Tour A 3. African American School & Lucy Jefferson Graham

school map screenshot

Location of the school, shown on the 1878 Sandborn Map, overlaid on the modern streetscape. Note the later reuse of the building for the AME Zion Church. Image Source: Google Earth and Indianapolis Sandborn Collection, IUPUI Digital Library.

For the Indianapolis Station community, early Sunday and day schools were operated from the church building, with the pastor or class leaders serving as the teacher.[1]  As part of the AME social justice mission of education, the AME Church operated their own schools because Indiana did not provide public education for African Americans.[2] While the first generation moving to the North had lower levels of literacy, education was clearly a priority.  The second generation showed significantly higher literacy rates, without access to regular schools.[3]  The deed for the purchase of the Georgia Street property in 1841 attests to this, as half of the Trustees could not write their name. By 1867 all of the Trustees could sign their name for the purchase of the Vermont Street property.[4]

school

School at Lyle Station, c. 1880 with descendants of Lucy Jefferson Graham. Image Source: Bethel Archives

“It shall be the duty of every member of the conference,” resolved the Ohio Conference in 1833, “to do all in his power to promote and establish these useful institutions among our people.”[5] Indianapolis Station Rev. Elisha Weaver championed the school, promoting a boarding school in The Christian Recorder. By 1858, the church petitioned the Indianapolis city council to allow the church to use an abandoned school building at this site for their church.[6]

Education was the cornerstone of “racial uplift,” and central to the AME from its inception.  AME founder Richard Allen established a free school for adults and children in 1796. To provide the educational materials central to this mission, he started the critical Book Concern in 1817. As the church expanded and grew, the educational actives followed with resources devoted to education and publications at all general conventions. The activities included not only Sunday Schools but common schools, temperance groups,  literary societies and high schools for the education of the “rising generation.”[7] The AME Church was active across Indiana, by 1848 reporting over 2,000 pupils.[8]

Location of the former school, along Indiana Avenue.

Location of the former AME  school, along Indiana Avenue.

The Indianapolis Station AME school hosted public entertainments by the students to show off the students to the White community. [9] The events proved popular, with the April 28, 1858 Indianapolis Daily Journal, commenting on the beautiful singing of “popular negro airs.”[10] Nationally, Blacks struggled to serve as models of moral behavior. [11] From the founding of the AME denomination, the church worked to not only to bring salvation to the sinful but also to “improve the economic and social position of their people in American Society.”[12]

One of the teachers at the Indianapolis Station school was Lucy Graham (Jefferson), who assisted  Rev. Elisha Weaver with the day to day operation of the school.[13]  After the Civil War, she moved to the Princeton Indiana, using her early skills to develop black organizations there.[14] Her efforts connected her with the nearby Wayman AME Chapel, and the town of Lyle Station.[15]  While many early African American rural settlements saw decline in the late nineteenth century, Lyle Station remained tenaciously independent despite tornadoes, floods and racial violence. [16]Examination of gender and domesticity in the 19th-century African Methodist Episcopal Church presents a new understanding of family life in American religious history. The church’s power helped shape the dynamics of the family informing and strengthening the role and spirit and of African-Americans following the Civil War.[17] Black women’s leadership directly led to a focus on the living conditions and broader social change. [18] Northern Black community’s existence served as a form of social protest.  In the antebellum North and then postbellum South, AME Churches were the recognized as the heart of Black communities, serving as a source of news, political organization, education, moral uplift, social welfare, domestic advice and community consensus building.  Commitment to Social Protest informed daily life, shaping the community from the pulpit, the courtroom to the family alter.[19]

3. Site of Indianapolis Station School and teacher Lucy Jefferson Graham

Forge History

Forge History

Explore the Crispus Attucks High School Museum to learn more about African American Education in Indiana

Explore Lyle Station, Indiana to see a rural African American settlement and learn more about Lucy Jefferson Graham


[1] Stanley Warren, “The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Traces (Summer 2007): 32–36;  Lori B. Jacobi, “More Than a Church: The Educational Role of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Indiana, 1844-1861,” Black History News and Notes 31 (February 1988): 5–7.

[2] Julius Bailey, Around the Family Altar: Domesticity in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1865-1900 (University Press of Florida, 2005). For a general discussion on the importance of education in the AME Church, see Clarence Earl Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land: The African Methodist Episcopal Church During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982); Daniel A. Payne, Recollections of 70 Years (Arno Press, 1888); Hilary J. Moss, Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

[3] Stephen A. Vincent, Southern Seed, Northern Soil: African-American Farm Communities in the Midwest, 1765-1900 (Indiana University Press, 1999), 74–78.

[4] For copies of deed records, see Danni Paff, “Bethel AME Church Marker Application,” Indiana Historical Bureau, Indianapolis, Indiana.

[5] As quoted in Paul R. Griffin,“A Brief Account of the Development and Work of African Methodism in Ohio and Indiana, 1830-1865,” Black History News and Notes 23 (November 1985): 8.

[6] The site of the school was later an African American AME Zion church, another African American denomination founded during the ante-bellum period.  “Proceedings of the City Council,” Morning Journal, 1858, “Bethel AME Marker Application File.”

[7] Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land, 3–28.

[8]  Jacobi, “More Than a Church,” 3-7.

[9] “Colored School,” Indiana Journal, October 13, 1858; “Bethel AME Church Marker File,”

[10] “The Colored Exhibition,” Indianapolis Daily Journal, April 28, 1858.

[11] Bailey, Around the Family Altar, Chapter 1.

[12] Walker, A Rock in a Weary Land, xvii. Stephen Ward Angell, Anthony B. Pinn, Social Protest Thought in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1862-1939, 2–36.

[13] Jacobi, “More Than a Church,” 4.

[14] Obituary, The Christian Recorder,  June 25, 1896.

[15] Randy K. Mills, “‘They Defended Themselves Nobly’: A Story of African American Empowerment in Evansville, Indiana 1857,” Black History News and Notes (August 2005): 2–5; “Lyles,” accessed April 26, 2013.

[16] 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; “Lyles Station in Gibson County Indiana,” accessed May 5, 2013.

[17] Bailey, Around the Family Altar.

[18]  Jualynne E. Dodson, Engendering Church: Women, Power, and the AME Church (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).

[19]  George A. Singleton, The Romance of African Methodism: a Study of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. (Exposition Press, 1952.)

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Continue to Stop 4: Overall House

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