Tour B 2. Lincoln and The Emancipation Proclomation

On February 12, 1861 Abraham Lincoln visited Indianapolis on his train trip to his presidential inauguration, the first president-elect to visit Indianapolis. Four years later in very different circumstances, Lincoln’s funeral train passed through the city on April 30, 1865, with an estimated 100,000 people viewing the coffin at the Indiana Statehouse.[1]

This is not Lincoln' casket, but a staged image taken by the Indianapolis Star the day after the viewing. The image of the Civil War in public memory was activly shped from the War to the present day. Image Source: Indianapolis Star/News Archives

This is not Lincoln’ casket, but a staged image taken by the Indianapolis Star the day after the viewing. The image of the Civil War in public memory was actively shaped from the War to the present day. Image Source: Indianapolis Star/News Archives

"Lincoln to the People of Indiana Marker. Image Source: Indiana Historical Bureau

“Lincoln to the People of Indiana Marker.
Image Source: Indiana Historical Bureau, ihb.gov

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School children have been taught over the years to credit Lincoln for ending slavery, as seen in this poster from the late nineteenth century.
Image Source: Library of Congress, loc.gov

Many point to Abraham Lincoln as the “Great Emancipator,” and while it is important to value his leadership and contributions to Emancipation, it is also important to recognize the contributions of generations of African Americans in the freedom movement.[2] African Americans built their own lives of freedom  by seeking “self-emancipation,” building free communities in the North, serving in the Civil War Army and agitating for civil rights.[3]  In addition, thousands of whites across the North fought for Black freedom, both in abolition campaigns and on the battlefields of the Civil War.[4]

The story of the end of slavery is fundamentally altered by seeing Emancipation as a process of transition from slavery to freedom. New scholarship recasts Emancipation from a moment of casting off shackles, to a “process of emancipation,” that includes the “complicated legal, political, economic and social transitions that slaves confronted along their road to freedom.” The resulting journey to freedom—both in space and experience—is a story marked by both tremendous agency and suffering on the part of the African Americans, and deep racial ambivalence in the North.[5]

African Americans “flooded” into Indiana during the war and in the immediate aftermath, at a greater pace than during the antebellum period and local blacks and whites sought to negotiate the place for African Americans in the post-war state.   State laws specifically prohibited this immigration, and White Hoosiers were largely hostile to the freedpeople, with lynchings and other extralegal mechanisms employed across the state to discourage the influx.These “contraband” moved to Indiana often arriving with only the tattered clothing on their backs. The first months of freedom meant  competing for jobs with earlier Black Hoosiers and hostile Whites, in a highly inflationary environment. A small number of sympathetic Whites, many Quakers,   donated funds and provided jobs and shelter to help assist the freedpeople, however the African American community, through the AME and Second Baptist Churches,  stretched their already meager resources to help assist the newcomers.[6]

A close analysis of African American efforts to build freedom in Indianapolis offers an opportunity to reconstruct the links between the church, social justice and violence by locating the shifting informal politics of race on the streets of the city.  During 1864, the Emancipation Proclamation, mounting war casualties, and Democrats’ agitation of anti-Black prejudice for political gain created a volatile situation that only needed a match to ignite. This climate  lead not only to the Indianapolis Station fire, but also to riots in other Midwestern cities.[7]The Civil War brings changes in Northern laws, but slowly over the period of Reconstruction.[8]  The state Supreme Court overturned the 13th Amendment prohibiting Black settlement in the State in the winter of 1866, though it was not removed from the state Constitution until 1880,[9] In November 1865,  Indiana Blacks received the right to testify against whites, though a double standard of justice continued well into the twentieth century.[10]

Historic view of the Indiana State House. Image Source: Indiana State House, indy.gov

Historic view of the Indiana State House.
Image Source: Indiana State House, in.gov


[1] Emma Lou Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880 (Indiana Historical Society, 1991), 87–88, 221.

[2] There is a large body of literature on historic memory and the Civil War, two recent important works are David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2009); James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, Slavery And Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (The New Press, 2011).

[3] There is a large body of literature on free black communities in the North, see Stephen Ward Angell, Anthony B. Pinn,  Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862-1939, 1st ed (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2000); Julius Bailey, Race Patriotism: Protest and Print Culture in the AME Church (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2012); David W. Blight and Brooks D. Simpson, Union and Emancipation (Kent State University Press, 1997); James Horton and Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty : Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860 (Oxford University Press, 1996); Patrick Rael, Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Univ of North Carolina Press, 2003); Rita Roberts, Evangelicalism and the Politics of Reform in Northern Black Thought, 1776-1863 (LSU Press, 2011).

[4] There is a large body of literature on Reconstruction and interracial cooperation, see Leslie A. Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest (University of North Carolina Press, 2009); Jim Downs, Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2012); James M. McPherson, The Struggle for Equality: Abolitionists and the Negro in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Princeton University Press, 1967); John T. Cumbler, From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Anna-Lisa Cox, “200 Years of Freedom: Charles Grier and the History of African American Settlement in Gibson County, Indiana,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 25, no. 1 (2013): 35–39.

[5] Downs, Sick from Freedom, Introduction.

Statue of Young Lincoln, at the Indiana Government Center. This building now houses the DNR- Department of Historic Preservation and Arceology which supports Underground Railroad innitiatives in Indiana.

Statue of Young Lincoln, at the Indiana Government Center. This building now houses the DNR- Department of Historic Preservation and Archaeology which supports Underground Railroad initiatives in Indiana.

[6] Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880, 558–567; Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: a Study of a Minority (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 206–231; Elder Moses Broyles, The History of the Second Baptist Church of Indianapolis (I: Printing and Publishing House, 1876); Stanley Warren, “The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Traces (Summer 2007): 32–36.

[7] There is a large body of literature on violence on the home front, see Adam Arenson, The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War (Harvard University Press, 2011); Robert D. Sampson, “Pretty Damned Warm Times‘: The 1864 Charleston Riot and ’The Inalienable Right of Revolution,” Illinois Historical Journal 89, no. 2 (July 1, 1996): 99–116; Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (P. Smith, 1972); Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880, passim; Jacque Voegeli, “The Northwest and the Race Issue, 1861-1862,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 50, no. 2 (September 1, 1963): 235–251; V. Jacque Voegeli, “A Rejected Alternative: Union Policy and the Relocation of Southern ‘Contrabands’ at the Dawn of Emancipation,” The Journal of Southern History 69, no. 4 (November 1, 2003): 765–790; Jennifer L. Weber, Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North (Oxford University Press, 2006).

[8] Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900, 255–288; Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880, 225–274.

[9] Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880, 248.

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