Tour A 6. Second Baptist Church Fire 1851

Early African American Church meeting. Image Source: Scraps of AME History

Second Baptist Church was burned by arsonists in 1850-1851, as part of a campaign of intimidation and violence surrounding the 1850 Indiana Constitutional debates.[1] Second Baptist Church was formed in 1846, and grew slowly during the antebellum period. The Second Baptist Church was rebuilt in 1853.   After the fire, the congregation persevered and during the following two decades the church membership grew dramatically. [3] There was virtually no “mingling of the races“ in churches, schools and fraternal organizations.[4]   In Indiana, “no institution probably played so important a role in shaping the attitudes and conduct of Negros as did their churches.” There were 74 African American churches in 1864, though some Blacks attended integrated churches.   53 of the churches were AME and another 19 were Baptist.[5]

1887 Sandborn overlaid on current street scpae. Note the blocks of demolished homes.  Frame structures yellow, and brick structures in pink. Image Source: Indianapols Sandborn Collection, IUPUI Digital Collections and Google Earth.

1887 Sandborn Map overlaid on current streetscape. Note the blocks of demolished homes. Frame structures yellow, and brick structures in pink. Image Source: Indianapolis Sandborn Map Collection, IUPUI Digital Collections and Google Earth.

During the 1850-1851 Indiana State Constitution debates, Indiana was polarized over the proposed Article 13 of the Indiana Constitution that would prohibit the new settlement of African Americans in Indiana. Article 13 was ratified by over 60 percent of the white voters in the state, as African Americans were not allowed to vote. The vote demonstrated widespread support throughout the state, though vote totals offer a glimpse into the pockets of anti-slavery sentiment near Quaker settlements in eastern Indiana.[6] This vote, and the numerous subsequent laws passed in the wake of the 1851 Constitution, marked Indiana as having the most restrictive racial settlement laws in the North.[7]  Indiana was the last Northern state to repeal these “black laws.” Article 13 and related laws were overturned judicially and legally in 1869 with the ratification of the 15th Amendment.  The racially offensive language was not removed from the Indiana Constitution until March 1881.[8]

While tranquil today, imagine the Central Canal as a racial fault line in the city.

While tranquil today, imagine the Central Canal as a racial fault line in the city.

broyles grave

Tombstone of Moses Broyles, placed by congregation on his unmarked grave.
Image Source: Find-a-grave.com

Many White Hoosiers saw no hope for improving racial relations, concluding that the only solution was to prohibit Blacks from settling in Indiana and colonizing all Black Hoosiers in Africa.[9]  Rev. Willis Revels was selected to travel to Africa to begin plans for the settlement. Colonization was despised by many African Americans and denounced by the AME Church, leading Revels to cancel his trip to Africa.[10] Indiana had an active, mostly White, Indiana Colonization Society. The state government even approved funds for colonization, however this resulted in few Blacks leaving the state for Africa.[11] Collectively, these actions did result in stemming the growth of the Black population in Indiana between 1850 and 1860. The bitter racial sentiment and discrimination probably sent more Hoosiers to Canada than to Liberia. [12]

In response to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law,  Article 13 of the Indiana Constitution, the  Colonization movement, and increasing racial violence, the second Indiana Colored Convention was held at Indianapolis Station AME Church in August 1851. Second Baptist congregant and Conference President John Britton insisted that “colored men” were entitled to rights “as Americans.” [13] After this important meeting, race leaders convened yearly before the state legislature meeting, usually at the Indianapolis Station AME Church, to work towards promoting civil rights.[14]

In the face of the nearby Second Baptist buring and racial violence, local AME parishioners were concerned. Indianapolis Station AME Church went as far as to obtain permission to sell its building due “unfavorable location.”[15] Even seemingly political and legal struggles could have far reaching religious and social implications. The divisive 1851 Indiana State Constitution debates, resulted in the segregation of virtually all Indiana Methodist churches in the state, thereby having the unexpected consequence of fueling the growth of the segregated African Methodist Episcopal denomination.[16]

While some parishioners moved, and many across the state immigrated to Canada, both congregations stayed in Indianapolis.  As many Southern Blacks moved to Indianapolis during the Civil War period, both congregations grew dramatically.  Second Baptist Pastor Moses Broyles was important leader during the Civil War and Reconstruction periods.[2]

The Consituion of Indiana, Article 13 restricted African American Settlement in Indiana.  Image Source: Indiana Historical Bureau, ihb.gov

The Constitution of Indiana, Article 13 restricted African American Settlement in Indiana.
Image Source: Indiana Historical Bureau, ihb.gov

6. Site of Second Baptist Church Fire 1851

Forge History

Forge History

Visit the Second Baptist Church for worship.

[1] There is a large literature on the Indiana 1850 Constitutional debates, see Thronbough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900 (Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1993), 128, 138-139.

[2] Ibid., 369.

[3] Ibid., 368.

[4] For social institutions in Indiana, see Ibid., 367–390.

[5] Bruce Biglow, “The Cultural Geography of African Americans in Antebellum Indiana,” Black History News & Notes (2009): 2–7  See also, L. C. Rudolph, Hoosier Faiths, (Indiana University Press, 1995).

[6] Bruce Biglow, “The Cultural Geography of African Americans in Antebellum Indiana.”

[7] Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 15-18.

[8] Thronbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900, 248-250.

[9] For discussions, see Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860 (Cornell University Press, 1998);  Andrew Napolitano, Dred Scott’s Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America (Thomas Nelson Inc, 2009); Schwalm, Emancipation’s Diaspora.

[10] Indiana State Sentinel, April 14, 1846.

[11] Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900, 73–91.

[12]  Biglow, “The Cultural Geography of African Americans in Antebellum Indiana.”

[13] The first Colored Convention was held March 1842 at Indianapolis Station, with A. J Overall, son of James Overall, serving as a delegate from Indianapolis. Indiana State Journal, August 6, 1851. Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900, 145. See also, Philip S. Foner and George E. Walker, eds., Proceedings of the Black State Conventions, 1840-1865: Volume 1 (Temple University Press, 1979).

[14]  Thornbrough, Indiana in the Civil War Era, 146. Indianapolis Daily Sentinel January 7, 1857.

[15] Stanley Warren, “The Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church,” Traces (Summer 2007): 32–36.

[16] Herbert Heller, Indiana Conference of the Methodist Church, 1832-1956, (DePauw University: Historical Society of the Indiana Conference, 1956).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s