behind the rally, hung across the splintered door of the shop, was a hand lettered sign that read, “A COWARD DID THIS.”

Eight months would pass before those students learned the identity of the man responsible for the attack. In the intervening time, IU students and faculty came together to raise enough money to repay the financial backers of the shop, as the shop’s inventory was uninsured. Rollo Turner also made the decision not to re-open the store – all of the funds raised had gone to pay back investors, leaving none for re-investment in new stock. Additionally, the extensive damage to the structure necessitated its total demolition, meaning a new space would need to be secured, and it may have proven difficult to find a landlord willing to risk their property if a repeat attack was carried out. Sadly, the bomber got what they wanted, but it wasn’t without a price.

­­­­Details about the search for the perpetrator are limited. An ad-hoc group formed by representatives from the community, university, and local civil rights organizations offered an award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. The Spectator alluded to a person of interest in their coverage of the attack, saying:

Voice actor: “Acting on reports of witnesses, police are searching for a white male with dark hair, about 5’8”, 160 lbs., wearing a light gray finger-length topcoat at the time of the fire.”

Beckley: Whether or not either the reward offered or the description of a person of interest played any part in the search for the perpetrator, or if they were identified in some other way, on August 6, 1969 the Monroe County Circuit Court issued arrest warrants for two men in relation to the crime.

One of those men, Carlisle Briscoe, Jr., pleaded guilty to the second-degree arson charges while also implicating an accomplice, Jackie Dale Kinser, who he accused of driving the get-away vehicle. Eventually, the charges against Kinser would be dropped, just before he pled guilty to three unrelated crimes. While it’s unclear if the charges being dropped was directly related to Kinser’s guilty pleas, the timing of the two does seem to suggest the possibility.

Both men had strong ties with the local Ku Klux Klan. Kinser was a member who in subsequent years would be arrested multiple times for Klan-related crimes. Briscoe’s Klan membership is slightly less clear. At first, Monroe County Prosecutor Thomas Berry and Sheriff Clifford Thrasher announced that both men were Klan members. An article in the September 19, 1969 issue of the Indianapolis Star, stated that Briscoe himself claimed to be a Klan member. The headline of Briscoe’s obituary in the Vincennes Sun-Commercial proclaimed, “Notorious Klansman Dies in Prison.” As late as 1977, he was arrested while committing crimes alongside Klan members, reportedly while carrying out Klan business.

However, in 1969, the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, William Chaney, denied that Briscoe was a member of the organization. Regardless of Briscoe’s official Klan membership status, he at the very least maintained close ties with the terrorist organization and shared their racist ideology. He was sentenced to one to ten years and was released on April 7, 1973 after serving approximately three and a half years.

The story of the Black Market firebombing could have ended there. The structure had been demolished, the investors had been paid back, and a conviction had been made. However, the revolutionary atmosphere of the Indiana University campus stretched beyond the 1960s, and the space would once again be used as a venue for activism.

­­­In late February 1970, a group of Yippies, or members of the Youth International Party, were looking for ways to bring the community of Bloomington together. One of the ideas that emerged from these discussions was the creation of a people’s park on the vacant lot where the Black Market had recently stood. These new parks, which were spreading across the nation, could trace their roots back to the People’s Park in Berkeley, California. Typically created by activists without the approval of government or other officials, the parks were meant to promote free speech, activism, and community involvement.

We’ll discuss the origins and legacy of the people’s park movement on the next episode of Giving Voice, where I’ll be joined by Kera Lovell, professor of American Studies at the University of Utah’s Asia Campus, and preeminent People’s Park scholar.

In Bloomington, work had started on the new people’s park by May 1970. Anyone who was interested in the enterprise was encouraged to help prepare the land for its future intended use. The Bloomington People’s Park was to be a mix of gathering space, community garden, and a place for “everyone to sing, dance, rap, and generally ‘do his own thing,’” and by the next summer, it was being put to good use, as reported by the Indiana Daily Student:

Voice actor: “About 250 blue jeaned “freaks,” tapered-legged “straights,” the bell bottomed curious and two guys with rolled-up sleeves, greasy hair and tattoos celebrated the 4th in People’s Park Sunday evening.”

Beckley: Over the next five years, various issues threatened to put an end to the park’s existence. The city threatened to shut it down over “public health” concerns. The property owner, Larry Canada, had various plans to develop the property. In the end, though, People’s Park became legally sanctioned after Canada deeded the land to the city in 1976.

Throughout the years, the park has carried on the site’s heritage, hosting anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, protests against the U.S. involvement in El Salvador in the 1980s, music festivals, flea markets, and, more recently, it housed the Occupy Bloomington movement. Today, the park serves as a reminder of the revolutionary ideals that swept through Indiana University’s campus in the 1960s and 1970s.

That reminder is important because the number of hate groups in the United States has nearly doubled since the year 2000, as tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Some of those groups have deep roots. Others have sprung up in response to political and social movements in the country. In 2019, the center tracked 20 hate groups in Indiana alone.

In the 1960s, African Americans finally started gaining the rights they had worked towards for so long (and which had been promised for over 100 years), and we saw more Black Americans than ever standing up to demand those rights. Those demands were often met with violence.

Today, as LGBTQ+ and other groups join the struggle to gain more rights and demand their voices be heard, we see similar reactions. Violent marches in the streets of Charlottesville. Bombs being mailed to prominent politicians. Shootings at mosques, temples, and other places of worship.

Seeing these echoes from history resurface is unsettling, and even disheartening. But if you look past the violence, there is hope there too. Yes, the year 1968 shook America to its core, but it resulted in a more just country. No, not a perfect one. But better. We can come out of this period of violence even stronger. But it won’t just happen. It didn’t just happen in the 1960s – people worked for it. They marched. They protested. They demanded justice. What will we do to make sure we come out a more just country?

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library. In the show notes for this episode, found at blog.history.in.gov, you will find a link for teachers and students about dealing with the tough issue of the n-word, which guided our decision to redact that word in today’s episode. You’ll also find a full transcript with helpful links, as well as a list of all sources used in the making of this episode. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley. Sound engineering on this episode was by Justin Clark. Production by Jill Weiss Simins. Join us in two weeks for our next installment of Giving Voice, where we’ll hear from Kera Lovell on the history and legacy of People’s Parks. Until then, catch us on social media as Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for The Black Market Firebombing

Note: Newspapers accessed via Indiana State Library microfilm collection unless otherwise noted. More sources are available in the IHB’s Black Market Firebombing marker file, available upon request.

Newspapers

“County Klan to ‘Walk’ Bloomington,” (Martinsville) Reporter-Times, March 11, 1968, 8.

“University Cannot Rightfully Stop KKK I.U. Forum Speaker – Snyder,” Indiana Daily Student, March 27, 1968, 1.

“Judge Blocks Klan Event in Bloomington,” Rushville Republican, March 28, 1968, 7.

“Hill Issues Order Halting Klan Visit,” Indiana Daily Student, March 28, 1968, 1.

“Black Students to Demonstrate; Will Present Grievances to Star,” Indiana Daily Student, March 30, 1968, 1.

“Klan Card Left at Butler Door,” Indiana Daily Student, October 1, 1968, 2.

“Bringing It All Back Home, The Spectator, 7, no. 4, (October 1968): 3-4.

“Racism: In the Greek Tradition,” The Spectator, 7, no. 9, (November 1968):4.

“Socially Significant Soul Styles Replace Whitey’s Duds for Blacks Who Have ‘Arrived,’” Indiana Daily Student, September 28, 1968, 1.

Jim Helm, “To Offer Reward for Arson Information,” Bloomington Herald Telephone, January 5, 1969, 3.

“’Black Market’ Firebomb Destruction Brings University and City Response,” Indiana Daily Student, January 7, 1969, 1.

“A Coward Did This: The Bombing of the Black Market,” The Spectator, 7, no. 13, (January 1969): 4.

Jeannene Seeger and Karen Carle, “Peace Between Races Dead, Black Leader Tells Students,” Indiana Daily Student, January 11, 1969, 1.

“Klan Members Held for Arson,” Lizton Daily Citizen, August 7, 1969, 1.

“2 Men Charged in Store Fire,” Indianapolis Star, August 7, 1969, 16.

“Local Man Enters Guilty Plea in Fire at ‘Black Market,’” Indiana Daily Student, September 16, 1969, accessed Indiana University Archives Exhibits.

“Funds Established to Offset Loss at Black Market,” Indiana Daily Student, January 14, 1969, 4.

“Black Market Fund Reaches Goal,” Indianapolis Star, January 26, 1969, 19.

“Dunn Meadow Festival,” The Spectator, 10, no. 4 (February 1970):8, accessed Independent Voices.

“People’s Park,” Indiana Daily Student, April 27, 1970, 4.

“People’s Park Needs Human Support,” Indiana Daily Student, May 1, 1970, 1.

“Freedom Fourth,” Indiana Daily Student, July 6, 1971, 1.

“Antiwar Rally at Bloomington Today,” (Columbus) Republic, May 10, 1972, 16.

“Dream to Come True in Musical Park Tour,” Indianapolis News, July 12, 1985, 55.

Books

Indiana University Yearbook Archives, iuyearbook.com.

Thomas Clark, Indiana University Midwestern Pioneer: Volume IV/ Historical Documents Since 1816, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977, 755-787.

Todd Gitlin, The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, Revised Edition, New York:  Bantam, 2013.

Mark Kurlansky, The Year that Rocked the World, New York: Random House, 2005.

Documents

“Bench Warrant – Circuit Court,” State of Indiana, Monroe County, Warrant issued for Carlisle Briscoe, Jr., Second Degree Arson, August 6, 1969.

“Bench Warrant – Circuit Court,” State of Indiana, Monroe County, Warrant issued for Jackie Kinser, Second Degree Arson, August 6, 1969.

Criminal Court Docket, Monroe Circuit Court,” Case No. C69-S125, State of Indiana vs. Jackie Kinser and Carlisle Briscoe, Jr., Carlisle Briscoe Enters Guilty Plea, September 15, 1969.

Criminal Court Docket, Monroe Circuit Court,” Case No. C69-S125, State of Indiana vs. Jackie Kinser and Carlisle Briscoe, Jr., Motion to Dismiss charges against Jackie Kinser. March 23, 1971.

“Quit-Claim Deed,” land deeded to the City of Bloomington from Katherine Canada, December 17, 1976.