The Herald Bulletin

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February 11, 2014

Primus Mootry: Black Hoosier history: the city dwellers

This is the second in a 4-part Black History Month series examining the triumphs and struggles of African Americans in the state of Indiana. Today, however briefly, I’ll look at the movement of blacks from their once thriving 18th and 19th century farms to various Indiana cities in the context of what generally was happening with blacks in this country.

In the interest of providing some of that contextual, I begin with something of a diversion from the main subject. Many years ago, in a place not too far from here, a young ex-slave (a runaway) came to speak on behalf of his millions of enslaved brethren in the southern states. This former illiterate slave turned fiery orator was named Frederick Douglass.

At the request of white abolitionist sympathizers, Douglass came to Pendleton. Barely had he set foot on the platform they had built for him when he was beset and nearly killed by an angry, hateful mob. Badly shaken and seriously injured, Douglass was unable to speak that day. Under the care and protection of those who invited him, however, the great young man found the strength and courage to speak the next.

At the time of this event, in 1843, black Hoosiers had been successful farmers for nearly a hundred years. Some were freemen, some were former slaves who had escaped bondage in the South. The more they thrived, however, the more anti-black sentiment increased.

By the mid-1840s and a few decades beyond, through legal, illegal, and outright terroristic means, they were driven from their cherished farmland. Today, in the places they settled in and cultivated, there are few reminders they ever existed.

Against a faceless, ubiquitous array of anti-black systemic forces (governmental, political, economic, and social), as they were pushed out of their farmlands and communities, in increasing numbers blacks began to push back by re-settling in Indiana’s growing cities. Their numbers were increased by blacks fleeing the post-Civil War South and the lure of jobs in a society changing from rural to industrial.

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