Blog Archives

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.

Like numerous postwar American urban campuses, the neighborhood now lingers only in memory, with the Minerva Street homes falling to the wrecking ball in about 1980. Photographers documented much of the neighborhood in the postwar period, but the vast majority of those images were predictably ideological representations of the predominately African-American community: some images were in service to slum clearance programs by the state and university; others attempted to preserve a visual record of the neighborhood’s historic architecture; and a flood of subsequent images by the University documented the new campus that rose in the wake of mass clearances. In contrast, Ralph Temple’s painting, his family’s photographs, and their century-long story captured a much different imagination of the African-American near-Westside. Nevertheless, such African-American visual and historical representations of Indianapolis’ near-Westside are often ignored because of a deep-seated assumption that the neighborhood was a materially impoverished place.

Carr Hopkins’ 1863 enlistment in the United States Colored Troops.

Carter Temple Sr. was born in Virginia in about 1811 and came to Indianapolis immediately after the Civil War. Temple probably had been enslaved in Kentucky prior to Emancipation, and he settled on Minerva Street in about 1866. His son known as Carr Hopkins was born into captivity in Kentucky in 1843, and when he was freed in 1863 he volunteered for the 14th Regiment Company C of the United States Colored Troops in November, 1863 in Gallatin, Tennessee. He was appointed Corporal in April, 1864 before mustering out in March, 1866. Hopkins joined his father in Indianapolis and began to go by the name Carter Temple, Jr., using it as his name on his 1871 marriage license and on his military pension, which identified Hopkins as an alias for Carter Temple Jr.

Carter Temple Jr. posed for this undated image after he joined the Indianapolis Police Department in May, 1876.

In 1870 Carter Temple Sr. was living on Minerva Street working as a carpenter, and a year later his son Carter Temple Jr. was married in Indianapolis. In May, 1876 Carter Temple Jr. became one of the first four African-American police officers in Indianapolis, with the Indianapolis News reporting that “[Sim] Hart, [Benjamin] Young, [Carter] Temple and [William] Whittaker, the colored police appointees, were signed to Ward’s division Saturday night … . These men will do service among the Bucktownites” (Bucktown was a term often used to refer to the African-American near-Westside). In 1889 Indianapolis’ African-American newspaper The Freeman reported that the Indianapolis Police Department had six African-American officers, and “Carter Temple, who everybody knows and respects, joined the force in ’76 and has remained on ever since. He is a Kentuckian, but has lived here since ’65. He owns a good home and has an interesting family. He is one of the finest specimens of physical manhood on the force, standing fully over six feet and weighing over 200 pounds.” Temple served until he was struck by a street car in a 1900 election day accident.

In 1888 Temple Carter Sr. died, leaving his estate to his wife Amanda. Among the people receiving benefits in the will was his son Frederick Hopkins, who was a police officer living in Vicksburg, Mississippi. When Hopkins himself died in 1898 The Vicksburg Herald indicated that Hopkins “was one of the few colored men who drew a pension for services on the Confederate side from the State appropriations.” Hopkins probably was enslaved by a Confederate soldier and traveling with the rebel army as a captive. Mississippi was unique for sponsoring a pension program beginning in 1888 that extended benefits to African Americans as well as former Confederate foot soldiers.

By the time of Carter Temple, Sr.’s death many of his relatives were living along Minerva Street. They included his son George W. Temple, who began a career as an actor, musician, and comedian in about 1880. George was among the city’s earliest generation of African-American performers. African Americans had sporadically performed to White Indianapolis audiences since the Civil War. Brooker’s Georgia Minstrels was probably the first African-American managed troupe to perform in Indianapolis, with the self-described “simon pure Ethiopians” playing three nights in August, 1865 at the Masonic Hall. An African-American theatre and musical performance tradition had emerged in the wake of Emancipation, but in 1880 only one African American in Indianapolis appeared in the census as a musician, and George Temple was the only Black actor.

At the turn of the century nearly all of the city’s African-American musicians were in traveling troupes that performed throughout the country, which certainly included George Temple. In 1907 the Indianapolis Recorder noted that “George Temple, the famous comedian, is off the road and is preparing to give ’`Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ here in the City.” Like many turn of the century performers, Temple apparently performed “In an old-time cake-walk at Tomlinson Hall,” with the Indianapolis Star reporting in 1909 that “Wesley Thurman and George Temple, who essayed a woman’s role, were close competitors for the large white cake and a $25 prize.” The “woman’s role” indicates that Temple was performing dressed as a woman, a staple of both White and Black theatrical comedy in the late-19th century. After about 40 years of performing, Temple probably toured with Harvey’s Greater Minstrels, a 40-50 person African-American ensemble that played throughout the country and Canada between about 1918 and 1925.

In 1920, George and Edmonia Temple’s sons George Isaac and Walter Temple were both working as musicians. George I. Temple was probably playing with Harry Farley’s orchestra around 1920, and the Batesville Indiana newspaper described “Harry Farley’s Garden Park colored jazz band, of Indianapolis, the grandest colored jazz band in the Middle West. Hear them sing and see them dance—the greatest endurance orchestra in America.” In the 1920s the family moved to New York City where George and Walter joined their parents and were working as orchestra musicians. George Isaac Temple married Fredonia Stewart in 1928 and lived with her in New York until 1949. Stewart’s family had established and owned the Indianapolis Recorder, and after moving back to the Circle City she co-owned the newspaper for 36 years while George would work as an advertising manager.

In the late 1920’s, Carter Temple (left) and Ralph Temple (right) posed in a car parked on North Street, with McCoy School in the background (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

The family had a distinguished record of military service beginning with Carter Temple Jr.’s service in the Civil War. In 1898 his son Carter Frederick Patton Temple became the second generation to serve in the military when he served in the Spanish-American War. Born at 544 Minerva Street in 1879, Carter FP Temple would live on Minerva Street until his death in 1941, when he was living a few doors away at 550 Minerva. Carter FP Temple became an Indianapolis police officer in 1900, but he resigned a year later and spent the remainder of his career working in construction and served in the Indianapolis Street Commissioner’s Department. Temple and his second wife Lucy Paris Temple had 11 children. One son died as an infant in 1930, but the remaining 10 grew up on Minerva Street, including three sons who served in World War II. Arthur Temple and his brother Carter Paris Temple both served in the Navy, and Ralph served in the Army.

In August, 1942 a Pennsylvania newspaper reported on Ralph Temple’s painting in St. Phillip’s Church in Indianapolis.

Ralph Louis Temple was the sixth of the eleven children born to Carter FP Temple and Lucy Paris Temple. Born in 1922, Ralph graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in July, 1940, indicating his hobby was painting. In August 1942 a Pennsylvania newspaper reported that Ralph painted “a mural of the Last Supper” in Indianapolis’ St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (the 702 Martin Luther King, Jr. Street church was razed in the 1970s). The newspaper reported that Temple “is a student at the John Herron Art Institute. He is an Assistant Scout Master, a swimming instructor at the YMCA, and a teacher in the Saturday morning art classes of the YMCA.”

An undated image of Ralph Temple painting (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

Temple had not finished his Herron training in January, 1943 when he enlisted in the military. Temple was stationed initially at Mississippi’s Greenwood Army Air Field, where the The Greenwood Commonwealth reported that Temple painted a “colorfully descriptive mural, entitled `A Soldier Dreams of the Duration.’” The newspaper reported that “Muralist Temple’s dreaming soldier sees Pearl Harbor avenged, the suffering of allied soldiers, return of the soldier to `home sweet home,’ and an ultar-modern [sic] postwar world.” Temple told the newspaper that “`I’ve been painting ever since I was old enough to hold a brush,’ says the quiet corporal. `When I was small I used to drive my mother nearly crazy by painting all over the walls, starting at the bottom of the stairecase [sic] and working up. Mother thought there might be method in my madness and she never discouraged me.’” In April, 1944 the Indianapolis Recorder reported that Temple had executed a bas relief of the European theatre at the base with the motto “Not just the best trained soldier in the world, or the best equipped, but the best informed soldier in the world.’’

Ralph, Jane, and Carter Temple (left to right) posed for a picture on the bumper of a car on North Street in the late 1920’s (image courtesy Cecilia Boler and Reginald Temple).

Ralph was living at 550 Minerva Street and identified as a student between 1949 and 1951, when he may have been completing his Herron coursework. He appears to have left Indianapolis in late 1952 or 1953 for New York, and he was living in Manhattan in 1957. Ralph lived in New York for the rest of his life, passing away there in 2011. Much of his family continued to live on Minerva Street into the 1960’s. In 1960 Carter FP Temple’s widow Lucy was living at 550 Minerva Street with her daughters Cecilia and Jane. Jane worked in a neighborhood institution, Berky’s Market, which opened on West Michigan Street in August, 1948. Max Berkowitz had operated a meat market on Indiana Avenue beginning in 1928, and Jane probably began to work in Berky’s from the time it opened. She would work for Berky’s until 1960, when she began working at Western Electric and moved to West 28th Street.

Cecilia and Lucy were still living in the home in 1970, by when IUPUI had opened just two blocks south of their home. The Indiana University Hospital had been acquiring property around the former City Hospital since the 1920’s, and by the early 1960’s Indiana University was acquiring properties for the undergraduate institution that became IUPUI. In 1978 Lucy and Cecilia Temple appeared in the city directory at 550 Minerva Street for the final time. Lucy Paris Temple had been living in the home since the eve of World War I, but in about 1979 she was compelled to move out of the 550 Minerva Street home to a northwestern Indianapolis suburb, where she died in 1984. In 2017, her son Robert Ricardo Temple died, the last of her 10 children who had lived to adulthood.

Photographs of the neighborhood after 1960 tended to support the notion that the community was a universal “slum,” less a visual description of the neighborhood than an ideological rationalization for the displacement of its residents. A photographer took pictures of 550 Minerva Street sometime around the moment the last Temples moved out of the home, and it remained a sound structure, but the University was intent on securing the properties along Minerva Street, which would be the heart of the IUPUI campus. After the Temple home was razed, the Lincoln Hotel and University Conference Center opened in the same space in July, 1987 for the Pan-American Games; when the Lincoln firm went bankrupt five months later the hotel began to be referred to as the University Place Executive Conference Center and Hotel, and it is today known as University Tower. The North Street doors to the building stand where the Temples’ home sat for more than a century.

 

Image

550 Minerva Street image courtesy Indiana Landmarks Central Canal & IUPUI Image Collection

Advertisements

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

Preserving Traveller

The heroes of Confederate hagiography long laid an unchallenged claim to Southern public spaces and American White imagination. However, few if any Confederates immortalized in the rebellion’s memorial landscape are still viewed as untroubled icons of honor and manhood. As monuments to neo-Confederate heroes are now rapidly being removed from public space, one of the most interesting Confederate icons is Robert E. Lee’s famed horse Traveller. Traveller is himself a symbol used to narrate the Confederate cause, and he has had the status of relic since the 19th century. The most sacred relics are the physical remain of a venerated figure’s body or the things with which their body was intimately contacted (e.g., clothing). A relic is some object or material place that is experienced as an active presence representing values that followers aspire to reproduce (see Gary Vikan’s description of relics). Traveller may seem a distinctive figure to cast as a relic, his status largely beholden to his connection to Lee. Nevertheless, Traveller’s materiality provides an illuminating story of Confederate history-making.

Lee aboard Traveller after the Civil War

Perhaps the most famous of all Southern horses, Traveller was born in Greenbrier County, Virginia (now West Virginia) in 1857. The horse that became known as Traveller was an 1100-pound 64-inch high American Saddlebred sired by a race horse known as Grey Eagle. Traveller’s owner J.W. Johnston originally named the horse after the Mississippi Senator “Jeff Davis,” who of course would become famous as the President of the Confederate States of America.  Despite Johnson’s 1908 claim to have sold the horse to Lee, he sold Jeff Davis in 1861 to Captain Joseph M. Broun, who re-named him Greenbrier. In 1861 Broun was serving alongside Robert E. Lee, and in Traveller lore Lee reportedly took a fancy to Broun’s horse. Broun’s brother Thomas wrote in 1886 that “in the fall of 1861, he [Lee] first saw this horse and took a great fancy to it. He called it his colt, and said he would need it before the war was over. When the general saw my brother on this horse he had something pleasant to say to him about `my colt,’ as he designated this horse.” Lee resigned from the US Army on April 20, 1861 when Virginia seceded, and he would assume command of Virginia’s secessionist forces three days later. Thomas Broun indicated that his brother sold Greenbrier to Lee in February 1862. Lee renamed the horse Traveller. Read the rest of this entry

Memory, Monuments, and Confederate Things: Contesting the 21st-Century Confederacy

Phoenix’s 1961 Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops (click for larger image, from Visitor7/wikimedia).

In 1961 the United Daughters of the Confederacy presented Phoenix, Arizona with a memorial dedicated to Arizona’s Confederate soldiers. The “Memorial to Arizona Confederate Troops” is a copper ore stonework shaped in the state’s outline that rests atop a pedestal graced by petrified wood. The monument sits on a plaza alongside 29 other memorials at the Arizona State Capitol that range from war memorials to a Ten Commandments monument. The Phoenix Confederate memorial is far removed from the heart of Civil War battlefields and Southern centers, but it is now part of a nationwide debate over the contemporary social and political consequence of Confederate things.

The earliest Confederate monuments were located in cemeteries and included this 1869 90-foot high memorial to the 18,000 Confederates buried in Richmond, Virginia’s Hollywood Cemetery (author’s image).

In the pantheon of Confederate things, statuary is perhaps somewhat distinct from the flags, license plates, and assorted collectibles emblazoned with Confederate symbols. Statues and memorials aspire to make timeless sociohistorical statements and define or create memory, capturing idealized or distorted visions of the war that say as much about their makers and viewers as their subject. Yet as time passes monuments routinely begin to appear aesthetically dated or even reactionary. Viewed from the vantage point of the early 21st century, many Confederate monuments are simply documents of 150 years of shallow fantasies of the South and the Confederacy. Some of those public monuments can possibly foster counter-intuitively reflective and sober discussions about the Civil War, which is a century-and-a-half heritage rather than an objective historical event. However, such discussions risk being circumvented by contemporary Confederate defenders who distort the Confederacy’s history and studiously ignore why an imagined Confederate heritage has become so appealing—if not unsettling–well outside the South.

While it rarely appears in standard Civil War narratives, Arizona can claim a genuine Civil War history. Swaths of southern Arizona and New Mexico territories were claimed by the Confederacy a century before the monument was erected in Phoenix. A secession convention agreed to leave the Union and become the Arizona Republic in 1861, and in February 1862 it became recognized by the Confederacy as the Confederate Territory of Arizona. Confederates fought under the Arizona banner through the war, but the Governor of the Confederate territory retreated to Texas in July, 1862, and for most of the war the military presence in the region was by Union forces.

Dedicated in September, 1867, this Romney, West Virginia monument was one of the nation’s first Confederate memorials (Justin A. Wilcox/wikimedia).

The vanquished Confederacy began to memorialize its cause almost instantly. The town of Cheraw, South Carolina claims to have erected the first Confederate memorial, a cemetery marker erected in June, 1867 (while the town was still occupied by Union forces); a Confederate memorial was dedicated in September, 1867 in Romney, West Virginia. These earliest monuments to the Lost Cause were nearly all cemetery memorials, but the South began busily erecting public monuments to the Confederacy in the late-19th and early 20th-centuries. Scores of statues were placed in former Confederate towns, mostly by a host of ladies’ memorial associations who assumed the care for the Civil War dead and would become the leading proponents of Lost Cause ideology. From its first issues in 1893, Confederate Veteran zealously tracked such monument construction efforts (for example, compare their 1893 monument inventory), and by 1914 they gushed that roughly a thousand public monuments dotted the South: “Year by year with increasing rather than decreasing devotion all over the Southland monuments are rapidly being erected to the heroes who died in the effort of the Confederate States to win a national life.” Read the rest of this entry

The Triumph of Tackiness: The Materiality of Trump

This room in the Trump penthouse includes a statue of Eros and Psyche, a painting of Apollo in his chariot, and Barron Trump's motorized Mercedes.

This room in the Trump penthouse includes a statue of Eros and Psyche, a painting of Apollo in his chariot, and Barron Trump’s motorized Mercedes.

It has become commonplace to ridicule Donald Trump as “tacky” and dismiss his material style as clumsy excess, a crass display of wealth, or a complete absence of “good taste.”  For instance, in 2015 the National Review’s Kevin Williamson called the newly declared Presidential candidate a “ridiculous buffoon with the worst taste since Caligula.”  Williamson illustrated Trump’s taste with pictures of his densely gilded Manhattan penthouse replete with simulated classical aesthetics, Louis XIV furnishings, and a motorized toy Mercedes 10-year-old son Barron has outgrown.  In 2012 refinery29 interviewed Trump’s wife Melania and somewhat more kindly indicated that the penthouse had “over-the-top surroundings that might make Liberace blush.”  A host of anxious observers fret that the new President will gut the White House with a similar ocean of gilding, marble, and haphazardly assembled historical themes.  In the wake of Trump’s unlikely victory, The Mirror predicted a White House festooned with “gold cherubs, reproduction Renoirs—or a print of Melania naked on a rug from her GQ lads mag shoot”; in a similar vein, the New York Daily News predicted “gaudy gold décor and tacky touches.” Read the rest of this entry

Spacious Vulgarity: The Aesthetics and Morals of McMansions

This Washington DC home features a massive garage and an ecelctic mix of oversized architectural features typical of McMansions (image DC Urban Mom).

This Washington DC home features a massive garage and an eclectic mix of oversized architectural features typical of McMansions (image DC Urban Mom).

Few architectural forms seem to secure as much overwrought disdain as the massive homes that are often referred to as “McMansions.”  Architectural aesthetes have a rich history of attacking built environments that spark deep-seated aesthetic and social revulsion, and over-sized 21st-century homes have become targets of comparable critique.  Critics of massive residential homes often lament departures from stylistic codes, which typically includes tract mansions’ massive scale, asymmetrical forms, lack of proportionality, inferior materials, and departures from established historical or local architectural distinctions.  However, such analyses routinely descend into ethnographically shallow social and class commentaries that fail to wrestle with our inchoate aversion for this particular material form.  It is indeed hard to fathom the attraction of many oversized residences, and it is unreasonable to simply ignore our emotional revulsion for them; nevertheless, a compelling assessment of McMansions–and reflective urban planning–should sympathetically wrestle with our experiences of these structures.

McMansion Hell is among the legion of observers ridiculing massive “garage Mahals” and “starter mansions.”  McMansion Hell is distinguished by its concrete architectural analysis of oversized residences, spending much of its energy dissecting specific material elements of the pejorative McMansion.  This is in some ways an archaeological approach to a class of material things, revolving around systematic material description of specific architectural features that unsettle many observers.  McMansion Hell does not try to stake a claim to contrived objectivity, instead acknowledging its aversion for massive residences, sarcastically deconstructing a host of aesthetic features, and painting a very distinctive social and material notion of the stylistic if not social deplorability of tract mansions.  However, it focuses on the stylistic dimensions of “bad” architecture and does not feature especially clear ethnographic evidence that might interrogate both the appeal of McMansions and the widespread distaste for them. Read the rest of this entry

Abhorrent Bodies: Burying Evil

Rudolf Hess' grave was the scene of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until it was moved from this plot in 2011 .

Rudolf Hess’ grave was the scene of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until it was moved from this plot in 2011.

The Wal-Hamdu-Lillah Cemetery hails itself as California’s first Islamic cemetery, a 20-acre mortuary and burial ground established in 1998.  The cemetery adheres to Sharia burial rites, which include the ritual washing of the corpse, shrouding of the body, and burial without a casket, usually with little or no burial markers.  In January it was confirmed that the more than 1000 people buried in Wal-Hamdu-Lillah include Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, fundamentalist extremists who killed 14 people in a December 2015 attack in San Bernadino.  The two were themselves killed hours after their attack, and it apparently took a week to find an Islamic cemetery that would accept their remains.  Local observers soon suspected that the killers were interred in the cemetery in Rosamond, and the Mayor of neighboring Lancaster theatrically directed his City Attorney to prepare legislation that would outlaw the local burial of participants in terrorist acts.  The anxiety sparked by the couple’s burial reflects their status among the most repugnant of the dead, people so evil that their physical remains threaten our common values after their death.  Such figures’ literal corporeal remains hold a persistent grip on our collective anxiety, their memories firmly planted in heritage discourses even as we attempt to efface their human remains from the landscape. Read the rest of this entry

African-American Heritage in the Post-Renewal City

Bethel AME Church

Bethel AME Church

In the wake of World War II planners, developers, and elected officials spearheaded urban renewal projects that transformed Indianapolis, Indiana’s material landscape and depopulated its central core.  Yet over the last 20 years the descendants of those ideologues have been gradually repopulating the Indiana capital city’s core and constructing a historicized landscape on the ruins of the post-renewal city.  A relatively similar story could be told in nearly all of postwar America, where urban renewal, the “war on poverty,” and a host of local schemes displaced legions of poor and working-class people.  Some creatively re-purposed structures have survived urban renewal in Indianapolis, but much of the near-Westside’s historical landscape has been erased, remains under fire, or only survives in radically new forms.  It may be pragmatic (or unavoidable) to accept such a transformation of the historical landscape, but urban renewal’s material effacement of the African-American near-Westside—and the way it is now reconstructed or evoked on the contemporary landscape–inevitably will transform how that heritage is experienced.

The Bethel AME interior features a massive pipe organ.

The Bethel AME interior features a massive pipe organ.

The most recent target in Indianapolis is Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which has sat on West Vermont Street since the congregation purchased the lot in 1869.  The congregation’s origins in Indianapolis reach to 1836, and the church members were vocal abolition supporters and orchestrated movement through Indianapolis on the Underground Railroad.  Bethel was among the African-American city’s most prominent institutions, hosting myriad people for worship, leisure, education, and activism alike: in 1870, residents gathered in the church to celebrate the passing of the 15th Amendment (securing African-American voting rights); in 1904 the first meeting of Indiana’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs was held at Bethel; in 1926 African Americans gathered at Bethel to protest a wave of segregation laws reaching from racist neighborhood covenants to high school segregation; and neighborhood residents gathered at Bethel throughout the civil rights movement. Read the rest of this entry

Repressing Repugnant Heritage: Place, Race, and Memory in Shockoe Bottom

lumpkin-jail dig

Excavations at Lumpkin’s Jail in Shockoe Bottom (image James River Institute for Archaeology)

Richmond, Virginia’s Shockoe Bottom is on first glance a prosaic if not unappealing void.  The checkerboard of parking lots and deteriorating buildings became home to a farmer’s market along Shockoe Creek in the 18th century: the core of Richmond’s earliest urban plan, Shockoe Bottom’s 17th Street marketplace was ringed by food wholesalers, Tobacco Row warehouses, restaurants, manufacturing, Main Street Station, and residences, including the city’s oldest surviving structure, the circa 1740 Old Stone House now home to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.  But much of the farmer’s market business has declined and food wholesaling transformed since World War II; in 1958 the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (Interstate 95) sliced through the middle of Shockoe Bottom; the cigarette companies abandoned Tobacco Row in the 1970s; and most trains stopped running in 1975. Read the rest of this entry

Imagining Holiday Odors

Our memories and experiences of the holidays are profoundly accented by scent: the fragrance of baking cookies, the pungent scent of pine trees, and the distinctive whiff of our family members’ homes are among many peoples’ strongest sensory memories.  Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past described a rush of “involuntary memory” incited by the scent and taste of a madeleine, painting a picture of sensations that provoke emotionally rich recollections.  Countless web pages provide directions for simmering water jars, stove top concoctions, and homemade potpourri that will make your home smell like a Yuletide wonderland.  For those of us too impatient to boil star anise, orange slices, and cinnamon sticks, an enormous industry caters to consumers’ sensory imagination, selling us smells that fortify our own clouds of pumpkin pie and turkey: numerous marketers hawk familiar scents like evergreen or vanilla, but many like American mall behemoth Yankee Candle sell fantasy scents, with Angel’s Wings, Cozy by the Fire, Winter Glow, and Cat’s Whiskers among its 2015 holiday fragrances.

Poo-Pourri promises to leave your toilet smelling like a mountain valley awash in flowers.

Poo-Pourri promises to leave your toilet smelling like a mountain valley awash in flowers.

Christmas is an especially lucrative time of year to sell scents.  In 2012 Yankee Candle’s European Managing Director championed holiday scents when he said “imagine Christmas without all the wonderful scents it comes with, and you’ll understand why home fragrance is so important at this time of year.”  Perhaps the most distinctive entrant in the holiday consumer scentscape is the Poo-Pourri toilet spray.  Poo-Pourri has sold over 10 million bottles of its’ “before you go” toilet spray, which promises that its natural oils will eliminate your foul bathroom cloud before it becomes part of your Yuletide sensory memories.   Poo-Pourri concedes that the fragrances of the holidays inevitably include the unavoidable intestinal impact of Grandma’s butter-laden sweet potatoes.  The toilet spray’s elevated holiday sales suggest that at least some of us are self-conscious that our young relatives’ memories of Christmas fragrances will involve pine trees, Yankee Candle vanilla, and the unmistakable post-digestive cloud that will forever be associated with you.  Rather than have your friends and family remember you as a malodorous Chewbacca, Poo-Pourri promises you’ll instead be associated with the English garden scent you always left in the holiday potty. Read the rest of this entry