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