Growing Up Black in Bloomington

AS TOLD TO ELISABETH ANDREWS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHANNON ZAHNLE

The history of African Americans in Bloomington is as old as the city itself. In 1818, the year the city was established, African American residents William Cooley and Aaron Wallace bought parcels of land together, only the second land purchase on record. Bloomington went on to become a stop on the Underground Railroad and later served as the birthplace of the nation’s first college fraternity for African Americans, Kappa Alpha Psi.

In the meantime and since then, a great many African American families have lived, worked, and thrived in our small city. Their lives and contributions are inextricably intertwined with the arc of Bloomington history, from the growth of limestone mills and Indiana University to the once-widespread reach of businesses like Showers Brothers Furniture Company and RCA. Bloomington’s signature African American churches, Bethel AME and Second Baptist, still stand as enduring testaments to the strength of this community.

In recognition of Black History Month, we wanted to share some small portion of this rich and proud history. Rather than focusing on the institutions, we chose to gather personal recollections from a variety of people who grew up here.

Beverly Calender-Anderson, of the city’s Community and Family Resources Department, helped us contact five people whose ages and accomplishments span a range of eras and experiences. These individual stories aren’t meant to represent an entire population but rather offer a handful of personal accounts that are as unique as the people who lived them. —the editor

Read the entire story here.

Comments

  1. Michael Gordon says:

    We were so interested to read this. I moved to Bloomington in 1975 to join the faculty at Indiana. Our two daughters, Maya 5 and Maura grew up black in Bloomington too. They also present a unique view with their experience.

  2. Shelly Newbury says:

    Actually, Kappa Alpha Psi was not the nation’s first college fraternity for African Americans. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, founded in 1906 at Cornell University holds that honor. Kappa Alpha Psi was founded at Indiana University in 1911.

    • Sam says:

      Alpha Kappa Nu was the first college fraternity established for African Americans in 1903. Gamma Phi, established in 1905, was the first intercollegiate fraternity established for African Americans at Wilberforce. Pi Gamma Omicron was establish for African Americans on Jan 10th, 1906 (10 Months before the establishment of APhiA) at Ohio.

      • Guy (Deckard) says:

        Acknowledging the importance of all, both individuals and organizations, local and community, small and temporary, that came before, we must still recognize those who endeavored and successfully established (and incorporated) the first intercollegiate fraternities for African-American.: Alpha Phi Alpha & Alpha Kappa Alpha.

        All have their place in history including these, the first, APhiA & AKappaA.

        Supporting facts: http://www.greekchat.com/gcforums/showthread.php?p=1895771

        Kappa Alpha Psi continues to hold a special and unique place in Bloomington (and IU) history.

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