The Colored Freedom Settlement

In contrast to other black communities like the Roberts Settlement, Lyles Station, or the Beech Settlement, I can find precious little about the Colored Freedom Settlement.

I first encountered this settlement when I stumbled across Ida Hagen  and Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann on a trip to Ferdinand, Indiana. I saw an image of Ida Hagen associated with the Colored Freedom Settlement in the Dubois County Historical Museum. I read about Hagen’s work with Dr. Wollenmann. As I researched Hagen, I found tantalizing tidbits about the settlement. Will-o’-the-wisps really. The settlement is mentioned in passing but seems to have disappeared over time.

In 1840, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr., a freed slave from Georgia, founded the settlement. According to an 1850 census, Emmanuel lived there with his wife and six children. He bought land numerous times: 1857, 1870, and 1871. In 1875, he set aside land in the settlement for a church and a school.

The settlement was home to many different families, including a Ben Hagen, the father of Ida Hagen. Ben lived on a farm next to Emmanuel’s at least as early as 1874. Hagen grew tobacco and watermelon, and was a minister at the Missionary Baptist Church. In 1939, he passed away. His funeral is immortalized in a poem by Nobert Krapf.

Following Ben’s death, it seems that the settlement itself was not long for this world. Larkin Pinkston, the last remaining member of the settlement, died in 1940.

The Huntingburg Conservation Club is now located where the settlement once stood. The Pinkston-Hagen cemetery must still exist. I found a 2013 article that spoke of Uebelhor family members locating graves and preserving the cemetery. But where exactly it exists is a mystery to me.

Ida Hagen, first African-American postmistress in Indiana

I ran across Ida Hagen two places: in a news clipping in the Dubois Country Historical Museum and in information about Dr. Aloysius “Alois” Wollenmann. I knew this was a woman I needed to learn about.

As I have researched Hagen more, I have been increasingly impressed. Hagen became a clerk in the post office that Dr. Wollenmann ran in Ferdinand, Indiana in 1904. In fact, other opportunities arose from her contact with Dr. Wollenman.

But I am getting ahead of myself. From my vantage point in time, Hagen looked like she was on the road to great things from a young age. Dr. Wollenmann just helped her along.

Ida Hagen was born into a family that started the Colored Freedom Settlement in Dubois County. By the time she was born (1888), her great grandfather (or great great grandfather…sources differ) who founded the settlement, Emmanuel Pinkston Sr, had been deceased for three years.

She attended Gehlhausen Country School, where she received county honors in 1901. She was the first African American to graduate from a common (grade) school in Dubois County.

In 1903, she began to help Dr. Wollenmann with cleaning, cooking, and raising his two sons after his wife died. The following year, in 1904, she finished high school after only one year and then, at age 16, became a clerk at the post office where Dr. Wollenmann was the postmaster.

In her spare time, Ida studied German, the language spoken by many in the community, and then studied pharmacy under Dr. Wollenmann and assisted him in his doctor’s office and on house calls.

To my delight, I located some early announcements about her formal pharmaceutical training certification. In May 1906, she graduated with a degree in pharmacy. In January 1909, she received a certificate from the Indiana Board of Pharmacy.

Upon Dr. Wollenmann’s death in 1912, she took over as assistant postmaster, but left Ferdinand that same year.

I have found little about her life after she left Ferdinand. She practiced pharmacy in Indianapolis, and then moved to Gary and continued to practice pharmacy there. By 1955, she was living in Detroit with her husband Sidney Whitaker. And there her trail starts to go cold. She died in 1978 and is buried in Detroit.

Riverside Amusement Park

I stood looking at the blueprints of the Armory and the surrounding area. That’s when the light bulbs went on. The Armory had been built next to the Riverside Amusement Park.

I first learned about the Riverside Amusement Park at the Ruby Bridges exhibit at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis. The exhibit included a placard about the amusement park…and its segregation.

I was so stunned with my realization that I started to share it with a guy standing near me. I wondered out loud when the amusement park closed. As fate would have it, the guy actually grew up in Indianapolis near the park. He thought that it closed in the late 1960s. (It actually closed in 1970.) He shared that he remembered seeing remnants of the rides in the 1970s.

And sadly, he confirmed what I learned at the museum. The amusement park was only open to African-Americans one day each season…the so-called Milk Cap days. On the other days of the season, the residents of the neighborhood were barred from going.

This wasn’t always the case. The amusement park open in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1919 with a change of ownership that the Riverside Amusement Park was for whites only.

What an incredibly sad history! And an equally sad indictment on Indianapolis and Indiana.

Thomas Taggert, whose memorial stands crumbling in the Riverside Park, was an important local political at the turn of the century who opposed the KKK. However, even he couldn’t buck the tide. Not long after the amusement park turned whites only, discrimination in Indiana increased.

The 1920s saw the rise of the Klan in Indiana (and the deflating of the Klan following the arrest and trial of the Grand Wizard for kidnapping, raping, and cannibalizing Madge Oberholtzer).

In the 1924 gubernatorial race, Taggert urged the front-runner to oppose the KKK. McCulloch did and went from being the front-runner to losing the race.

The 1920s also saw the pinnacle in school segregation in the form of the Crispus Attucks High School. In a poetic twist of fate, the school ultimately nurtured and prepared African Americans for success in life. Many students who attended Crispus Attucks went on to become leaders in their fields—in spite of the reasons that the school was built.

The amusement park stopped its white-only policy in the 1960s, partly it seems out of economic necessity and partly due to protests. Ultimately it was too late for the amusement park, the site of good memories for some and a reminder of discrimination for others.

Hulman cycling

I peered at the photograph. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There was Anton Hulman Sr. as a young man on his racing bike with medals placed around him.

The exhibit at the Clabber Girl Museum mentioned in passing that he was the fastest cyclist in Indiana. Really? I was skeptical. I had recently learned about Marshall “Major” Taylor, who was the world champion in cycling in 1899.

Did they mean that Hulman was the fast cyclist at that time (whenever “that time” was)? Was he racing the same time that Taylor was? Where did he race? When did he race?

I pondered how they probably didn’t race each other. Even though they were both Hoosiers, they were separated in age by 14 years. Hulman lived from 1864-1942. Taylor lived from 1878-1932.

Sadly, even if they raced at the same time, they probably would never have raced each other. White cyclists in the US often refused to race against Taylor, and Taylor ended up racing abroad.

They led radically different lives. Hulman was the heir to a wealthy family business. Taylor died in poverty.

So was Hulman the fastest cyclist? Maybe among white cyclists. Maybe among cyclists of his time. My money, though, is on Taylor.

TV movie review: Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana—The 20th Century

Hoosiers: The Story of Indiana is a PBS documentary series based on the book by famous Indiana historian James H. Madison. The documentary series is split into four parts: Birth of a State, Split Rails to Steel Rails, The 20th Century, and The Next Indiana.

The 20th Century covers the period of time from after World War II to the present. The documentary is narrated by Madison and includes interviews with various people.

After World War II, Indiana was home to important car manufacturers, like Marmon, Stutz, and Duesenberg. Reliability runs to test and prove the technology going into cars started with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1911 and the initial win by the Marmon Wasp.

Cities thrived in Indiana. Indianapolis was one of the most modern cities. The Madame Walker Theatre was built on Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis—the Harlem of the Midwest. French Lick was a bustling party town with 30 hotels and 15 casinos—and with 12 trains arriving daily. Opera houses existed in small communities, like New Harmony.

Indiana was awash with creative talent: singers like Cole Porter from Peru and Hoagy Carmichael of Bloomington; poets, writers, and playwrights like James Whitcomb Riley, Theodore Dreiser, and Booth Tarkington; artists like William Forsythe, Otto Stark, William Scott, T.C. Steele, and Frank Dudley.

The beauty of the Dunes was recognized and protection sought, originally by a Saturday afternoon walking club that morphed into the Prairie Club of Chicago that morphed into the Save the Dunes movement. The state park was formed in 1926, but it took Dorothy Buell another 40 years of organizing before the National Lakeshore was established.

The documentary spends quite a bit of time on racism in Indiana during the 20th century for good reason. The narrator relates the 1930 lynching of two black men in Marion. James Cameron, who escaped lynching, wasn’t pardoned until 1993.

The KKK was in its second of three incarnations. (These incarnations included combating reconstruction in the south after the Civil War, moral decay of God and country in the 1920s, and civil rights in the 1960s). One of out four Hoosiers and half of the General Assembly were members of the Klan. (Makes me wonder what skeletons may be lurking in my white family closet.) Grand Wizard D.C. Stephenson, who boasted “I am the law in the state of Indiana”, was brought down by Madge Oberholtzer after he brutally attacked, raped, and cannibalized her. The heyday of the Klan in Indiana was over (and hopefully will stay over).

The Calumet Region (Northwest Indiana) was the last of the frontier in Indiana. In 1906, US Steel bought a seven-mile stretch along Lake Michigan and set out to build a city, Gary. The company sought to avoid the mistakes that Pullman made with the Pullman company town and the 1894 Pullman strike (which incidentally, Eugene Debs was involved in). Gary flourished. Workers came from all over. The Region became a melting pot with people from over 80 different ethnicities. However, with the Great Depression, efforts were made to repatriate Mexicans. Half of East Chicago and Gary were forced out. (Hopefully, history will not repeat itself today.)

Continuing its military participation, Hoosiers fought in the wars. In World War I, 3,000 died. In World War II, the number was 12,000.

After the Second World War, the Indiana economy flourished with all sorts of industries and manufacturing: band instruments (Elkhart), TVs (Bloomington), cars (Kokomo, Anderson, Muncie, and others), diesel engines (Columbus), RVs (Elkhart), and trucks (Fort Wayne). Most car companies were bought or went under by the 1930s. Studebaker in South Bend, which started with wagons, progressed to buggies, then ended with autos, was the exception, not folding until 1963. In the 1980s, Governor Mutz, by brokering a deal with Subaru, initiated a wave of car manufacturers moving back into Indiana.

The documentary circles back around to racism in the 1960s. Housing covenants kept blacks from buying houses in white neighborhoods. Robert Kennedy, campaigning in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968, announced Martin Luther King’s assassination to the crowd he was addressing. His words are credited with keeping calm in the city. Crispus Attucks, a black high school in Indianapolis, won the 1955 state basketball championship, the first for black school to do so. In 1971, the courts ordered that Indianapolis schools be integrated through busing students. Just last year, in 2015 the court reversed this order, claiming that integration had been achieved (!).

Gary, once such a flourishing, vibrant city with top-notch schools and cultural venues, has been crumbling for decades. Built to house workers for US Steel, its fortunes fell with the company’s fortunes. In 1968, Gary elected its first African-American mayor and the first black mayor of a major city, Richard Gordon Hatcher. He watched business disinvestment in Gary and white flight ensue.

The documentary then focuses on two family businesses in Indiana and how they have thrived through the generations: Phillips Patterns and Casting, Nick’s Building Supply-Door Wholesaler. These mini-perspectives show how the companies reinvented themselves in order to survive and thrive through the decades.

Last, the documentary looks at the preservation movement in Madison, an early vibrant town on the Ohio River. Like lots of Indiana towns, once manufacturing started to leave the US and Indiana, the towns became shells of their former selves. Madison started to tear down its decaying buildings, but some residents realized the treasures that they were destroying. A strong movement was born to preserve Madison’s physical history. And now Madison is a popular destination for its beautiful historical buildings and homes.

The documentary continues with a fourth part that looks at Indiana in the future.