Monthly Archives: July 2015

Gardens in the Black City: Landscaping 20th-Century African America

In July, 1937 Louise Terry was married in the garden at her parents’ Indianapolis home, and her mother Mary Ellen and father Curtis were likely proud of their daughter and garden alike.  In the days leading up to the nuptials the Indianapolis Recorder rhapsodized about the Terrys’ garden: “A beautiful rock garden and lily pond bordered with flowers of variegated hues against a background of Sabin Junipers, Oriental Golden Arbor-Vitae, Colorado Blue Spruce, Virginia Glanca, Blue Junipers, Japanese Cedars, and stately Poplars will create a celestial atmosphere … at the Terry residence, 1101 Stadium Drive.”

Dorothea Lange's 1939 image of a North Carolina sharecropper's cabin indicated "Note also flower garden protected by slender fence of lathes" (Farm Security Administration,Library of Congress).

Dorothea Lange’s 1939 image of a North Carolina sharecropper’s cabin indicated “Note also flower garden protected by slender fence of lathes” (Farm Security Administration,Library of Congress).

The Terrys’ garden lay in the heart of the city’s near-Westside, part of an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood that was routinely caricatured as a “blighted” or “slum” landscape.  In the summer of 1937 that Louise Terry was wed, construction was nearing completion on the city’s first major urban renewal project, Lockefield Garden, just blocks from the Terry home (the segregated African American community accepted its first tenants in February 1938).  There was indeed genuine impoverishment and material hardship in much of the near-Westside, yet the African-American city was dotted with ornamental gardens like the Terrys’ home.  The archaeological scholarship on African-American landscapes includes fascinating analyses of plantation spaces and food gardens, but there is far less scholarship on the scores of ornamental African-American gardens in 20th-century cities and suburbs. Compounding the dilemma in cities like Indianapolis is the reality that many of these gardens have been erased.  Nevertheless, ignoring them allows racist stereotypes of longstanding urban ruin to pass unchallenged, and it risks ignoring that many similar gardens and gardeners remain scattered across the contemporary city. Read the rest of this entry

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