Author Archives: Paul Mullins

Community Heritage and Eviction in Blue Lake Trailer Park

In August 1956 the Indianapolis Star included this picture of the Blue Lake Trailer Park yard landscaped by its residents Forrest and Avis Marie Martin.

This piece was co-authored with Jonathan Howe, President of the West Indianapolis Neighborhood Congress

In August 1956 the winners of an Indianapolis yard beautification contest included Forrest and Avis Marie Martin of Blue Lake Park, a community at 3023 West Morris Street. Like many residents in the city’s southwestern suburbs, William Forrest Martin was a World War II veteran who moved to newly constructed neighborhoods that were expanding out from Indianapolis’ core. Forrest was a bulldozer operator for American Aggregates Corporation, a sand and gravel firm that managed a quarry on South Harding Street not far from the Martins’ home.

While much of the postwar generation moved into suburban tract homes, the Martins were among the many families who moved into mobile homes. Blue Lake Park had opened in 1954 as a “De Luxe Trailer Court” in a rather quiet area just west of Eagle Creek. The community was advertised as a “sportsman’s club” surrounding the modest Blue Lake, an old gravel pit like those Forrest Martin worked in on nearby Harding Street. Despite the proximity to West Indianapolis industries, the dump along South Harding Street, and Indianapolis Municipal Airport to the southwest, the 50-acre Blue Lake community promised an idyllic escape from the city: the tiny quarry lake offered boat docking and fishing privileges to its residents, city buses ran along Morris Street through West Indianapolis and into downtown, and adults hoping to escape children may have been glad to find the community did not allow any residents under 16 (or dogs).

Last August the current residents of the former Blue Lake Trailer Park received this eviction letter indicating they would be required to move in 60 days.

Blue Lake Park would remain home to more than 60 years of families until this week, after its landlords were permitted to evict all of the residents after an initial eviction notice in August 2019. Faced with a requirement to install 21st-century sewer connections, the owners balked at the expense and notified residents they had 60 days to move out. After contesting the eviction notice through the Fall, the Attorney General’s office resolved to award just over $50,000 in total payments for the residents’ homes, but the modest payments (one resident received $1200) cannot hope to fund moving and securing new housing. February 21st was the deadline for residents to move themselves if not their trailers or risk being physically removed by authorities. Mobile home communities are the nation’s most common unsubsidized form of affordable housing, with about 18 million people living in trailer communities, and the Blue Lake Trailer Park eviction is part of a national pattern of housing insecurity that comes down especially hard on impoverished trailer communities.

The 1954 “Skyline 410” was one of a host of trailers being advertised to Cold War home buyers.

Caricatures of trailer life repeat tired xenophobic stereotypes that hazard making displacement of trailer communities seem somehow acceptable, but this significantly distorts the history of trailer park communities. In November 1945 the Indianapolis Star’s columnist Joe Adams waxed poetic about trailers, observing that “Those bungalows a-wheel have a definite appeal to the gypsy in the urban resident; in your house you roll along like a lilting little song, and you never have to worry over rent.” Trailer cottages had indeed been the province of vacationers in the inter-war period, but after World War II larger mass-produced travel trailers emerged that were often left in a single location most of the year. Ten- and 12-foot wide trailers introduced in the mid-1950s could not be practically hauled by a passenger vehicle, and these larger trailer homes were nearly always intended to be permanent structures. Adams’ story of trailer life was inspired by a recently opened trailer community at 4403 South Madison Avenue, and like many of the city’s earliest trailer parks the South Madison park is still a trailer community today. These trailer park communities were exceptionally closely-knit. In 1950 the Indianapolis Star interviewed residents of the Lynd-Moor Trailer Park on South Lyndhurst Drive and found that a “big attraction for the women and the men, too, is a spirit of friendliness and neighborliness that pervades the typical trailer park.” The Lynd-Moor trailer community remains on South Lyndhurst Drive today.

Like many of Indianapolis’ first trailer parks, the Spring Valley Trailer Park was home to a mostly working-class residency, and the community’s location near industrial workplaces was featured in this 1954 advertisement. The community remains a trailer park today.

Trailer parks emerged on Indianapolis’ margins in the immediate postwar period, which was relatively typical of many American cities. In the face of an enormous postwar housing crunch, trailers emerged as one form of relatively inexpensive mass-produced housing for mostly working-class communities (about 10% of trailer home residents in 1955 were retirees, typically moving their homes south for winter). In November 1947 the Trailer Coach Manufacturers’ Association claimed that 1 of every 145 Americans lived in a trailer, and 10,000 Hoosiers were reportedly residents of a trailer. In 1954 40 regional trailer parks held central Indiana’s first open house event featuring the laundries, recreation areas, and creature comforts offered by the newest trailer communities. A year later, FHA loans became available to trailer home buyers, and about 2 million American were living in trailer homes. Indiana rapidly became the producer of more house trailers than any other state in the union, and in 1950 about 40% of the nation’s trailer homes were produced in Indiana.

The Star indicated in 1947 that there were “about a dozen sizable parks around the Hoosier capital,” and those numbers swelled dramatically in the early 1950s. In 1960 the Indianapolis Suburban Directory identified 35 trailer parks (Marion County identified 32 trailer parks in 1952, and in 1954 an Indianapolis Star inventory of trailer parks in the region included 48 communities). Some have now disappeared, like the Eagle Motel and Travel Park at 4165 West Washington Street, Little Eagle Village (3802 Cossell Road, now only a streetscape without trailers), and Trailer City (7777 West Washington Street, which in the early 1950s built its own sewage treatment plant). Nevertheless, a surprising number of the postwar trailer parks remain today: the Morris and Tibbs Trailer Court (now Alton Mobile Home Park), the Spring Valley Trailer Park (8820 Pendelton Pike), South Town Trailer Park (5217 Madison Avenue), Lynd-Moor Mobile Home Park (3000 South Lyndhurst), Finch Trailer Court (8601 East Washington Street), Dunne’s Speedway Trailer Court (1818 Georgetown Road), and the Bullfrog Trailer Court (1326 South Lyndhurst) remain residential communities today. Morgan’s Trailer Park opened at 4923 Rockville Road in about 1939, making it one of the city’s earliest trailer communities, and neighbors petitioned to close it in August 1952, but it survived and eventually became the Garden City Mobile Homes Park, which remains a trailer community today known as Harrison Grove Estates.

In 1956 the earliest trailers were parked at the recently opened Blue Lake Trailer Park (at red arrow along West Morris Street), with Blue Lake to the south.

Blue Lake Park was in the midst of one of the city’s concentrations of trailer communities on the westside, where many of the longest-surviving communities remain today. The Blue Lake was a quarry beginning around 1930, and the quarry and Morris Street lot where the trailer park would be built was owned by the Eaton-Kaster Gravel Company in 1931. A 1941 aerial image of the area included no structures along Morris Street, which likely lay undeveloped until after the war. The quarry closed around war’s end, and channel improvement and subsequent levee construction along Eagle Creek cut off waterflow from the quarry and allowed the new Blue Lake to grow significantly in the early 21st century (compare Xiao Yang’s proposal for transforming the current-day Blue Lake).

In July 1954 the Blue Lake Sportsman’s Club hailed its fishing and lakeside amenities as well as trailer docking.

In May 1954 the Blue Lake Sportsman’s Club announced in the Indianapolis Star that it would soon be opening, heralding its lakeside amenities and patios and sidewalks with electricity, water, and sewer service. Its effort to exclude any residents younger than 16 reflected their anxiety that youth might drown in the Blue Lake quarry, and in June 1968 a 15-year-old did indeed drown in the quarry. By the time of the 1956 lawn beautification contest won by Forrest and Avis Martin, there were about 40 trailers in the West Morris Street lot, and in 1962 there were 82 trailers in the community; in 2019 the community had 75 lots. By 2019 the Blue Lake was fenced in as a result of industrial contamination of the lake. In 1973 some of the Blue Lake property had been re-zoned for excavation machinery storage, and two years later Blue Lake Inc. re-zoned the quarry to permit processing of “used foundry sand to reclaim metallic particles to sell and reuse.”

In 2019 re-channeling of Eagle Creek and levee construction drained much of the Blue Lake into Eagle Creek while the former quarry was being used to dispose of fill.

The contamination of the lake reflects the disregard with which corporations have often held their neighbors in communities like West Indianapolis, and the national housing insecurity among poor people is especially pronounced in mobile home communities. It is perhaps easier to dismiss the residents of the former Blue Lake Trailer Park (now referred to as the I-70 Mobile Home Park) if we accept the shallow caricatures of trailer home communities, and the disinterested landlord that allowed Blue Lake’s pollution has certainly allowed the trailer park to decline after its 1950s height. Only about 14% of contemporary mobile home residents own the land where their trailers sit, and when they are displaced many of them cannot move the manufactured home that they own; many of the trailers at the former Blue Lake Trailer Park are no longer in condition that they can be moved, and it is still a costly procedure to move a trailer.

This holiday message was left at the Blue Lake Park after the residents were evicted.

Some of the residents resolved to abandon their mobile homes in place, and many had no concrete plan for new residences. One of the community’s displaced residents indicated in November 2019 that “she is preparing herself to live in her truck. … `I’m tired of fighting to get my head above water to turn around and be homeless again.'” Few laws protect mobile home residents from the closure of the parks where they live, and a wave of park closures leaves trailer life especially tenuous (compare Esther Sullivan’s 2017 study Displaced in Place: Manufactured Housing, Mass Eviction, and the Paradox of State Intervention; sorry, subscription access). Yet there is nothing inherently undignified about life in a particular form of residence, and the implication that trailer home communities do not conform to a particular ideological vision of home and middle-class subjectivity risks taking away their voice over their own destiny. It also hazards forgetting the whole rich history of the many long-term trailer parks in places like Indianapolis that have been closely linked communities for more than a half-century.

 

The Blue Lake is today fenced off from the trailer park because of contamination of the former quarry.

References

Carson Bear

2018 Are Mobile Homes a Forgotten Historical Resource? Saving Places

 

Eduard Krakhmalnikov

The Trailer Park that Became a City: Hilltop and the Importance of Mobile Home Parks as Endangered Historic Places. Minnesota History  65(8): 314-324.

 

Katherine A. MacTavish

2007 The wrong side of the tracks: Social inequality and mobile home park residence. Community Development 38(1): 74-91.

 

Sonya Salamon and Katherine MacTavish

2017 Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.

 

Esther Sullivan

2018 Manufactured Insecurity: Mobile Home Parks and Americans’ Tenuous Right to Place. University of California Press, Berkeley.

2017 Displaced in Place: Manufactured Housing, Mass Eviction, and the Paradox of State Intervention. American Sociological Review 82(2) 243–269. (sorry, subscription access)

2015 Individualizing Utopia: Individualist Pursuits in a Collective Cohousing Community. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 45 (5): 602-627.

 

Xiao Yang

2016 Materialscape: The Transformation and Revitalization of an abandoned limestone quarry into an educational and recreational public park. Master of Landscape Architecture Thesis, Ball State University.

 

 

Digging Dillinger

John H. Dillinger’s grave often has coins, flowers, and a host of offerings left at the grave, and the marker has had its edges chipped off by the most zealous visitors.

On July 25, 1934 a crowd of perhaps 5000 people gathered at Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery to glimpse the final rites of John Dillinger. Sergeant Otis Baker was in charge of a detachment of police officers instructed to stand guard over the grave when the services ended, and the Indianapolis Star reported that “down the road from the Dillinger lot a group of Negroes was seated quietly on the grass, watching the proceedings with solemn and eager eyes. Sergt Baker said one of them had approached him, carrying a tin cup; he wished, the Negro explained, to `get him a cupful of earth off’n Dillinger’s grave,’ but Sergt. Baker declined to let him or any one else inside the roped-off enclosure.”

This fabric fragment is among the relics gathered at the scene of Dillinger’s death reputedly soaked with the gangster’s blood.

The African-American man hoping to secure earth from Dillinger’s grave was simply one of many people seeking the souvenirs of America’s most celebrated criminal. Just three days before, Dillinger had been killed outside the Biograph theatre in Chicago by federal agents, and his corpse and bodily trappings instantly became relics. As Dillinger was being removed from the Chicago sidewalk, “Chicago thrill seekers dipped their handkerchiefs and rubbed their shoes in Dillinger’s blood on the street.” Offers of $1,000 were made for the outlaw’s shirt and $100 for the bricks stained by Dillinger’s blood, and pieces of paper with Dillinger’s blood sold for a quarter. Dillinger’s “blood-stained” hat was being exhibited in the Justice Department within weeks of Dillinger’s death, where “Dillinger relics were first placed in a glass case in the anteroom of the office of J Edgar Hoover chief of the investigation bureau. So many employes [sic] took time off to inspect the new display that Hoover moved it to his inner office.” Read the rest of this entry

In the Shadow of the Interstate: Living with Highways

Mary Brame's home, 1972 aerial image

In 1972 Interstate-65 had just been completed when this aerial photograph was taken of Mary Brame’s home on West 15th Street (at the arrow). The neighboring building was a church (click on image for larger view).

In June 1973 attorney Charles Walton wrote Indiana Governor Otis Bowen on behalf of his client Mary Brame. Brame’s home sat on West 15th Street in the shadow of the recently constructed Interstate-65, which had razed virtually all of the surrounding structures and cut off West 15th Street, leaving the widow alone on a newly closed dead-end street. Walton implored the Governor to purchase Brame’s home, which he argued was “falling apart” because of the interstate’s “noise and vibrations.” The State had built a “fence up against Mrs. Brane’s [sic] home and closed down all the street leading to Mrs. Brane’s [sic] home accept [sic] one narrow extremely short street.” Walton complained that Brame “cannot sleep at night because of the noises from the highway, and as a result of this, her health is failing.”

1958 Central Business District Map

The 1958 Central Business District plan included this map with the proposed route for Interstate-65. At 10th Street it was proposed that I-65 would continue south along West Street, but that leg was eventually rejected; I-70’s basic location was identified on the south side (click for a larger image).

Thousands of Indianapolis residents were uprooted when the state purchased their homes for interstate construction. Mary Brame was simply one of scores of people who were left to live in the shadow of newly built highways. I-65 and I-70 have legacies of displacing vast swaths of residents in the heart of Indianapolis, but they also left in their wake gutted communities compelled to negotiate a radically transformed streetscape, pollution, and noise from the newly constructed highways. A half-century after most of these interstates were constructed, planners are now once again fantasizing over new highway designs that threaten to once more destabilize many of the same neighborhoods destabilized by 1960s and 1970s highway projects.

As Mary Brame’s lawyers attempted to convince the state to purchase her home, residents of the near-Southside were likewise negotiating a radically transformed streetscape. An April 1972 story in the Indianapolis News characterized the near-Southside neighborhood around the Concord Center as once being “a city-within-a-city, with neighborhood stores and entertainment and a great deal of kinship among the residents.” But the arrival of the interstate bisected the community that been settled on the city’s southern edges for well over a century, and much of the existing streetscape was turned into dead ends at the foot of the massive earth pile holding the elevated interstate. The News admitted that “Now that the interstate is being constructed, a physical wall is being built. … There is no overpass on 1-70, and between 400 and 500 persons who live north of the interstate are isolated” (for background on the community, see the 1974 study The Near Southside Community: As it Was and As It Is and the 2012 The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis’ South Side). Read the rest of this entry

Imagining the Urban Wilderness: The Rhetoric of Resettling the 21st-Century City

Milhaus’ Mosaic at Artistry complex on Market Street is typical of the wave of recently constructed apartments in Indianapolis’ core with modest clusters of historic homes scattered around them.

This week Indianapolis Monthly sounded a familiar celebration of downtown living when it nostalgically remembered the city’s first “urban pioneers” who settled historic homes in the wake of postwar urban renewal. The enthusiasm for new urbanites, rehabilitating historic properties, and fresh development are typical threads of 21st-century city boosterism. Such rhetoric fancies that young well-educated bourgeois will reclaim the city from ruins, optimistically envisioning a future urban landscape of “apartment dog parks and rooftop pools.” Indianapolis Monthly’s enthusiasm for a radically transformed urban core is not at all unique and not necessarily completely misplaced. Nevertheless, its celebration of “urban pioneers” and development ignores the heritage of postwar urban displacement and evades the structural inequality that makes gentrification possible.

Indianapolis Monthly’s unvarnished celebration of development extends postwar urban renewal rhetoric and has its roots in late-19th century nationalist ideologies. The metaphor of new urbanites as “pioneers” evokes an imagination of America most clearly articulated at the end of the 19th century by historian Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner argued that American history and our very national personality are rooted in our experience of the American frontier as “the meeting point between savagery and civilization.” Pioneers stood at the boundary of the frontier, where they appropriated “free land” based on a distinctively American individualism, self-reliance, ambition, and egalitarianism rooted in our presumed right to secure land and entertain the potential for prosperity.

When contemporary urban champions invoke the metaphors of frontier, pioneer, and wilderness they are participating in a longstanding discourse that assumes that transformations in the city and the nation’s broader spatial and social fabric are wrought in the interests of America. Observers have long described and rationalized urban renewal and transformation using that same language. In 1957, for instance, Baltimore’s The Sun indicated that “urban renewal has been described as the new American frontier.” The Sun invoked concepts that would have been familiar to Turner when it referred to the residents of one Baltimore block as “urban pioneers” who are “an example of the pioneering spirit, in the old sense of men and women working for themselves to create a better, brighter life though in a new-style wilderness of blight, an asphalt jungle. Without that spirit of self-help and individual initiative, the whole expensive machinery of urban renewal may grind away for years without changing more than the external appearances of slum housing.” The Sun’s analysis circumspectly approved urban renewal projects while it celebrated the residents who it presumed had sufficient initiative, ambition, and commitment to revive the dying city. Read the rest of this entry

The Hooded Order in the Pulpit: Klan Membership in 1920’s Indianapolis Churches

In January 1923 the Westview Baptist Church at Belmont and Jones Street heralded an evening “KKK sermon” dubbed “The Truth About the Ku Klux Klan: Is It An American Institution?” The lecture by its Pastor J. Luther Jones was advertised in The Fiery Cross, the Klan’s Indianapolis-based newspaper, and there is no evidence that the church or its Pastor were particularly unusual in their public color line politics. The Klan’s story is well-known in Indiana history, but relatively little attention has been focused on the individuals who were members of the hooded order, and J. Luther Jones was probably typical of the many people who were at least publicly sympathetic to the Klan’s nationalist provincialism. The Klan’s secrecy makes it predictably challenging to identify individual Klansmen (or the women and children in its auxiliary chapters), but in the 1920s many Indianapolis residents were unapologetic about their allegiance to the Invisible Empire, and some residents were identified as Klansmen in period documents. In 1925 there were probably about 166,000 Hoosiers paying Klan dues, and research indicates that the 1920’s Klan represented every socioeconomic class and was strongest in central and northern Indiana (compare Lawrence Moore’s 1991 Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928). The Klan was not an aberration as much as it was simply an enormously popular civic organization expressing the sentiments of many Hoosiers.

Many of the earliest Klan members were identified in 1923 by the American Unity League’s weekly newspaper Tolerance, which was perhaps the most vocal critic of the Indiana Klan. In early 1923 the newspaper stole a list of the first 12,000 Klan members and identified many of these Klan members, who included city officials, public servants, and prominent community figures. On March 31, 1923 the Indianapolis Star reprinted the names of 69 Indianapolis residents identified as Klansmen by Tolerance (starting here and ending here). Indiana Republican Party chair Lawrence Lyons was the most prominent person identified by Tolerance, and he immediately sent a letter to the American Unity League that was published in the Indianapolis Star renouncing his membership in the Klan. Read the rest of this entry

Racist Spite and Residential Segregation: Housing and the Color Line in Inter-War Indianapolis

The Meriwethers’ future home at 2257 North Capitol (at red arrow) was about a decade old when it appeared on this 1898 Sanborn Insurance map.

On July 15, 1920 massive fences were erected on each side of Lucien Meriwethers’ home at 2257 North Capitol Avenue: to the south, Gabriel and Goldie Slutzky erected a 10’ high fence, and to the north Mary Grooms built a six-foot fence. Meriwether was an African-American dentist, and his purchase of the property in May 1920 made his family the first people of color to settle on North Capitol. The Meriwethers’ White neighbors instantly banded together to form the North Capitol Protective Association, one of many inter-war neighborhood collectives championing residential segregation. These little neighborhood groups rarely figure prominently in histories of racism in Indianapolis, which have tended to justifiably focus on the Ku Klux Klan’s rapid growth and collapse in the 1920s (compare Emma Lou Thornbrough’s 1961 Klan analysis; Kenneth T. Jackson’s 1967 study, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915-1930; and the definitive Indiana study, Leonard Moore’s 1997 Citizen Klansmen: The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928). Nevertheless, these rather anonymous neighborhood associations were influential advocates for segregation in the 1920s and 1930s.

In October 1907 this five-foot high concrete “spite fence” separating Woodruff Place from modest neighboring homes appeared in The Indianapolis Star.

The newly organized North Capitol Avenue neighbors initially tried to discourage the Meriwethers from moving in by making Lucien Meriwether “an offer exceeding [the] price he paid for it.” However, Meriwether and his family rebuffed the Protective Association’s offer, and the Association admitted to the Indianapolis Star that they financed the “spite fences” around the Meriwethers’ home. The fences surrounding the Meriwethers’ home were a novel mechanism to discourage African-American residential integration. Most examples of “spite fences” were the product of feuding neighbors rather than racist division (for instance, compare this 1902 case on Dugdale Street, a 1904 case on Indianapolis’ south side, and this very early Boston example dated to 1852). At least one early 20th-century Indianapolis wall was intended to separate bourgeois homes from surrounding working-class housing: in 1907 a five-foot concrete wall topped with an iron fence was built separating the wealthy residents of Woodruff Place from newly built cottages on Tecumseh Street. Read the rest of this entry

Visual Memory and Urban Displacement

Ralph Louis Temple’s 1940’s painting of Minerva Street;click for a larger image (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

Around World War II artist Ralph Louis Temple painted a series of oil studies of his Indianapolis neighborhood. Temple’s family had lived on Minerva Street since 1866, when Ralph’s great grandfather Carter Temple Sr. came to the Circle City. Ralph Temple’s painting featured the double at 546-548 Minerva Street, the neighboring corner home at 550 Minerva, and William D. McCoy Public School 24 in the background along North Street. Carter Temple Jr.’s granddaughter Cecelia was still living in the home at 550 Minerva Street in 1978, the last of a century of Temple family to live on Minerva Street. Her brother Ralph’s paintings of the neighborhood cast it in a quite different light than the dominant rhetoric and imagery that aspired to displace families like the Temples.

The house at 550 Minerva Street in the late-1970’s (Indiana Landmarks Central Canal & IUPUI Image Collection).

There are numerous images of the neighborhood in the postwar period, when it was one of many historically African-American urban communities that were gradually being displaced by a host of renewal schemes. The Temples’ home for more than a century would fall to the wrecking ball when Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI) was expanding in the late 1970’s. The city of Indianapolis was simultaneously razing a host of businesses along Indiana Avenue, and in the 1960’s the interstate was being constructed through the predominately African-American near-Westside while it sliced through much of the eastside and southside as well. As blocks of buildings fell along Indiana Avenue in the 1970’s the city also lobbied for the demolition of Lockefield Gardens, which closed in 1976. Lockefield was a segregated Public Works Administration community that opened in 1938 across the street from 550 Minerva Street, with School 24 in its midst. In July, 1983 demolition finally removed all but seven of the original Lockefield buildings. Read the rest of this entry

A Digital Heritage of Confederate Memorialization: Julian Carr and Silent Sam

An undated postcard image of the UNC Confederate Monument.

In 1908 Confederate Veteran reported that a “movement was inaugurated to erect a monument on the campus of the University at Chapel Hill to the boys who put aside their books and doffed uniforms, shouldered their guns, and went to the front in defense of a cause their fathers knew to be right.” That ambition to commemorate the University’s Confederate heritage placed Chapel Hill among many early 20th-century Southern communities memorializing the vanquished Confederacy. A thousand people eventually gathered in June, 1913 “under the oaks of the University campus” to dedicate the memorial to the University of North Carolina’s Confederate soldiers, one of 23 Confederate monuments dedicated in the US in 1913. That monument today known as “Silent Sam” was one of 185 monuments erected at the height of Confederate memorialization between 1909 and 1913 (compare the Southern Poverty Law Center’s inventory of Confederate monuments Google doc). The Chapel Hill dedication came a half century after Gettysburg, when Jim Crow segregation was firmly entrenched in the South and a spirit of White reconciliation characterized much of the spirit of public discourse between North and South. A month after the Chapel Hill ceremony, Confederate veterans (including several Chapel Hill speakers) would gather at Gettysburg with their former combatants in one of the most public statements of shifting regional sentiments and White reconciliation.

Last week that Chapel Hill monument was toppled during a protest, and activism to remove the monument reveals some familiar divides over Confederate material heritage while it reflects the distinctive 21st-century contours of that discourse. On the one hand, the discussion in Chapel Hill illuminates how digitized historical data has shaped an increasingly well-informed discourse over the Confederacy’s memorial landscape. We know an enormous amount about the men and women who spearheaded the movement to erect the Chapel Hill memorial as well as the history of the monument space in the subsequent century, primarily because of the UNC Archives’ thorough documentation of the monument’s heritage. On the other hand, much of the defense of such monuments remains firmly committed to the same neo-Confederate ideology that was hatched in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, and the University and many of North Carolina’s highest elected officials have been reluctant if not militantly resistant to uprooting the monument. Read the rest of this entry

Gates, Place, and Urban Heritage

The most prominent “gateway” to campus will be a 52′-tall column at the corner of West and Michigan Streets that is expected to be in place in Fall 2018 (click for a larger view).

This week Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) celebrated the impending construction of five “gateways” to campus, architectural features designed to identify the campus boundaries as students, staff, and visitors enter the near-Westside university. The most prominent gateway will be at West and Michigan Streets, a 52′-tall limestone and steel monolith that will be lit at night and be neighbored two blocks south by a more modest marker at New York and West Streets. Alongside these gateways a “series of landscape mounds along West Street between the two gateway markers also will visually distinguish the campus from the surrounding city.” This exercise in placemaking takes its aesthetic inspiration from the campus itself, invoking the architectural forms of the University Library (designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, completed in 1994), Campus Center (SmithGroup JJR, 2008), and Eskenazi Hall (Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, 2005). The gateways aspire to fashion a material landscape stylistically consistent with these existing buildings, though the media coverage of the gateways has featured the sheer scale of the monoliths, which are “large enough to be seen from an airplane.” Chancellor Nasser Paydar exalted that “anyone on a plane approaching Indianapolis, we want them to see this is how proud they are with this campus.” Read the rest of this entry

Visualizing Racism: The Trauma of Lynching Photography

On April 29, 1915 The Tampa Morning Tribune was one of scores of national papers to report on the lynching of Tom Brooks.

In 1915 Tom Brooks was murdered in Somerville, Tennessee by a mob of 100-200 White men. Brooks had been accused of murdering a wealthy White planter and his plantation manager, and when he was being returned to Somerville to stand trial a week later, a mob seized him from police. The vigilantes took Brooks to a nearby railroad bridge where he was hung, and Brooks’ murder was followed by a commonplace ritual of photographing the victim. Arkansas’ Batesville Daily Guard was among the newspapers that reported “when the news spread that there was a negro hanging beneath the bridge, all the town folk of Fayette [County] turned out to view the work of the mob. Hundreds of kodaks clicked all morning at the scene and picture card photographers installed a portable printing plant on the ground and reaped a harvest in selling postcards showing a photograph of the lynched negro” (compare press coverage including The Crisis, Nashville’s The Tennessean, and Vicksburg, Mississippi’s The Daily Herald).

The names of lynching victims are engraved in steel columns at the Memorial for Peace and Justice.

On April 26th the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens in Montgomery, Alabama commemorating Brooks and over 4400 Black victims of lynching. In preparation for its opening, 60 Minutes’ Oprah Winfrey reported on the museum and the heritage of lynching, and the report included examples of the scores of lynching images that were taken during the racial terror killings of people like Tom Brooks. 60 Minutes chose to show images of lynching in prime time, even as they acknowledged that these pictures are enormously unsettling things: contemporary White audiences are perhaps ashamed to acknowledge the social tolerance for (if not acceptance of) vigilante mob murders; many people are repulsed by the images’ ghastly materiality of torture; and a few consider lynching an anomaly safely lodged in the past, if not a misrepresentation of objective history (compare David Horowitz’s argument that the museum is a “racist project” and suggestion that “many” lynching victims “were guilty of heinous crimes”). Read the rest of this entry