The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Opinion

February 4, 2014

Primus Mootry: African-American Hoosier history — the rural settlers

(Continued)

Early black farm settlements thrived. In addition to enjoying unimagined financial success, according to the Humanities report, “the records of each black settlement indicate that the institutions of religion and education were valued highly. Churches [mostly African American Episcopal or Baptist] and schools were both literally and figuratively built at the center of the community.” In short, like any non-black immigrant group, they were decent, hardworking people in search of freedom and opportunity. So what happened?

As the raw number of blacks in Indiana increased conditions began to deteriorate. This was not due to any changes from within black settlements, but to increasing anti-black sentiment in Indiana and throughout the country. An Indiana Historical Bureau reported: “With the ever increasing numbers of blacks moving north in the early 1800s, ... whites were afraid of being outnumbered by blacks. Also, as land became scarce, whites resented black landowners. Laws [were passed] to insure that blacks remained in their subordinate position in white society.”

Land? How much land? According to reports, through their own industriousness, black Hoosiers owned hundreds of thousands of acres by the mid-19th century. Laws? They could not vote, send their children to public schools, testify in court, or serve in the militia. In 1851, the Indiana legislature passed a law forbidding further migration of blacks to this state. A year earlier, the U.S. Congress’ Fugitive Slave Act ensuring that runaway slaves, wherever caught, would be returned to slavery.

These laws and similar ones were common. One such Indiana law required that every black pay $1,000 to settle in the state and that they carry passes to prove they had done so. ($1,000 back then would be about $50,000 today!) Obviously, such laws had a devastating effect on black Hoosier settlements. This fact, plus the dawning of the Industrial Revolution, rendered black rural settlements extinct.

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