Life for African-Americans in the “Queen City” Marion has been greatly characterized by the degrading implementation of racial injustice. Through the life- experiences of seven Marionite African-Americans, a glimpse into the dark institution of segregation in Marion is presented. The everyday lives of African-Americans through the 20th Century were tattered by the acts of inequality impeding their ability to achieve a substantial role in the community. The efforts of narrow-minded whites to hold the African-American race down finally took its toll on the black community. “You just have to stand up sometimes. They call it rocking the boat, but sometimes you’ve got to rock it.” (Smith) Through the 1950’s and ‘60’s the NAACP and black community of Marion, Indiana rebelled with a series of protests to obtain equal rights in the city.
The daily lives of African-Americans, distinguished by numerous restrictions, were limited in the types of things they were “allowed” to do. The means of entertainment for young African-Americans was curbed by the effects of segregation and dislike for the blacks in the community. Going to the movie theaters for African-Americans was depicted by maltreatment, for they were forced to take the worst seats in the house.
“...the movie theaters, now the small ones didn’t have but one floor, but the Indiana Theater had two floors. And we had to sit upstairs.” (Reed) “When we first came up, well we had to sit upstairs in the movie theaters. We used to call it ‘Peanut Heaven’...” (Stevenson 120).
“In other theaters, they had what was called the Royal Grant, we were in the balcony there, the Indiana theater, you were in the balcony there. They had a little show called the Luna, or the Lunite. You sat in the back rows there. One called the Lyric, and they had certain seats in the back, and they called them ‘ballot seats’.. .these are the seats we have to sit in and if they were filled well, then we’ll have to go and wait until the show is over and somebody comes out.” (Pate).
Restrictions in Marion, Indiana, were much the same as those characterized only with the south. Blacks were prohibited from dining in most of the restaurants in Marion. The restaurants blacks were limited to included dime stores and sack or window service, from some of the other establishments.
“We couldn’t eat in any of the eating establishments around the courthouse or around the square, the little restaurants. They would either say to you to go, or wouldn’t serve you at all.” (Archey).
“Also there was Meyer’s drive-in, they would not serve blacks inside Meyer’s drive-in.” (Perkins, J).
“I remember Meyer’s restaurant, down there at 10th and Washington...C.D. Banks, he was president (NAACP) then, and Stanley Morse, he was at Marion College, and they went out to Traveler’s Inn, which is on the bypass where Lloyd’s used to be, Lloyd’s Flower Shop. He was with some college students from Marion College at that time, and they wouldn’t serve him. He was black and in that group. So we went out there to seek service. They only had one waitress, and she said, ‘We don’t have this.’ We’d ask for this and ask for that, and she said, ‘We don’t have it.’ So, there was a pie case on the counter, that they would put pie in. So I asked for a piece of pie. So she got the pie out and threw it at me. So she went down the hallway, back toward the kitchen area, and it come to my mind then that we were all black males in there. I said, ‘We need to leave, because she’s going back to call the police.’ And so we did, and as we were leaving the police came up.”(Smith).
“. . . at the old Desota Hotel, when they wouldn’t serve us. We only got carry out then. See the way it came about with the Desota Hotel was it was a bus station. That had a bus station there, and a person from up in Michigan or something came through on a bus, and they wouldn’t serve him. So he reported up there, and they wrote back to the NAACP here, and that’s how we went to check it out.” (Smith).
“When we’d go (to Chicago), the odd thing they never knew, one of the big hotels out there and the others stayed uptown at one of the big hotels up there, all the other white students, because the teachers and principals didn’t think that we could stay there and I think it might have been the last year, I said, ‘Look here, all of our people had been going in and out.’ I guess we could have been staying there too but we had to do clear out on the South side because they thought, you see this is the small town thinking. They thought because in Marion you couldn’t stay in a hotel, you couldn’t stay in one in Chicago. Blacks couldn’t stay in hotels here in Marion, not until probably the sixties.”(Pate).
With all of these restrictions, the number of things blacks could do for being part of sports and other athletic activities began to be a struggle. Blacks were not given the same opportunities to participate in such events as the whites in the community. African- Americans in Marion compelled to take part in sports fought their way into the activities.
“You couldn’t swim at the YMCA, you could play Ping-Pong and basketball, but you couldn’t swim...Eventually Marion built an Urban League, I think its now on 14th and Western or out in that area. And that is where we had to go to play basketball, play Ping-Pong, and dance. We really were not welcome at the YMCA or the YWCA.” (Archey).
“No, they wouldn’t let us belong (to the YMCA) back then. And I...my aunts, they lived in Indianapolis, and they enrolled me in the Senate Avenue Y, in Indianapolis, Indiana. In the summertime, when I was 12, we went down to Camp Bedford for ten days, to what you called a Y camp. Those ten days only cost $14. You got three meals a day, a crab shop, and everything else. That was in Bedford, Indiana. But it was a black Y in Indianapolis that went down there. But you couldn’t get into the Y here in Marion.”(Smith).
“They didn’t want the white girls to start liking any of the black players, so they would put restrictions on the way you played. You could rebound and pass the ball as much as you wanted, but they just didn’t want you to score a bunch of points. If you scored more than they thought you should, you would be benched the next game, so you wouldn’t get to popular, I guess.” The daily life for an African-American in Marion, Indiana was controlled by the numerous restrictions imposed on their lives. “It was tough, it was tough growing up being a young black male or female, in Marion during the thirties, forties, fifties, or sixties.”(Archey).
“Yes, we did have problems with bowling. That was the one I liked to do, but we couldn’t do any of the others like golf or play tennis. The bowling, when it started out, they did have black pen boys that set up the pens, but they couldn’t bowl until after hours. And when we got started, the women, we got to start out on Shunk Street, at a bowling alley there. Then we went to Crest, and then finally Plaza let us in, and we formed our own league. We had men and women in the ‘Kings and Queens’, which it was called. The women wanted to bowl in a Thursday night league at Crest, which was a scratch league at the time, and we kept getting problems trying to get into the league. First, they said they didn’t let any blacks in, then they said they didn’t have any openings. Then finally, the evidently took a vote, and decided that if we could get a team up, we could bowl. Then they called us the night before the league started and asked could we get a team up. And said, you know, we had one night to do it. Well, needless to say, we got our team up, and started bowling. They found out we weren’t too bad after all, and they could bowl with us. So that kind of broke it up for the women, and then they actually started letting us bowl on maybe one of their teams. That was in the early sixties.”(Perkins, M.).
Blacks were not allowed to hang out with the whites of the community. They were forced to find other means of entertainment which were not always approved by their guardians. The hangouts for young blacks were usually wayward establishments, which their parents usually did not approve of them going to.
“There used to be a little black club, out on... right across the street from Wesleyan Health Care Center, called the 36th Club. It was kind of a dive, and the black kids would sneak there, but there was no place else to go. Then there was another club, out in west Marion, called the Blue Ribbon. Then again, it was a dive, and most of the black parents didn’t want their kids there.”(Archey).
“Marshall’s Tavern, which was the hot spot for minorities, had to be started by a Jewish man, who was able to obtain the liquor license for Mr. A. W. Marshall.”(Perkins, J.).
Finding employment, for minorities, was usually restricted to low paying jobs, which the whites did not care to do. For the most part, blacks were forced to find work in the foundries, WPA during the wars, and domestic work for the females. City jobs were almost impossible for blacks to obtain. This caused the black community to be primarily a impecunious group, making it hard for them to change their status.
“The hot spot for work, for minorities, was the foundries, the Malleable, Pope Foundries. All the so-called skill trades went to the whites, not the blacks.”(Perkins, J.).
“See, about the only place a Black man could work would be the glass factories, and the foundries. My brothers, when they came to Marion that’s when we came from the glass factories in Dunkirk, then they went to work at the glass factories in Marion, and then they finally went to the foundries. I guess there was better money in the foundries, but worse work. Foster Forbes still had some that worked there. Malleable and Atlas Foundry over here. That was the extent of that, except house work, like working around the home, chauffeurs and things of that sort.”(Pate).
“Every summer, I had a job. Not a job that I wanted, but I had a job. I started out as a newspaper carrier. I shined shoes in my uncle’s barbershop, which that was the most money I ever made as a kid. And shining shoes was only a 15 cents for a solid color, and two-tone’s, which basically back in those days was only black and white, was 20 cents. And my uncle’s barbershop was right across from the foundry. Guys would come in with copper around their ankles and on their wrists. Working in the foundry, they used to get arthritis, the copper was supposed to keep the arthritis from getting in their body. And they would come over there after work, they would get dressed to go over and have them a beer or two, and stop by and get their shoes shined. And some of them would have a little bit more to drink than they should have, and they would give me a pretty good tip for shining their shoes. I would make, on a Friday or Saturday, 15 or 20 dollars, which back in the ‘50’s, that was pretty good money, you know. And then I went on; I caddied at Meshingomesia Country Club. I did yard work. I worked in the snack bar. I did all different kinds of things that created me and my good work habits. The worst job I ever had, the only job I ever quit in my life was picking tomatoes. 10 cents a hamper. I picked 62 hampers that day, which was $6.20. It was out in the country. I rode out there on my bicycle. At the end of that day, I got back on the bicycle and I rode home and never returned. That was the hardest job I had in my life. Then I went on to work at the RCA, which is Thompson’s now.”(Perkins, J.).
“Mainly, the only trouble I had was when I went to work at the post office. I took the Civil Service Exam, and Art Hall and I were the only two (blacks) to pass. When postmaster Kilroy called me in for an interview he said, ‘If you’ve got a good job, I’d stay on that job.’ So I told my mailman, which was Bould McKillan, that I had a chance to go, but Mr. Kilroy said I’d probably only be able to work the summer months, and then I’d be out. So he said, “There’s plenty of work.” So I went ahead and took the job.. .We was setting in the break area (Roger Smith and Paul King), and I asked Paul, I said, ‘I started not to take this job.’ And he said, ‘Well, why?’ I said, ‘Because Mr. Kilroy told me there’d probably not be enough work.’ And Paul King, whom was white, we became friends, and he told me, ‘He told me there’d be plenty of work.’ So see, by refusing I would have blew my chance of working there. It was hard to be promoted. Mr. Carlyle Gulliford, he was 15 days short of 20 years in the Postal Service. He was a diabetic, and got stuck in the snow. I guess his diabetes took over, and he just went back in the post office, because he became ill. And left the mail that he hadn’t delivered there, and told them that he was sick and had to go home. So they claimed that he brought the mail in and just walked out. At that time, he was president of the NAACP, and see he was one of them that filed to get into the swimming pool. And he was one of them that filed to eat at the old Desota Hotel, when they wouldn’t serve us. So I guess they figured they would retaliate and get rid of him. So he was dismissed from the service. And Aubrey Perkins, he told us about a predominate black postal union. He lived in Detroit at that time, and worked in the Postal Service. So we joined up with the union, the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees. Then we got all the blacks to sign up in the Marion Post Office, which at that time there was fourteen of us. So, five of us took courses in management, so we could advance ourselves. So when the next job became open, we all applied for it. They usually picked three guys out of the interview, and there was eight people that interviewed, five black and three white. And the Postal Service made a mistake, because they picked the three white, and didn’t pick on black at all. So we filed an EEO complaint, again against the Postal Service. And Theodore Reed, he was the number one in seniority, and he had taken the courses also. One day, he called me, and he said he was working through a lawyer here in Marion to see if he could get promoted. It was like the day that Kennedy got shot. I told Theodore, ‘Why don’t you check back with him, because I heard there was an opening. And they want to give it to me.” And I knew Theodore was ahead of me. So when I got back to the post office James Gartland told me, ‘Well, you’re not going to get that job, but Theodore is.’ And I said, ‘Well good.’ Because he was the senior man, you know, he had more seniority than me. So he became the first black supervisor in the postal service.”(Smith).
“But you had no teachers, you had one or two police officers, one or two fireman. And those firemen was on opposite shifts, so they had to sleep in the same bed. Nowadays, you know, you’ve got so many people that just alternate beds, but back then they would only have so many blacks on the fire department and they had to be on opposite shifts, so they had to sleep in the same bed. They couldn’t share a bed with anybody else.”(Perkins, J.).
“Domestic was strictly house work, you know, on your hands and knees. I cleaned houses. I did a short time, maybe about a year or so, at the Country Club as a dishwasher but most of my work has always been, you know, and most of the people that I worked for passed on. There’s just one, well Mary Nesbitt is still living and her daughters I worked in and out, but most of the families, all their families are gone. You started out at twenty-five cents an hour. That’s what I started out at when my kids were small. My kids were, well the three ones were in school and the rest were home. I’d wait for them to come home and then they would sit while I went out to work. So that’s the way it went. I spent a total of 50 years in domestic work, and some places I stayed as high as 12 years. So I never had what you call any easy work, mine was domestic work.”(Stevenson 56-57).
“I did house work for $3.50 an hour, for Mrs. J. C. Scheer on 1107 W. 5th Street. First thing I think I did was buy a bicycle for transportation, because I had to ride from south Marion out to her house.”(Beck).
“I did house work at somebody’s house, or maybe they would have you babysitting. They would let you baby-sit, in fact I babysat when I was only 11, and the kids were as large as I was, just as rough too boy. The folks didn’t mind that, you could baby-sit or clean their house, but you couldn’t get a job in the factories.”(Perkins, M.).
“The factory opened (to blacks) in 1942. It was called Farnsworth Radio. I went to the factory. The first black to go in, her name was Denise Green. Then I was called in. We worked on radio parts. I soldered radio parts. Later on the headman, it was Jake Campbell (former sheriff, during the lynching of 1930) appointed me to be inspector. Two of them rushed to the office and tried to keep me from getting the job. They took up a petition and had everybody sign it, to try and get me not to take the job. But the supervisor, he was very nice, and he said it didn’t make a difference and he was going to give me the job anywise. I worked for Farnsworth for 5 years, then 7, let me see, ‘42 to ‘49. RCA bought Farnsworth out in 1949. I went right out to RCA, making television parts, from Farnsworth. The same superintendent over Farnsworth got to be the superintendent and he was my friend. He called me in to RCA. I was the first black on production in RCA.”(Beck).
Work in the Marion Community Schools for blacks was out of the question until Oatess Archey led the way for future African-American teachers in Marion, Indiana. Up until he began working for the Marion Community School System, no blacks could obtain jobs as an educator. The lone teaching jobs for African-Americans were out of the all black school DA Payne, but blacks were not hired by the public school system.
“I never thought about segregation, really, because I was their boy when I was in high school. I was a Marion Giant basketball player. Everybody loved me, I thought. When I came home, they slammed the door in my face. My teachers, counselors, parents, grandparents, grandfather, neighbors, preachers, everybody said, ‘Keep your nose clean, and good things will come to you.’ I did that. I came home, and they said, ‘Haven’t you noticed? We don’t have any black teachers in Marion, but if you want to work for the Marion Community Schools System, you can be a janitor.’ So they sent me to the football field, the old football field, behind McCulloch, Memorial Field as it was called then. ‘You know track and field, Mr. All-stater, line the track. Mr. All-stater in football, line the football field. Welcome home. Here’s your toilet bowl brush. Clean out the toilet bowls. Clean out the trash from underneath the bleachers.’ Yeah, I was really taken back. You know, all these people had yelled and screamed for me only four years before. I was only four years older, same person, but now Marion had turned their back on me. They didn’t know me. I ended up being a janitor. I recall the superintendent coming out... I came home in June, and worked at the RCA a couple of weeks, and got laid off in a summer shut down. Then I went to General Motors, worked out there about three weeks, and got laid off, in a steel strike in 1959. Then I went with the Marion Community Schools System, as a janitor. I worked from probably July until about October, as a janitor at the football field. And the superintendent came out and asked me if I still wanted to teach school. And I said, ‘Oh sure, of course!’ So, he told me to be down to the administration building on Monday, this was a Friday. I told my family and my wife’s family, ‘I’m going to be a school teacher.’ And Monday, I went down to the administration office, filled out my teachers contract, for $4200, that’s what all teachers were making back then. After I filled out my contract, the superintendents secretary took me into see the superintendent. So I asked Dr. Simon, I couldn’t hold the anticipation any longer, so I asked him, ‘Where am I going to teach?’ And he took of his glasses, and kind of blew on them and humholed around. And I thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re really not going to teach. We have a situation, in back of the coliseum. It’s a little elementary school.’ It was a little portable school. It was a little white building. There was about four of them at the time, I think it was. Kindergarten to 5th grade, four or five of them. And he said, ‘The teacher is losing control of her class, if she hasn’t already lost control of her class. She’s a lady from Fairmount, Indiana, and all we want you to do is sit in the back of the classroom, and keep the kids quiet, while she teaches them. In other words, we want you to be a bouncer or a sergeant of arms.’ So, I sat there and I said.. .1 just sat there stunned. So he said, ‘Do you want the job, yes or no?’ I was 22, I had no one to talk to, no one to go to, and I said, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, follow me.’ He took me over to Grant Elementary School. My degree was in secondary education. I wasn’t an elementary teacher. He takes me over there, and he says, ‘I’m going to take you to the 5th grade class. These kids are rambunctious, and they just need someone to keep them under control, while the teacher teaches them.’ Back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, there was a boxer, by the name of Archie Moore, and the kids all thought I was Archie Moore the professional boxer. They were all afraid of me. I guess I had that mean look on my face. I was pretty tort, you know, what had happened to me. Now they’re all adults, and they tell me, ‘Mr. Archey, we were afraid of you. We all thought you were Archie Moore the professional boxer, and you were going to box our ears.’ So anyway, I was sitting in the back of the room, in a wooden chair with no arms. And I would say to the kids, ‘Where are you going? Give me that paper wad. Give me that tack. No you can’t sharpen your pencil.’ So by lunchtime I had them under control. Then I went out to lunch, and I came back. I was sitting in the back of the classroom, and I was thinking to myself, ‘I can’t do this.’ And I got through the day, and I went home. And my young wife said to me, ‘Tell me about the first day.’ And I told her. She said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?’ And I said, ‘No, and I’m not going back tomorrow. I’m going back to the football field. This is really not teaching, and I’m not using my education.’ And she says, ‘Wait a minute now. You’ve got your foot in the door. Let’s think about this. You want to be a coach. What grade is it?’ And I said, '5th grade, and I’m not an elementary teacher.’ And she said, ‘That doesn’t make any difference. You’ve got your foot in the door. Help them. What are they doing?’ I said, ‘Multiplication tables, division.’ She said, ‘Well, help them. Read to them. Grade papers.’ So I go back the next day, and talk to the teacher about grading papers. So she gives me a stack about eight inches thick. I took the kids out for recess. The kids started to enjoy being with me; I enjoyed being with them. Then it started to get cold. It was like in December, January. The other teachers started to dump on me, by saying, ‘Oh, Mr. Archey, Miss, so and so’s class...’ I won’t say her name, ‘seems to be having so much fun. Can you take my class out?’ So, what they were doing, they were all inside, drinking coffee, and waving at me. And I was standing out there, as young 22 year old, you know, freezing my buns off. And I got through that year. The next year, they closed down Grant Elementary School. So they sent part of those kids out to Allen, the other part to Clayton Brownlee. And they didn’t know what to do with me, so I’m the experimental black guy. They send me out to McCulloch in the morning, still as a PE teacher. My classroom, I had elementary kids, on the stage. They gave me a trampoline and a mat. That was my classroom. ‘Welcome home.’ In the afternoons, they sent me to Martin Boots. They just wanted to experiment with me. They feared the whites in the communities would not accept me, which was not true. The kids loved me, and I loved them. And the parents, I didn’t have any problems. So I go to, Martin Boots in the afternoon. I taught health, and I taught history. I asked them, ‘Could I coach?’ ‘No! Feel lucky that you’ve got a job.’ That’s what they were telling me. So the next year, I went to the principal and the assistant principal, Mr. Clevenger and Mr. James, at Martin Boots. And I asked them, ‘Can I just go to Martin Boots fulltime, to the middle school or junior high school.’ It used to be 7th 8th and 9th So they said, ‘Yeah, we want you fulltime.’ So I got you out of the elementary school.”(Archey).
“I taught then from 1943 to 1953 (at DA Payne School) when they closed the building, because they built a new Center School. They didn’t think a black teacher would fit in, so I lost the job again, because I was black. Then I tutored for eight years, and then I applied in the city in 1961 and they said the only job open was in Special Education. I told them, well, I’ll take that job. I was prepared for it because all during that eight years I had all kinds of children, all different levels of disabilities, reading, mostly reading, some of them were slow students, so I really had an education in those eight years. By the time I got ready for Special Education, I was ready for it anyway. Then I started going to school again.”(Pate).
For students at Marion High School there really wasn’t much segregation. The segregation instilled by the white students was more in their attitudes than anything else. They basically just forbade blacks to associate with them, unless they were one of the big time athletes. Black girls were not allowed to dress in the same dressing room as the whites, and there were different designated lunch areas for the two races. Black students were not persuaded by their teachers and counselors to further their education after high school, leaving them with little education, and forcing them to settle for meager paying jobs.
“But I do know one thing, when we were in high school on the lunch hour we had one room that we would all go to. That’s the room we was allowed to go to. We was segregated to that room. The other kids would go to another room, the whites, you know. Then, finally, before I got out of high school, they done away with that. I can remember that when I first started high school. That was up at Marion High School. I can’t remember the name of the room, the number if the room, that we would all go to but that’s where we all congregate. We’d always go to that room. You could do your lessons or talk, whatever you wanted to do. Some of the white children, I guess, would go to places or go uptown to little places, you know, on their lunch hour, and then would come back because they was close to town. Back when I was coming up a teenager a lot of things was segregated. “(Stewart).
Matter Park Pool
One of the biggest controversies and turning points dealing with the relations between blacks and whites was over the fact that blacks were not allowed to swim at the Matter Park “public” swimming pool. Blacks were forced to find their own means of swimming locations and lessons. They used local swimming holes, and usually did not go after the rains, due to the fact that they were never properly taught to swim. These swimming areas were both unsafe and unsanitary, but black youths had no other choice if they wanted to swim.
“The life, especially for a young black male, was pretty tough. Name calling, not being allowed to swim at Matter Park. You had to swim either in the river... For the blacks that lived in central Marion, they swam in the river. The blacks that lived in south Marion swam in Deer Creek, out by Weber’s Junkyard. My family lived in north Marion. Growing up in north Marion and being one of the only black families out there, my brother and myself we had to swim in a gravel pit over behind Washington School. It’s now no longer Washington School, its called Blinn Apartments, or something. We were not allowed to swim at Matter Park. Those of us, who wanted to learn how to swim, either swam, like I said, in the river, Deer Creek, or the gravel pit.”(Archey).
“Back in the 1950’s, the Marion Urban League sponsored, started out with a truck, an open-bed truck, that would haul ‘x’ number of black and minority kids over to Anderson then to go swimming, because they couldn’t swim at Matter Park. They started in a flatbed truck and then they migrated up to a regular bus, which was a lot better, safer. We used to go swimming there for a little, little or no fee, and our swimming instructor was a black police officer, named Don Hawkins. And Hawkins was our instructor.”(Perkins, J.).
“Those of us, who wanted to learn how to swim, either swam, like I said, in the river, Deer Creek, or the gravel pit. Then Don Hawkins, a former Marion Police officer, who was a former military man, and a Navy man, well I guess he was in the Navy, he would take the black kids from Marion, we would catch a bus. The kids from central Marion would catch a bus, at 10th and Nebraska Street, at Bethel AME Church. And the rest of us would meet.. .well my brother and I would get with that group at 10th and Nebraska. Black children who lived in south Marion would meet at 35th and Washington Street, at Allen Temple. We would take a couple of buses to Anderson, and swim all day at the Urban League Pool, over there.”(Archey).
Movement to Desegregate
With these disadvantages towards swimming for minorities, some of the blacks in the community decided to take action against segregation of the Matter Park swimming pool. A discriminatory act was filed against the city of Marion in 1954 by the NAACP for their refusal to allow blacks into the public facilities. They proclaimed that segregation of the swimming violated those rights granted to all citizens under the 15th Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and they decided to fight for their rights as US citizens.
“We, the NAACP, they met with the Board of Works, about swimming in the pool. And they said, ‘You would have to see the mayor.’ So we went to Mayor Leech, and he said, we’d have to go back to the park board. The park board said we’d have to go to the council. So we went all of those steps, then we met with the city council.”(Smith).
In the meetings with the city council the NAACP demanded the council to throw open the pools gates to “all people regardless of color or creed.” They charged current regulations were a “direct violation of all existing state and federal laws. One of the protestors of the swimming pool segregation, Rev. Hubert Nukes, “rocked the council into deafening silence with what was later described as ‘some of the best oratory heard in the council chambers in a long, long time.’ He told the council that, while he fought for the Untied States as a first class citizen, ‘I return to my home in Marion to find I may only enjoy the privileges of a second class citizen.”(”Segregation at Park Pool”, p.A-2). Suggestions were made by the park board to somewhat change the swimming status for blacks by either allowing them to swim for three days a week or funding for a new pool which would be integrated for both blacks and whites. The group, however, rejected this by saying it still did not change the issues of segregation in Marion.
“Then the city council wanted to give us one day, Thursday, that we could swim. Then I think it was Henry (Henry Mills) that asked them, ‘What are you gonna do? After we swim the one-day, empty the pool, scrub it...' So, they told us, we took all of those steps... and one guy, his name was Talbot, he said, no he’d never let us swim. Then they told us, if we wanted to swim, we’d have to go to court. I think they thought we was going to go to the county court. And since back then, the pools was segregated all of over the United States. So we went, and got some attorneys out of Indianapolis, Indiana, Patrick Chevas and Willard Ransom. Then they came up and talked with us, and they told us the steps we had to take. So we went out to seek admission at the pool. We took two students, who were honor students at the high school, Jewette Jackson and Meredith Ward. Then there was five adults; Carlyle Gulliford, C. D. Banks, Henry Mills, Pearl Bassett, and me. So we went out, and when Meredith and Jewette went down, they told them they couldn’t swim. So then we went back to the attorneys and told them what happened. So they said, ‘What we need is some pictures, to have proof that the pool was open, and kids were swimming.’ And that’s when we got Marilyn’s brother, Chet Pettiford. He was a photographer back then. And he went out next time, and he took pictures of the pool being open and the hours posted on the door, and Jewette and Meredith going down to seek admittance. The second week we went, Carey Meyer was the sheriff, and they knew we were coming. I guess they thought we were going to raise a boatload of sand. You know, I could say something else. (laughing) They had just plain citizens deputized, just like you in your clothes you have on now, he deputized some of them, just to have enough enforcers there. And they would walk around with guns on their hips. I wish I had those pictures, because I had a picture of this one guy, who had a pistol on his hip and a cigar in his mouth. And I said, ‘Are we supposed to go down there to try and get in the pool?’ They said, ‘Yes, it’s just part of it.’ So they didn’t do nothing when we went down, but it was kind of scary. Mr. Pettiford took the pictures, and those were the proof when we had. When we filed the suit in the Federal Court of Fort Wayne, Indiana, they said they had been hearing about us wanting to swim in Marion, Indiana. We went to the Lincoln Tower Building in Fort Wayne, and they turned their entire. . .there was a firm there in that building, at we went to federal court, because we had to get so many papers and briefs together to file on it. And they turned their entire staff over to our NAACP legal council that afternoon, to get the papers filed. When we got back home that evening, the US Marshall’s came, and they filed with the mayor, and the city council. They did it that fast. . .they called and wanted to know, would we be willing to go to South Bend, Indiana. Because they couldn’t get it on the docket in Fort Wayne before the summer was over, and they knew that we wanted to swim before summer was over. So, they transferred. . . they called South Bend to see if we could get it on the docket in South Bend. So that was about a month later, maybe. Then we went to South Bend, Indiana, and Lloyd Cochran was a city attorney and it takes a certain attorney to practice before a federal bench. Just can’t every attorney go before a federal bench. So Marion had to hire a law firm from out of South Bend, to represent them along with Mr. Cochran to go before the federal bench, opposing us swimming. At noon, they called a recess, and the attorneys from South Bend representing Marion, they told them they had no choice but to let us swim, or they was going to withdraw from the case, the attorneys in South Bend. So we went before the bench that afternoon, and the judge granted us permission to swim and that all public facilities in Grant County would be open to everyone. That included all the Grant County or it was subject to a $2,000 per day fine. And we used to couldn’t be able to swim at Clearwater, so that included Clearwater also, but we never attempted to swim at Clearwater. When we got back home. . . they used to sell papers twice a day back then, the Chronicle did. One was called the Leader Tribune and the other was called the Chronicle. When we got back home that evening, the man at the bank corner, he would sell the papers, and it said, ‘Park Pool Open to Everyone’. That fast they got the news. So that’s the way it went.”(Smith).
The integration of the Matter Park swimming pool was met by much resentment on the behalf of the racist whites in the community. Two members of the park board, Pres. Chester Shawley and A. Russell Hutchinson, displayed their bitterness towards the desegregation of the swimming pool by resigning from their posts. Another two female attendants at the bathhouse at Matter Park Swimming Pool quit their jobs. Also, on July 25, the first day of non-segregated swimming, the attendance of the swimming pool was reported to be only 70 persons, compared to usual attendance of 700. The desegregation of the Matter Park swimming pool was a key moment in history for the black community of Marion, Indiana. It helped to lead the way to the desegregation of all public facilities in Marion.
Unrest in 1969
In 1969, Marion, like much of the United States, entered a state of hysteria with the large-scale amount of protests dealing with the civil rights movement. Riotous behavior had begun amongst both whites and blacks as shootings, arson, and other types of misconduct became regular.
“In 1969 I walked the halls of Marion High School. I was on the police department, because of they had a mini riot out in the high school, in the cafeteria. And the Marion Police Department for about a week or two weeks, walked the halls, out at Marion High School. We was called, first in ‘69, when they started burning the Custer Lumber Company, I think Meshingomesia Country Club was caught on fire, several warehouses caught on fire here in town, plenty of shooting.” Arson appeared to be the weapon of choice, as both whites and blacks set fire to the others establishments. Blacks were believed to have set fire to Custer Lumber Company, Meshingomesia Country Club, Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and the Marion Poultry Company, among others. Whites also took part in the arson by setting fire to McCulloch Junior High (a predominately black school), Mac’s Grocery, Chuck’s Tavern, and Kat Gas. In one night 39 persons were arrested for disorderly conduct, 19 of whom were juveniles, and 20 of the 39 black. Shootings also occurred as “whites drove through Negro residential areas of the city.”(Custer).
“The police department was called out. I never will forget, we got out of a school bus, at 18th and Pearl Street, and marched down to 18th and Meridian Street, where there was club, called Little Harlem. And we marched down the street that night with a gas mask, riot helmets, shotguns, and we were met with eggs. Shotguns were fired, tear gas being shot off. It was a moment. During that summer you would get called out on calls, that was set up. It got so bad, that we had to put our bulletproof vests in the windows of our police cars, because we had been shot at so much. So you would make these calls, and they would just bait you out there, so they could shoot at you. It was a very interesting time. There was a young group of blacks that started the Black Panthers in Marion. They even had a little pool hail that was established out on 35th Street, 35th and Carey. One night, I went out there, and the police shot that place up. There must have been 100 rounds that went through there. There was a lady that lived in the 1500 block of S. Branson Street that was a militant. One evening there was over 50 shots fired through her house. So there was some times, back in ‘68, ‘69, and ‘70, that was very trying especially for anybody in law enforcement at that time.”(Perkins, J.).
Executive director of the Urban League, Henry G. Curry, presented a program of action to halt civil disturbances in Marion to Mayor Gene Moore. Curry stated, “This is not a Negro problem. It’s a community problem. I think it’s important that city officials and the community don’t over react.” Moore also said that all contacts between city officials and Negro leaders had been “initiated by the Urban League.” In his opinion, the mayor should have called on the Negro leaders, not vice versa (Urban League). It appeared as if only the black leaders in the community were trying to end the situation at hand, as all proposals were commenced either by the Urban League or the NAACP. The NAACP even went so far, as to “appeal for state and federal action to halt what is described as ‘a breakdown of law order’ in Marion (NAACP). The biggest statement made by the black community was in their organization of a 2,000-person protest march on the courthouse and workshop designed to acquaint members with the local chapter and to enlighten citizens of the workings of the organizations and its goals. On July 19, 1969, the march protesting racial injustices began at Marion High School, moved east on 26th Street to Nebraska Street, then north to Fourth Street, and from there to south side of the courthouse square. Upon reaching the courthouse, Father James Groppi, who gained national fame as a civil rights leader in Milwaukee, called on Marion’s Negro community to boycott stores and other concerns in the city which practice racial discrimination. Henry Mills, executive secretary of the Marion NAACP chapter, read a “manifesto” outlining demands for racial equality in Marion. The document called for the reforms in the areas of employment, education, and housing. The march and rally were part of a district gathering of NAACP members from Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Michigan. The march organized by the NAACP and leading blacks in the community marked the downfall of the racial riots of 1969 and instilled a sense of stability amongst the people of the Marion community.
Marion, Indiana during the 20th century proved to be a city tainted by the presence of segregation. African-Americans forced to start at a disadvantage fought their way to obtain equality in a community of hate and burden. Blacks restricted from movie theaters, restaurants, decent jobs and housing, and means of entertainment had no other choice than to organize amongst themselves to set things right for their present community and those to come in the future. Though segregation may not have been eradicated as a whole, through the efforts of such organizations as the NAACP and Urban League, the situation in Marion, Indiana has taken a great change from its former manner.
- Archey, Oatess E. Interview with Lucas White. Marion, Indiana. 27 Apr. 2001.
- “Attendance is Down at Pool.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 25 Jul. 1954: A1-2.
- Beck, Irene. Interview with Lucas White. Marion, Indiana. 15 May 2001.
- Cline, Mike. “Images in Black.” Special Issue of the Chronicle Tribune. 12 Feb. 1995.
- “City Officials Given Summons.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 27 Jul. 1954: A 1-2.
- “Council Orders Pool Open to All.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 24 Jul. 1954: A1-2.
- “Custer Lumber Company Fire Ends Hours of Calm in City.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 29 Jun. 1969: Al-2.
- “Fire Bombings Dwindle after Daylight Blaze.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 02 Jul. 1969: A1-2.
- “Human Relations Group Seeks Solution to Tension.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 09 Jul. 1969. A1-2.
- “NAACP Asks State, Federal Help in Marion.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 02 Jul. 2969: A1-2.
- “NAACP to have Parade, Rally.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 16 Jul. 1969: Al-2.
- “Negro and White Leaders Focus on Marion Tension.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 08 Jul. 1969: Al.
- “Park Board Budget for ‘55 withdrawn.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 28 Jul. 1954: Al.
- Pate, Nevada. Interview with Barbara J. Stevenson. Marion, Indiana. 22 Jun. 1994.
- Perkins, Jim. Interview with Lucas White. Marion, Indiana. 24 Apr. 2001.
- Perkins, Marilyn. Interview with Lucas White. Marion, Indiana. 08 May 2001.
- Reed, Florence. Interview with Lucas White. Marion, Indiana. 17 Apr. 2001
- “Segregation at Park Pool Hit at Meet.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 07 Jul. 1954: A1-2.
- “600 Take Part in March, Rally.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 20 Jul. 1969: Al-2.
- Smith, Roger. Interview with Lucas White. Marion, Indiana. 14 May 2001.
- Stevenson, Barbara J. Voice of America: An Oral History of African-Americans in Grant County. Arcadia Publishing. Charleston, SC. 2000.
- Stewart, Elizabeth. Interview with Torrianna Williams. Marion, Indiana. 1997-1998.
- “Swimming Pool Proposal Meets Mixed Reaction.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 21 Jul. 1954: Al-2.
- “3 Charged for Possession of Arson Tools, Materials.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 30 Jun. 1969: Al-2.
- “Two more Marion Firms Hit by Fire.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 02 Jul. 1969: Al-2.
- “Urban League Chief Proposes ‘Action’ Plan.” Chronicle Tribune. Marion, Indiana. 02 Jul. 1969: Al-2.
Written by Lucas White for Mr. Munn's AP US History and Mr. Lakes' AP English 11. Submitted on May 21, 2001.