PENDLETON, Ind. — On Sept. 16, 1843, Frederick Douglass was in Pendleton, Ind., with a group from the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. He was to speak on abolition near Fall Creek when rioters marched forward and demanded they leave.
Armed with stones and brickbats, the men proceeded to assault the Douglass group until local supporters stepped in to protect them.
Residents and passers-by can now get a feel for where the incident happened with the new Indiana State Historical Marker commemorating Frederick Douglass at Falls Park.
On Sunday, the Historic Fall Creek Pendleton Settlement sponsored a dedication at the gazebo in Falls Park with speakers from multiple groups and about 25 in attendance. The marker sits across the bridge, overseeing the falls.
"I think it's about time," Pendleton resident Joe Kinnard, 95, said of the marker's arrival.
Board member Bob Post said the marker had been in the works for years and that Douglass' trip is an important piece of history that Pendleton and Madison County residents should know.
"It's some history we have to take into account," said James Burgess, president of Anderson's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
It is compelling to know that nationally-known Douglass was in Pendleton, in the north where slavery was outlawed, and still beaten. But also that he was protected by some of Pendleton's residents.
"I think it was a big thing for him to have come here (to Pendleton)," said Olivia Link, 10. She came out with her grandfather to hold signs that called Douglass an American hero.
Post said Douglass was the "most influential black man in the 1800s" - he was born a slave and went on to become an activist, orator, publisher and statesman - and developed "lifelong" friendships with some of the residents who took to his defense, coming back to Pendleton to visit twice after the incident.
Even today people need to understand who abolitionists are, Burgess said.
In the words of Frederick Douglass, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."
With his great grandfather, Neal Hardy, one of those to take Douglass in and protect him, Kinnard was able to shed more light on that day in 1843.
Sharing stories passed down from his relatives, he said the attack in which about 30 rioters had "beaten the living daylights" out of Douglass occurred across from the park, further down Fall Creek Road.
The locals who helped Douglass escape covered him up in a wagon and took him to a Quaker church, the Friends Meetinghouse, to "protect him from the ruffians" and nurse him back to health.
Now a $2,000 plaque marker with a condensed history lesson written on it stands in the area. Chair Kevin Kenyon said the marker was "in mission" with Pendleton Settlement to promote and preserve historic sites in the town.
Jack Wilson, president of Main Street Pendleton, was on hand as the group held its first event, "Arts Cream Sunday," with local art displayed downtown and a sidewalk chalk area for young, budding artists.
"Each piece of history plays a role in where we go with Main Street," he said. "I'm a firm believer in you can't figure out where you're going if if you don't know where you've been."
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