Several African Americans have been mentioned in the columns preceding this one.
Others included the Beard family on McKee Street and their relatives on South Franklin and North Carver.
George Guess worked for the gas company. He and wife Frances lived on East Washington Street. This would go on and on if every family was mentioned. For the most part the family names already mentioned would include siblings who also lived in town but in another household.
Several people remember Margaret Wilson, but she did not live here in 1907. She was born in the Kingston area in 1903 to Lavon Wilson, went to Kingston School and lived in that area until she was grown. She moved to Greensburg, became a member and was active in the First Baptist church and worked for several families in Greensburg. When she died in 1986 she was the last of the lifetime, or longtime, African American residents in Decatur County.
African American families that were listed in 1900 Washington Township census were, with few exceptions, still listed in the 1910 census. They had secure jobs and worked at jobs that many whites also worked at, they owned their homes at the same percentage that whites owned their homes; they did not all live in one area but their homes were scattered all over the city. They could attend school with white students. They graduated from high school and some went on to college. Deaths of older residents occurred during those 10 years and many young people left for better opportunities.
Both African American and white young people moved north to find better jobs. During this time several big businesses were destroyed by fire, others simply failed. One large business outgrew its home here and moved to Anderson. Statistics show that older African Americans stayed here but many younger ones left for the north where an abundance of jobs were available.
It would be worth anyone’s time to read about the migration of African Americans from south to the Midwest, West and Northeast. Books have been written about it and Carolyn M. Brady wrote a well-researched article titled, “Indianapolis at the Time of the Great Migration, 1900 – 1920.”
The years from 1900 to 1910 were especially significant for Greensburg. Residents were demanding changes. They were up in arms about the open ditches and the drains and tile ditches that drained into Gas Creek. They were insisting that a sanitary sewer system be installed. Curbs needed to be built. Streets needed to be improved and gutters needed to be installed. These were dirty jobs. Horses were the means of transportation (there were eight blacksmiths).
Conditions were so bad that a Greensburg Improvement Association was formed pledging to improve conditions. Main Street was unpaved until 1909 when it was bricked. Because Greensburg wasn’t on a waterway it had to provide artificial means for disposal of sewerage. A disposal plant was finally built in 1906-7. Fires were destroying businesses at an alarming rate.
Laborers, both African American and white, were brought in to work on those projects. Newspaper accounts state that “hundreds” of laborers came to Greensburg to get jobs.”
Where were these men going to live? A few residents rented out spare rooms. The Portland and the Cottage hotels housed a few, but the two large hotels were mainly reserved for visitors and salesmen who traveled their territories by railroad. The railroad depot was on South Franklin at that time. The men who came only to work were without their wives; most were single.
Soon shacks sprang up just south of the city near the railroad tracks, and that area soon became known as Paradise Alley. The word paradise was said to be used because the whole area was soon teeming with taverns and brothels. It was printed in newspapers of the time that prostitutes congregated in the area and would point out the men who owed them money as they walked by. Since no addresses were found for brothels it can be assumed that the ladies had to rely on word of mouth or go looking for business in other ways.
There were 22 saloons listed in the telephone book. Twelve of the 22 were on South Franklin, South Broadway and Railroad streets. All of them were not more than two blocks off the square. There were reputable businesses in that area that had been there before the flood of laborers came. They surely ran into some problems considering what was taking place around them.
The police force had one chief and four policemen. The atmosphere was set for trouble.