The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update


February 11, 2014

Primus Mootry: Black Hoosier history: the city dwellers


You know, you can pass laws. You can even amend the U.S. Constitution. These things can be done in a relatively short period of time, with the stroke of a pen. But you cannot legislate what is in a man’s heart. And deeply embedded in the heart of America — North, South, East, or West — was the idea, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that blacks were shiftless, lazy, violent, crime-prone “takers.” In this regard, public consciousness in Indiana was not much different than any other northern state.

This point is well made in the 1982 Indiana Humanities Council photo essay that I am using as an outline for this series. “A pattern of all-black or predominantly black neighborhoods developed early, and as their numbers grew larger and larger there were concentrations of blacks. White property owners and real estate interests resorted to legal and extra-legal methods to prevent blacks from moving into previously all-white neighborhoods. Blacks were usually shut off from buying new houses or renting desirable apartments.”

Again, this pattern was commonplace throughout America’s northern cities. What the Humanities Council essay does not make clear, though, is that in these overcrowded neighborhoods, basic city services were cut, public schools were inferior, streets and sidewalks went unrepaired, residents were denied all but the most menial jobs, and police patrols increased. It was as though a silent war had been declared against blacks and, fresh from the South or rural settings, they didn’t even know it.

In spite of this, as the Humanities Council essay states, “within the African-American community institutions developed which are the counterparts if those in the white community but distinct from them. Underlying all black community institutions is the black family, which has survived seemingly overwhelming obstacles in slavery and freedom and has been a source of strength and pride.”

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