Research

Remembering the Forgotten School

Group recounts Lincoln School history; seeks public’s help in gathering information

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Ask Crawfordsville residents what they know of Crawfordsville’s Lincoln School for Colored Children, and most remember that the site on which the building once stood at 1000 E. Wabash Ave. (across from Walden Enterprise) has basketball courts. Some even remember the former building was a recreation center. But did you know there were two Lincoln schools in Crawfordsville? Or that most of the faculty was Black, and included a World War I veteran, a 1904 Olympian, at least one former slave from Virginia, one of the Krout sisters, a future pharmacist, the first Black man admitted to the bar of the Monroe Circuit Court, at least one Civil War veteran, the first Black man to graduate from Wabash College and one of the first Black woman entrepreneurs in Hamilton County? Or that one of its most famous students was Wilbur de Paris, American jazz trombonist and bandleader?

The story of the school began in 1851, when the Indiana Constitution and the 1852 Free School Law mandated that every county provide at least three months of free common school education, set up a system to administer it and levy estate taxes to help fund its public education. Unfortunately, these laws excluded Black children. Instead, by 1869, legislation required school trustees provide separate schools in areas with large Black populations, or to integrate in other areas with small Black populations. In response, communities quickly built Black elementary schools to begin the “separate but unequal” education system.

As early as 1859, Crawfordsville residents and school officials wrestled with the “integrate or separate” question. Eventually, residents chose segregation. In 1881 the Crawfordsville School Trustees ordered an all-Black school be built at the southwest corner of Spring and North Walnut Streets to serve Black students in grades 1-8. Town trustees chose this site as most Black families lived in Crawfordsville’s north end. The representatives purchased the lot in September 1881 for the sum of $2,000. On Dec. 3, 1881, Hinckley and Norris won the contract to construct the building for $6,400. The architects designed a plain two-story red brick structure, complete with playgrounds. Lincoln School officially opened in September 1882 with 42 students.

During the next six and half decades, Crawfordsville newspaper articles traced the discussions, debates, dilemmas and the disputes the local citizenry faced as Lincoln School staff members educated Black and Mulatto children in separate and unequal facilities, and the challenges Black students faced when attended an integrated high school after graduating from Lincoln School for Colored Children.

In the 1930s, as the Black population began to shift from the north end to the east end, Crawfordsville schools eventually chose to renovate the first Lincoln School to become Horace Mann School, an integrated grade school. A second Lincoln building opened in 1936 on Wabash Avenue but was closed in 1947.

By the 1960s, after Lincoln School for Colored Children had been deemed unnecessary when separate but equal legislation became illegal, it was abandoned and remained empty for quite some time. It eventually became the Lincoln Center, a recreation center for the Black community. Groups such as the Second Baptist Church, Black judges and the Colored Prince Hall Masonic Lodge that was active with members from Lebanon and Greencastle met here. Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, residents, with assistance from Wabash College students, renovated the building. Among other activities, volunteers would serve popcorn and show movies for Black neighborhood children because they were not allowed to attend movies at the local theater. The building was demolished in 1981 and now only green space and basketball courts remain.

Over time, many individuals and groups have collected items related to the school. In 2000, Dr. Charles Arvin collected information for his book, “Union Township Schools,” that included information about the various schools and the teachers who taught in them; fortunately, his book contained what little is known about the two Lincoln School buildings. Amie Kunkle Cox tracked down three of 44 attendance record books, and Dellie Craig at Crawfordsville District Public Library combed the archives to find pictures of the original buildings and many other artifacts.

Armed with this knowledge, in 2021, the League of Women Voters Montgomery County determined to feature the school, its faculty and students in a year-long project culminating with a 2023 Carnegie Museum exhibit featuring the historic Lincoln School buildings. Eventually, a historical marker will be installed celebrating the buildings and the people that taught and learned within them.

With generous grants from Indiana Humanities and Wabash College, a LWVMC sub-committee of Vicke Hudson-Swisher, Erika Robinson Frazier, Betty Chandler and Shannon Hudson has undertaken the research on the faculty and some of the students. The project is ready for the next step — collecting memories from community members, former students and descendants of those former students. Anyone with memories to share, memorabilia from the buildings, knowledge and or pictures of former student or teachers, are asked to send the committee an email at lsfcccrawfordsville@gmail.com. Committee members would like to arrange at interview, scan any documents and photograph any artifacts.

Jake Peacock has developed and designed a website for the project, https://lsfcc-project-moco.firebaseapp.com/, that will evolve as the project continues.

Christian Gray, Wabash College intern, will be sifting through Wabash College and local historical documents. The committee is most interested in information pertaining to the second Lincoln Building and the Lincoln Recreation Center.

Anyone interested in assisting with the project, should email the committee with contact information.

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