Blue Tour B: Indianapolis Station and the Civil War

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1. Indianapolis Station Fire, July 7, 1864

Months of simmering tensions in the city over the nature of the war and the arming of African American troops reached a boiling point in July 7, 1864 when White “incendiaries” burned the church. Earlier in the night, the church had hosted a Freedman’s Aid Society fundraiser for Black war widows and aid for recently immigrated freed slaves, referred to as “refugees.”  The immigration of African Americans, experienced against the backdrop of the potential expansion of African American civil rights, stressed the uneasy racial relations past their breaking point. The Daily Journal pointed to the cause of the fire as the African American “Contraband,” the term the army used to describe the enslaved people flooding to the Union Army lines. The rival Democratic Indianapolis Sentinel found the accusations that White soldiers burned the church a “monstrous outrage.” This vicious arson attack literally left the congregation, as well as a number of the refuges living in the church, homeless.
2. Lincoln & Emancipationemnc proc

Lincoln and Emancipation Proclamation, printed for use in schools.

 

On February 12, 1861 Abraham Lincoln visited Indianapolis on his train trip  to the presidential inauguration. Four years later in very different circumstances, Lincoln’s funeral train passed through the city on April 30, 1865.  An estimated 100,000 people viewing the coffin at the Indiana Statehouse.Many point to Abraham Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator,” and while it is important to value his leadership and contributions to emancipation, it is equally important to recognize the contributions of generations of African Americans in the freedom movement. African Americans built their own lives of freedom through seeking “self-emancipation,” building free communities in the North, serving in the Civil War army and agitating for civil rights.

In addition, thousands of whites across the North fought for freedom, both in abolition campaigns and on the battlefields of the Civil War.

3. Gov. Morton meets with Garland White and Dr. Willis Revels to form 28th USCT

While Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton had resisted campaigns to allow African Americans to serve in the Union Army, public opinion was beginning to change. In October and Novemeber 1863, local abolitionist Calvin Fletcher, Rev. Willis Revels and Rev. Garland White met Gov. Morton to discuss recruitment for the unit that would become Indiana’s first African American Regiment, the 28th  United States Colored Troops (USCT). These three men understood the critical importance of  army service for African American men in campaigns to secure civil rights.  On November 30, 1863, Morton was officially authorized to raise one “colored” regiment of infantry. On December 3, 1863, general orders were issued by Indiana’s adjutant general to begin accepting enlistments. Morton appointed Revels, Fletcher and White recruiting officers.
4.  Civil War Training & Chaplin Garland White

Garland White, who had escaped from slavery to Canada, returned to the United States during the Civil War to help win freedom for Blacks. He was a recruiter for 28th United States Colored Troops (USCT) at Indianapolis Station, serving as Chaplin and the one of the first Black commissioned officers in United States Army. He wrote letters to The Christian Recorder about his service, sharing a more personal side of his service. His letters offer a rare glimpse of what it meant to a former slave to fight for the freedom of his race. He wrote from the field describing his vision for the future,  “freemen in Texas, as in Ohio and freemen at the ballot box as at the cartridge box.”
5. Josephine Dupee House c. 1887

Across West Street was the site of the 1887 home of Josephine Dupee. She moved to Indianapolis in 1864 after her  husband joined the Union Army. She was part of the larger wave of Blacks moving North to freedom. She joined the Vermont Street AME Church, and was an active lifelong member. The mixed race neighborhoods surrounding the Vermont Street were decimated in the 1950 and 1960s through interstate construction, hospital growth and IUPUI campus expansion. The few blocks of the Ransom Place Historic District suggest the appearance of this neighborhood during the life of Dupee, and at the height of the AME Church’s membership.
6.  Madame C. J. Walker & Fredrick Douglass

 

Madame C. J. Walker, whose home was on West Street adjacent to the factory, donated to national and local causes related to social justice and the remembrance of slavery. The National Association Of Colored Woman (NACW) Conference celebrated Walker for making the largest contribution to save the house of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Anacostia in Washington. As a Black businesswoman and role model, she traveled the country giving lectures on political, economic and social issues, such as federal anti-lynching laws. She worked with national leaders to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), with Indiana branch organized at Bethel AME. She continued to donate money throughout her career to the AME Church, Indiana and national black schools, organizations, individuals.
7. Vermont Street AME Church

The Indianapolis Station AME Church, was renamed the Vermont Street AME Church in 1869,  reflecting the move of the church after the fire in 1864.
Vermont Street AME Church seemed a phoenix rising from the ashes of the fire and the trauma of the Civil War. The road was long and far from smooth; the church mortgaged their dreams in order to build a new “safe place” for the congregation. Though the process of rebuilding was slow, by the end of the nineteenth century the church emerged as the leader of a vibrant African American community along Indiana Avenue. Due to the success and growth of the congregation, the building was remodeled and expanded in 1894. At this time, the congregation began being referred to as Bethel AME reflecting its preeminent place in a thriving black community of Indianapolis.
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