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Our Branch History


A Brief History of the Indianapolis Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People


The Indianapolis Chapter of the NAACP began shortly after the inception of the national organization. The black citizens of Indianapolis recognized the need for a local organization to help them achieve equality and gain access to rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States. Its early meetings were informal and held wherever space was available. As the organization grew some of its locations were: Indiana Avenue, 111 E. 34th St., 4155 Boulevard Place. The Indianapolis branch is currently located at 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway.


In 1912, Mary Cable organized the Indianapolis branch of the NAACP. At that time she was the president of the Colored Women's Civic Club. She then also became Indiana's first NAACP president. All of the other officers and members of the board of the branch were also women. After thirteen months the women asked the men of the black community to take over because, as the women put it, the men had more time.


The Constitution for the Indianapolis Branch of the NAACP was approved by the Board of Directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on May 24, 1913. The officers at that time were: Mary Cable - President, Cucinda Hayden - 1st Vice President, Beulah Porter - 2nd Vice President, Ella Clay - Secretary, Cora Willis -Treasurer.


By the 1920s the Indianapolis Branch grew in membership and took the lead in Indiana in resisting the growing threats of segregation. It took on the Ku Klux Klan to stop lynchings, and end its control over city and state education, housing, and employment practices. The NAACP responded to the Klan's influence in politics by organizing the Independent Voter's League to enlist black voters to support Democrats. An ordinance led by the White Peoples Protective League was enacted to further promote housing discrimination. The Indianapolis Branch opposed this bill and received support for the national organization. In 1926, the bill was ruled unconstitutional. This was a victory for the local branch and the black citizens of Indianapolis. The prestige and power of the Klan was shattered in most of the larger cities in Indiana.


The Indianapolis Branch sued in the early 1920s to prevent the creation of a separate high school for African Americans. Its efforts were unsuccessful and Crispus Attucks High School was built in 1927. Black students from all over Indianapolis were sent to this high school. The faculty of black educators was exceptional and the school became a symbol of pride for the black community.


Many members and leaders of the Indianapolis branch have been hard working, dedicated people, many who demonstrated extraordinary courage. Such as black attorneys Robert Lee Brokenburr, Freeman Ransom, and Robert Lee Bailey, who engaged in a hard struggle at a time when victories were few, and long before the civil rights movement of the 1960s.


In the 1930s membership in the Indianapolis Branch declined, but was revived in the 1940s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the branch fought to end segregation in all of Indianapolis' public schools. While they advocated two-way busing, NAACP members considered it a victory when in 1981 U.S. District Judge Hugh Dillon ordered the one-way busing of 6,000 inner-city students to six township schools in Marion County.


In 1966, NAACP members met with Mayor John Barton to discuss police brutality and discriminatory policies of the police department. This resulted in the upgrading of Captain Spurgeon Davenport as the first black Inspector in the history of Indianapolis Police Department.


In 1993, the branch threatened a lawsuit against Indianapolis Public Schools to prevent it from implementing a Select Schools plan. The plan, later accepted by Judge Dillon, allows parents to choose from a group of schools. The branch also hosted the NAACP National Convention during this year.


Thorough out its history, the Indianapolis branch has continued to fight for civil rights, particularly in the areas of job and housing discrimination. The NAACP also has sought to empower people through the ballot box. It has vigorously helped in registering voters and encouraging the community to vote on Election Day. Like all other branches across the country, it is governed by a constitution issued by the national NAACP office in Baltimore. All major decisions must be cleared through the national office and there can be no action such as boycotts, strikes, lawsuits, etc., without the approval of headquarters. The local branch is comprised of several committees. A new administration is elected every two years.

More of Our NAACP Branch History

Article: The Road to Freedom Is Long and Winding: Jewish Involvement in the Indianapolis Civil Rights Movement

Author: Krista Kinslow

Date: 2012

Source: Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 108, Issue 1, pp [1]-34


The Road to Freedom Is Long and Winding: Jewish Involvement in the Indianapolis Civil Rights Movement


On Saturday afternoon, May 1, 1948, Wilson Head, executive secretary for the Indianapolis NAACP, went to the Esquire Theater to watch the Italian movie Shoe Shine. He knew that he would almost certainly be turned away because of his race, but the NAACP leader had gone to the Esquire that day to test an Indiana law which ostensibly gave him the right to buy a ticket and enter the theater.  As the Indianapolis Recorder later reported, Head "was refused admittance. The manager, James Morehouse, was quite frank in stating that it was because of his race." 


Head filed affidavits against Morehouse and against Morris Cantor, the operator of Cantor Amusements, which owned the Esquire and other Indianapolis theaters. He claimed that the management had violated the 1885 Indiana Civil Rights Law, which barred discrimination on the basis of race. 


The case attracted the Recorder's attention as "the first criminal prosecution under the Indiana Civil Rights Law in the history of Marion County." Although affidavits had been filed in the past against managers of whites-only restaurants, "no defendant had yet been hailed into court" as the "prosecutor's office professed inability to find the restaurant managers in order to bring them in." 


Included in its series of articles on the case against the Esquire, the influential African American newspaper noted that Charles Posner, executive director for the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), was working to resolve the case. Because the manager and the owner of the theater were Jewish, Posner stepped in as the mediator between the theater and the NAACP, resolving the situation on July 9 of the same year. The Esquire ceased its discriminatory stance, and the NAACP subsequently dropped the lawsuit. 


The Recorder noted that "Doors... this week swung open to patrons without regard to color, as the local branch NAACP scored a major victory in its fight against jimcrow policies."

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