The Domestic Fight for Equity in the 20th Century

Source: M. Boyer, “The Clubhouse for the Indiana Federation of colored Women’s Clubs,” July 22, 2007.

Source: M. Boyer, “The Clubhouse for the Indiana Federation of colored Women’s Clubs,” July 22, 2007.

Although the post-war scene offered a temporary step into the spotlight for Indiana’s black population, just as it did in other American cities with booming economies, it did not last. Black people remained second-class citizens. Still, they established themselves and built up their own middle-class in the face of insincere politicians, racist labor unions, and shady housing committees dead-set on keeping black families too uncomfortable to settle down. However, black hoosiers had growing systems for help, stepping in where the New Deal had failed to deliver, while their numbers steadily outpaced the State’s often inadequate infrastructure.1

On the front of School desegregation, the lone law that existed from 1877 to 1949 stated that children of color could go to school with white children. Each school, starting at the elementary level, exercised freedoms in how and if they adhered to such a law.2 By 1953, seven African American teachers and a principal began serving in formerly all-white elementary schools.3 Black students protested for their rights all over the state, while white students went on “strike” and walked out of schools until board members either removed the black students or investigated school regulations for what they saw as “corruption.” In other Indiana schools, however, both races coexisted smoothly. Indianapolis took slow half-steps towards desegregation in schools, while cities like Evansville showed no visible progress. “Tentative compliance” in Evansville began in 1954. At racially mixed schools, white picketing and truancy could only do so much. By 1957, half of their elementary schools were integrated.4

During this same era, the black home-making classes, research, statistics, suffrage, anti-lynching committees surged forwards in both domestic work and industrial laborers. By 1933, the Indiana Association of Colored Women’s Club alone owned over nineteen thousand dollars worth of property (over $433,069.92 today). Even from the earliest days, these movements were founded within the walls of churches; the most successful and welcoming meeting places for these women. The clubs proved that black women could single-handedly birth and foster their own intellectual stimulation, whether schools wanted them or not.5

Position papers, written on topics such as “The Status of the Afro-American Woman Before and After the War”, as well as additional works related to women in industry, labor laws, compulsory education laws among others, began to make the rounds. The noted clubwoman, Mrs. Mary Church Terrell, earned national attention for her speeches— dealing with relevant concerns like Temperance— wherein many women saw the direct relation between broken homes/divorce and alcoholism alongside abusive behaviors. Simply put, African American hoosiers saw the ‘educated household’ model that other families enjoyed and replicated it to great success. And if the existing social infrastructure did not provide them the spaces to do so, they created the spaces themselves; from the 1940s, 1950s, and onwards.6

About the Author

Easton Phillips is originally from the beautiful city of Cincinnati; Easton Phillips’ historical journey began with the Youth Docent program at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. After studying History at the University of Cincinnati he was hired as a Research associate at Conner Prairie in August of 2021. Easton is now the co-host for the Conner Prairie podcast, ‘This is Problematic!’ Although the title may seem “problematic” itself, acknowledging nuance and abandoning presentism is at the core of its mission. The podcast crew does not explore these topics to label history holistically ‘problematic’ or to blame the parties involved, but rather to bring to light the issues that have existed in history that still exist now. However, a proper call to action can now be created for anyone willing to listen and act in the present. Easton, along with his fellow host Zoë Morgan take on the role of ‘Historical detectives’, giving the often lost historical context and analysis to these relevant, modern issues.

Bibliography

Stetson, Erlene. Black Feminism in Indiana, 1893-1933. Clark Atlanta University, 1983.
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. “Breaking Racial Barriers to Public Accomodations in Indiana, 1935 to 1963,” Indiana Magazine of History (December 1987).
Bowyer, M. The Clubhouse for the Indiana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. 2007. Digital. Historical Marker Database. Database Locator Identification Number: p5119.
https://www.hmdb.org/PhotoFullSize.asp?PhotoID=5119 .

Citations

1Emma Lou Thornbrough, “Breaking Racial Barriers to Public Accomodations in Indiana, 1935 to 1963,”

Indiana Magazine of History (December 1987), 136.

2 Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century, 140.

3 Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century, 149.

4 Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century, 150.

5 Erlene Stetson, Black Feminism in Indiana, 1893-1933 (Clark Atlanta University, 1983), 296.

6 Stetson, Black Feminism in Indiana, 296.