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July 4, 2020

Racial justice in 1820s Indiana: Slave trial and Fall Creek Massacre - encore

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Mary Bateman Clark, enslaved by an indentured servitude contract in Vincennes, Ind., sued for her freedom. She won the case on appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court in 1821.

With various aspects of racial justice in the headlines, Hoosier History Live will explore precedent-setting legal trials in early Indiana involving African Americans and Native Americans. We are drawing upon our rich archive for a special encore show focusing on two landmark cases of racial justice in early 19th century Indiana.

Book cover: The Massacre at Fall Creek by Jessamyn West.The two trials: one in which an enslaved Indiana woman successfully sued for her freedom, and a second in which white men were found guilty and executed for slaughtering nine Native Americans, an infamous incident that history has dubbed the Fall Creek Massacre. The shows focusing on these milestone legal cases both originally aired in 2010.

In 1821, Mary Bateman Clark, a young African-American woman living in Vincennes, made history when her lawyer filed a lawsuit seeking her release from an "indentured servitude" contract with one of the most prominent men in the new state of Indiana. The contract required Clark to cook, clean and sew for Gen. Washington Johnston and his family for 20 years. Her only pay was housing, food and clothing.

The case, which made its way to the Indiana Supreme Court, involved determining whether such "indentured servitude" contracts violated the state's Constitution as a form of slavery. Nearly 200 years ago - on Nov. 16, 1821 - the state Supreme Court ruled in Clark's favor and ordered her employer to release her.

Eunice TrotterSharing insights about the social history of the era and the landmark case, Nelson is joined in studio by one of Clark's descendants, Indianapolis resident Eunice Trotter. Eunice, a veteran journalist, and her sister Ethel McCane have used their research about their ancestor to do "living history performances" for schools and civic groups across the state. 

Eunice Trotter was involved in the production of a one-hour documentary, Mary Bateman Clark, a Woman of Color and Courage, which originally aired on WTIU Bloomington in 2013.

Eunice and Ethel also crusaded for a historic marker in honor of Mary Bateman Clark, which was dedicated at the Knox County Courthouse in 2009. The sisters are Mary Bateman Clark's great-great-great granddaughters.

Nelson and his guest also discuss a similar case involving another young woman, Polly Strong, who also lived in Vincennes in the 1820s and sued to obtain her freedom. She had been enslaved by Col. Hyacinth LaSalle, a prominent Vincennes resident, before Indiana became a state in 1816. LaSalle challenged the new state Constitution, unsuccessfully arguing that it could not be applied retroactively.

Re-enactments of the Polly Strong case have been performed across Indiana under the direction of Corydon historic preservationist Maxine Brown, who has been a guest on Hoosier History Live for a show about her historic restoration of a segregated school in Corydon, as well as a show discussing DNA testing and family ancestry. The restored school, now known as the Leora Brown School, has been the setting for re-enactments of the court cases of Mary Bateman Clark and Polly Strong.

Just three years after the Mary Bateman Clark trial, another milestone Indiana legal case set a precedent for racial justice in the United States.

When white men were found guilty by a jury and executed for the slaughter of nine Native Americans in March 1824, it was the first time that the murders of Indians by whites had been subject to capital punishment under American law.

DAvid Thomas MurphyTo explore all aspects of the brutal crimes in the swampy woods of Madison County - where the Native Americans (including three women and four children) were gruesomely murdered - Nelson is joined in studio by David Thomas Murphy, author of the book, Murder in Their Hearts: The Fall Creek Massacre (Indiana Historical Society Press).

A professor of history at Anderson University, David spent four years researching the massacre, trial and subsequent developments, including the social history of pioneer Hoosiers (Indiana only had been a state for about seven years at the time of the massacre) and of the Native Americans in the region.

"The slaughter in the soggy Indiana creek bottoms created a short-lived but serious national security crisis," David has written, referring to concerns across the country that warfare would erupt across newly developing states.

In researching the tragedy, David explored why the federal government devoted great effort and resources to prosecuting the perpetrators. David's research required that he reconcile conflicting accounts of the events (the tribal origins of some of the victims remain unclear) as well as the motivations involved in the cold-blooded crimes, which involved shooting some of the Native Americans in their backs and mutilating several of the corpses.


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July11, 2020 - coming up

Astronaut food and other unexpected links between the space program and Indiana

Among the Mercury 7 crew selected in 1959, Virgil "Gus" Grissom (third from left) was the only Hoosier, but he began a long line of astronauts with Indiana connections. In this show we explore some of the lesser-known links between NASA and the Hoosier state. Courtesy NASA

Ever since the selection of the original Mercury 7 astronauts in 1959 marked the dawn of the U.S. space program, it's been well known that a significant percentage of NASA astronauts, mission specialists and engineers have spent portions of their lives in Indiana. After all, Purdue University has long been nicknamed "Mother of Astronauts."

Less well known, however, is Indiana's connection to the dehydrated food that has been the chow for many of the U.S. space program's intrepid cosmic explorers.

And then there's the Hoosier state's link to the physician who treated several astronauts who became household names during the 1960s, including Virgil "Gus" Grissom, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

John NorbergHoosier History Live will spotlight these unexpected links just as space travel is receiving renewed attention with the recent launch of a capsule by SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk that took two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The mission "ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA, the longest such hiatus in its history," according to a USA Today report. (NASA had been relying on Russian spaceships to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station).

Note to listeners who may be day-dreaming about blasting off as a civilian space traveler: Your prep could be overseen by a Purdue alum who works with civilians likely to become the first space tourists.

Our guest, Purdue historian John Norberg of Lafayette, will share details about various intriguing - but seldom highlighted - links between Indiana and the space program. A retired columnist for the Lafayette Journal & Courier who has been inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame, John has been a guest on previous shows, including those that explored Astronauts and Purdue and Amelia Earhart's connections to Indiana.

So what's the skinny on the astronauts' food?

Book cover: Space WalkerA former Indiana farm girl who studied home economics at Purdue supervised the packaging of food consumed by shuttle crews for several years, among other responsibilities. Karen Pearson Ross (Purdue class of '71) grew up on a farm in Sheridan, Ind., and eventually married popular NASA astronaut Jerry Ross.

Her husband liked to quip that he was the only one among his colleagues who enjoyed "home cooking" while in space. Both Karen and Jerry Ross, who grew up in Crown Point, Ind., are now retired. Our guest John Norberg collaborated with Jerry Ross on his autobiography, Spacewalker: My Journey in Space and Faith as NASA's Record-Setting Frequent Flier (Purdue University Press, 2013).

In addition to sharing details about Karen Ross' cosmic culinary work, John Norberg will discuss Dr. Steve Beering, the former, long-time Purdue president (1983-2000) who died in April at age 87. Beginning in the early 1960s, Dr. Beering was the physician for Grissom, a native of Mitchell, Ind., Glenn, Alan Shepard and others among the original Mercury 7 astronauts.

Dr. Beering, who was on the medical staff at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas then, later gave Neil Armstrong his first physical for the astronaut program. Dr. Beering went on to become the dean of the IU School of Medicine before serving as Purdue's president.

Currently, Purdue alum Beth Moses (class of '92) is an astronaut instructor training people who will become the first space tourists. Although she works for Virgin Galactic, the company that hopes to send tourists into space, Beth Moses officially is classified as a NASA astronaut, according to John Norberg. She traveled into space on a Virgin Galactic test flight in 2019.

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