Hello, my name is Eva Ladd and I’m currently an intern at the Monroe County History Center (MCHC) from Bloomington High School North through my Service Learning Program. I have a general interest in history, specifically the 1960’s, with the Civil Rights movement being one of my favorite topics. My Service Learning class required me to have a personal project from my internship to put in my portfolio that I am creating. With my interest in Civil Rights in mind, the search through the MCHC collection began, and I found the Rev. Andrew J. Brown flyers. These are a collection of 5 flyers centered around Civil Rights and police brutality issues that Rev. Brown was passionate about to help introduce his views and who he was to garner support for his causes.
The first image references Birmingham, Alabama, a city prominently known for its racism and violent attacks on African Americans during the 1950s-1960s. Birmingham is alluded to on the second page as well with the mention of Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety (1936-1954 and 1957-1963) who oversaw Birmingham’s fire and police departments. He allowed police to use brutal tactics during protests such as using dogs to attack the protestors. Connor denied Civil Rights to the people of Birmingham and enforced racial segregation.
Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles where the Watts Rebellion occurred, is brought up on page three in which Marqutte Frye (who was on parole) was pulled over for reckless driving. After speaking to an officer for a while Frye admitted to driving after having a few drinks. While being arrested his mother, Rena Price, came over to scold him for his decision to drink and drive. She was then pushed by someone, which escalated into her and her son fighting the police along with other members of the community. They were eventually arrested but the arrests caused a lot of uproar due to the LAPD being famous for racial discrimination, generally treating minorities worse than the white people of the town. This event started six days of protests and rioting, with the California Army National Guard being called in to subdue the situation, resulting in 34 deaths, countless injuries, and $40 million in property damage.
The fourth image shows a large crowd of people protesting outside of the Indiana Governor’s Mansion in July of 1969, a rally that Brown helped organize to call attention to the plight of the poor and to eradicate poverty. He stressed that the rally was only a first step but he hoped that it would lead to meeting with the heads of welfare and other programs to end poverty and racism through resources like better education and housing. The governor at the time was Edgar Whitcomb and he aggravated Rev. Brown and many others by signing a law that discriminates against minority voters. Residents of Marion and Lake Counties called into question the validity of recent state statutes establishing Marion County as a multi-member district thus giving them more power to elect state representatives and senators. Although when taken to court that claim was dismissed, the issue of diluting minority votes, specifically in the “ghetto” areas of the county, was found to be true and the statutes were deemed unconstitutional.
And the fifth image finally introduces Reverend A.J. Brown, an Indianapolis based civil rights activist, who spread his message of nonviolence through religion. He was a WWII veteran who worked alongside his friend, Martin Luther King Jr., to create the Indiana branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with marching with him in Selma, Alabama. Additionally he lead his own church, the St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church, where he would record his radio program “Operation Breadbasket”, primarily talking about African American experiences and viewpoints on various subjects such as politics and local news. In 1970 Brown would go on to create the Black Expo with several others, an event that gathers African American entertainers, politicians, athletes, etc which is still held today in Indianapolis and is known as the “largest ethnic-culture festival” in America.
The various shots of police, looking armed for combat, are spread all throughout the posters. Police would have been stationed at rallies to jump at a moment’s notice despite many protests stressing nonviolence. The images could have also come from an incident at Shortridge High School earlier in the year in which Brown helped deal with the aftermath.
Shortridge High School is located in northern Indianapolis with an African American majority population due to the “white flight” of the 1950s-1970s, in which many white people would move out of neighborhoods in fear of incoming African American residents, eventually causing primarily black neighborhoods and by association, school districts. Many schools throughout the 1960s held several protests over different matters such as civil rights, the Vietnam War, etc. For Indiana one of the larger protests began with an incident on February 25, 1969. Otto Breeding was a student at Shortridge High School that was accused of violating dress code with his mirrored sunglasses and an image of a fist on a black t-shirt, indications of his support for the Black Panthers, a controversial black organization. The Dean of the school, William Merrill, confronted Breeding about his attire resulting in violence and a three day suspension for Breeding.
Police were called on the day of the Breeding encounter because of other students pulling fire alarms, running through the halls, and in some cases picking fights with teachers. When news of this incident began to spread many students did not show up the next day, fearing for their safety. As the school tried to talk to the students about returning to a “normal” school day an ad hoc group of students had a list of four demands for the school administration.
- For Breeding’s suspension to be cancelled (over 900 students signed a petition is support)
- If a petition gets ⅓ of the school’s signatories then the administrators must honor it
- As long as the clothing is clean and “not obscene” the students may wear whatever they want
- “Physical and verbal harassment of pupils” by police, teachers, and staff members to cease immediately
In the end the school did not honor their requests, causing an uproar among the students. As a response to the unwillingness of the school, 20 students walked out of a mandatory orchestra concert. They then returned to the school to protest on the steps and were joined by adult leaders of African American activist groups. Police were called in to subdue non-violent protesters. Students were violently dragged down the steps, beaten with night sticks, and forced into police cars under the charge of “disorderly conduct”. The charges were later dropped but Rev. Brown was worried about a violent response from the public, causing him to stage a nonviolent protest at the Governor’s Mansion with his organization, the Indiana Christian Leadership Conference.
The poster ends with questioning the audience (specifically the silent majority who didn’t express their opinions publicly) to think about the things that happen around them, the racism, the brutality, the hatred and to wonder how they would change the world for the better. These posters were most likely displayed in Bloomington to spread his message and as Bloomington is only about an hour away from Indianapolis, to step in to help or inspire people to do good within their own community.