Aftermath of Emancipation: A Chapter in Indiana History

Since Emancipation: A Short History of Indiana Negroes, 1863–1963, by Emma Lou Thornbrough (Indiana Division American Negro Emancipation Centennial Authority, 1963)

Emma Lou Thornbrough (1913–1994), taught history at Butler University from 1946 until her retirement in 1994. Beginning with her doctoral thesis at the University of Michigan (“Negro Slavery in the North: Its Legal and Constitutional Aspects”), and continuing throughout the rest of her life, her major area of interest was black history, especially in Indiana. The Negro in Indiana before 1900, published in 1957, established the pattern for her work. It gives a fully documented exposition, based on a wide range of government documents (both federal and state), newspapers from across the state, diaries (published and unpublished), and monographs and books. Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (published posthumously in 2000) continues in this same mode.

Since Emancipation, as its subtitle indicates, bridges the two comprehensive studies, covering thirty-seven years of the nineteenth century and sixty-three years of the twentieth. Thornbrough characterizes it as “a mere summary” of her earlier book, “covering trends and developments which I consider most important” (vii). Including the bibliographical note, this monograph is only ninety-eight pages long, and it was written specifically for Indiana’s participation in a nationwide celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The Indiana State Library has a full collection of materials from the year-long celebration.

I was a young professor at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis at that time, but I have no recollection of the multi-faceted celebration that took place during that year. The preface to Since Emancipation lists eleven activities in Indiana’s celebration of the anniversary, including an Emancipation Day Mass Meeting at St. John’s Baptist Church in Indianapolis, a state-wide church day observance of the Emancipation Centennial, speeches at many organizations including churches and colleges, and special programs “depicting the contribution of the Negro in Music, featuring Spirituals, Jazz, and Classics” (p. iv).

For some readers, the first chapter, “Aftermath of Emancipation—Attainment of Citizenship and Political Rights,” will be the most important part of the book. In eleven pages, Thornbrough describes the historic hostility experienced by black people in Indiana.

“The men who wrote the state constitution were determined to abolish slavery but beyond that they showed no concern for the rights of colored persons. Among the white population of the state as a whole there were strong racial antipathies which were reflected in legislation which denied Negroes within the state the same rights as whites and which attempted to prevent Negroes from coming into the state. No northern state except Illinois enacted as severe Black Laws as did Indiana. These extreme measures are remarkable in view of the fact that negroes constituted only about one per cent of the population of the state” (p. 2). Read more. . .Since Emancipation


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