Marion In the 1920s
Marion, the Queen City
Marion, Indiana in the 1920s was a small community, a working class town nestled in the farmland of Grant County. Industry began to shape the landscape of the once Native American dominated territory. Factories of every type, for example, shoe, glass, and foundries to name a few began to spring up drawing newcomers from southern Indiana, Kentucky, and the all black community of Weaver to Marion for work. Marion appeared to be a perfect small town and presented a “picture of comfort, prosperity, and progress” (Madison, 2001, p.32). In the midst of this industrial revolution in the heartland, community niches remained tight and exclusive and your reputation was everything. Ask the residents of this small community about life in the 1920’s and one will hear different viewpoints based on the societal factor of race.
The 1920’s, commonly referred to as the “Roaring Twenties”, was a period of cultural liberation with rapidly changing lifestyles, prosperity, and technological advancements. The visual image of flappers in short frilly dresses in a smoke filled jazz room conjures up images of a more progressive society. Gambling, speakeasies, and bootlegged liquor were ever present throughout the city. During prohibition for fourteen years, the manufacturing, sale, and transport of alcohol was illegal. The 18th Amendent went into effective January 1920, but the sheriff did little to nothing to enforce prohibition (Madison, 2001). In December of 1933 the 21st Amendent to the United Sates Constitution made alcohol legal again. Across the landscape of the county one could find home stills and secret saloons, as well as establishments of ill repute. However, the city touted a more wholesome picture.
Marion's Black Population
In the book "Women of the Klan", the author (Blee) described Indiana as one of the most “racially, culturally, and religiously homogeneous states” (p.7, 1991). The Klan although hidden beneath a sheet to the outside community was ever present in the community. Most white people personally knew of or had a family member involved with the Klu Klux Klan, including elected officials such as the sheriff. While slavery had been abolished for years, nonetheless black people were still treated as disposable. When wrongdoings such as robberies and shootings occurred the black man was customarily accused and railroaded into a convection or a crime he may not have committed based solely on the color of his skin. As Carr (2006) so poetically described in her book, “Racism will always manifest in violent ways to preserve itself” (p. 153).
The Culture of the Time
Able bodied workers went from factory to factory looking for work but no work was to be found. Wages were lowered and many citizens lost their farms and homes. Families did not have enough food to feed everyone in the family. Food lines became a way of life. Soup kitchens were at maximum capacity during meal time. Many men became peddlers, selling trinkets and working for food. Shantytowns were made of scavenged materials and popped up throughout the country (Kennedy, Cohen, & Bailey, 2008). People were affected financially and psychologically as joblessness caused helplessness and self-doubt (Weiser, 2003). The Great Depression brought progress to a halt. Marion was being redefined. However, while many citizens struggled to survive, a glimmer of hope shined through in those bleak days. A sense of community developed within the neighborhoods and churches.
In the history of Marion there has been a record of several groups with possible involvement with the infamous lynchings. The Ku Klux Klan was a suspected group for influence. The Horsethief Detectives were another group that may have had a hand in the Lynchings.
The Horsethief Detectives
Several other groups had association with the KKK. One of them was known as the Junior Order of American Mechanics which was one of the public masks of the KKK (Betty Reynolds, personal communication). A second group known as the Horsethief Detective Association may have been in league with the KKK. Since the police and sheriffs did not have the permission to do their job beyond the borders of their county these "detectives" were banded together as a group with the power to do just this. They would track down horse thieves since those creatures were the best means of transportation that most people could afford. They had been seen at many of their picnics, and they were used as a tool to enforce the wishes of the Klan (Betty Reynolds, personal communication).
A Community Defined
Marion, Indiana in the 1920’s was a small community burrowed in the northern part of Indiana. The true identity of the people, places, and activities would be dormant until the lynching in 1930. A community whoes destiny was yet to be determined but would forever be defined. A community without boundaries, but a community with color lines. A community with an early black settlement called Weaver but with a secret inner circle controlled by the Klu Klux Klan. The Great Depression presented financial hardships for many in this small community. Many retreated to the self-medicating properties of bootlegged liquor as others strived for a better life with gainful employment in a factory. A simple time, a simple way of life-nonetheless a multifaceted community with a rich history and a diverse background.
This paper was written by Allison Richardson for Mr. Munn's IU ACP history class at Marion High School during May 2011. The sections on the KKK and the Horsethief Detectives were written by Christofer Morton.
- Blee, K. M. (1991). Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in 1920s. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Carr, C. (2006).Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- Kennedy, D. M., Cohen, L., & Bailey, T. (2008). American Pageant (14th ed.). Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
- Madison, J. H. (2001). A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in America. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
- Scott, R. (2011). The Roaring Twenties: A Historical Snapshot of Life in the 1920’s. Retrieved from http://www.1920-30.com.
- Smith, C. (Writer) & Smith, C. (Director). (2011). The Gospel According to James.(Play). Indianapolis: Indiana Repertory Theatre.
- Weiser, K (2003). Legends of America.Retrieved from http://www.LegendsofAmerica.com.