EVANSVILLE, INDIANA - I travel to Southwest Indiana at least three times a year, this is where my mom's side of the family is from. I like to tell stories about Mount Vernon and Evansville. So here goes another one, and this one is long overdue.
On the last day of October, I stepped on a bus at 8:30 in the morning to lead a history tour around downtown Indianapolis. The bus was full of people from Southwest Indiana and the surrounding tri-state area. Close to one dozen people knew who my grandfather, Carlton "Tiny" Waller was. Some remembered his work at the helm of Mt. Vernon's Sanitation Department, but more were excited to tell me how great of baseball player Tiny Waller was.
My grandfather was asked to board to bus from Mt. Vernon, which is in Posey County, to Evansville (Vanderburgh County) simply to go to high school. Mt. Vernon already had a high school at time, but it was only for white students. Tiny Waller went to Lincoln High School. Along with Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis and Roosevelt High School in Gary, Lincoln was one of Indiana's largest Black high schools.
Ball State University - Lincoln High School in Evansville was built as an exclusively African American high school in Evansville, Indiana. When classes were first held in 1928, the Lincoln hosted grades K-12, with an enrollment of 300. Students were bussed in from surrounding Vanderburg, Posey, and Warrick counties to attend Lincoln, including the communities of Mt. Vernon, Rockport, Newburgh, and Grandview.
Earlier this summer I took a visit to Lincoln High School, and I walked the same halls that my grandfather once walked. Lincoln, just like the area that surrounded it, was for the people within the community that looked most like myself, Black.
There are a lot of parallels between the schools and housing created for the Black community in Indianapolis and Evansville. For example, let's take a look at Lockefield Gardens in Indianapolis.
Lockefield Gardens was constructed from 1935 to 1938, it was the first public housing in the city of Indianapolis. It was completely segregated, just for the African-Americans of the city. Below is a map from 1941, showing Lockefield Gardens on Indiana Avenue.
By 1983, despite multiple protests and opposition, eighteen of the original 24 buildings had been demolished. Now, if you visit Lockefield Gardens, which has newer structures included in the complex, you'll see a sculpture that honors some of the history that was made along Indiana Avenue. We start our Indiana Avenue Walk & Talks near the sculpture.
Lincoln Gardens also opened in 1938, I stopped by what was left of the complex during my trip to Evansville. The only remaining building is now home to the Evansville African-American History Museum. We don't have one of these in Indianapolis.
Opened in 1938, Lincoln Gardens provided low-cost housing managed by and for African Americans. Lincoln Gardens served as a community center for decades. The Evansville African American Museum opened here in 1999.
Before the public housing units were opened, the schools opened, and there are some interesting similarities here as well. Let's start in Evansville this time, at Lincoln High School.
Lincoln High School was constructed in 1927 and opened its doors to the Black students in 1928. The last class of Lincoln High School graduated in 1962 , and then the school was converted to serve K-8 students. The building is now used an elementary school, still part of the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation. Lincoln was, and is still known as "The Lions."
Crispus Attucks High School was opened its doors in the fall of 1927 and remained segregated into the 60's before being converted to a middle school in 1983. Attucks was converted back into a high school in 2006, and is still part of Indianapolis Public Schools. Attucks was, and is still, known as "The Tigers".
Although they're filled with some of the greatest history that our state has to offer, the schools and the "gardens" that were near were products of racism, redlining, and the Klan. I can't imagine how my grandfather must have felt, stepping on the bus and riding by plenty of schools that he wasn't allowed to attend, while he was on the on the way only school in the region that would take him.
One morning, my grandfather stepped on that bus to Lincoln High School for the last time. It's about a 30 minute drive from Mt. Vernon to Evansville, annoyed with the commute, my grandfather dropped out of high school. The schools closest to him didn't want to teach him.
Recently I stepped on a bus, filled with joy. My group was from Southwest Indiana, many of which attended high schools where my grandfather wouldn't have been allowed to learn.
I've talked a lot about similarities, but here's a difference I think you'll enjoy. When I stepped on that bus, I was the teacher.
I'll take a significantly deeper dive into similarities and relationship between the black communities in Indianapolis and Evansville during our County 2 County virtual lecture December 7th at 7:00pm! Tickets are available now and can be found right here.
If you take the time to read the obituary, you'll start to understand how great of a baseball player Tiny Waller really was before an injury prevented him from pursuing his dream any further. He spent time with the Evansville Colored Braves, the Black professional baseball team of the area. Check out what I saw at Evansville African-American History Museum!