Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 6, 2014

Pat Smith: African American church was important

Pat Smith
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Richard Lewis was one of the signers of a petition circulated years before the occurrence of 1907.

That petition asked that African American children be able to attend school with white children. Richard Lewis’ son, David Robert Lewis, was born. Lewis graduated from Greensburg High in the class of 1879 with 25 other graduates. The class of 1890 had two African American students, Andrew Brooks and Elizabeth Wylie. There were only 18 graduates that year. Maggie Lewis graduated with 29 other students in the class of 1891.

Oscar Langston, another graduate of Greensburg High School attended college and became a dentist in Indianapolis. It should be noted that many residents of Greensburg, Decatur County and other counties and states did not graduate from high school in those days.

After David Robert Lewis (usually signed his name D. Robert Lewis) graduated from high school, he enrolled at Purdue University. He earned a B.S. in Civil Engineering and became Purdue’s first Black Engineering graduate. His senior thesis was titled “Highway Road Construction.” He went on to teach mechanical drawing at Virginia’s Hampton Institute for 12 years, before settling into a successful career as a real estate broker in Pittsburgh, Virginia.

Until 1894 African Americans in Greensburg had met for Christian services in private homes during the 1860s and 1870s, and later services were held in a room on the southwest corner of the square. In 1894 Cortez and Mary Ewing, Samuel A. and Abbie A. Bonner, Marine D, unmarried, Benjamin F. and Ellen E. Bennett, for the consideration of $280, sold to the African M.E. Church of Greensburg, commonly known as Bethel Mission Church of Greensburg, Lot 10 and the East one-half of Lot 9 in Jas. N. Anderson’s subdivision of Out-lots 1,2,3 & 4 of Thomas Hendricks addition to the town (now city) of Greensburg. (Deed dated May 4, 1894, recorded May 5, 1894).

A church was built on the property that same year. The one room frame building was on the corner of Lincoln and North streets. Members built a parsonage just west of the church.

Pastors in the later history of the church included Jasper Siler who was pastor at the time of the 1907 incident. Trustees included Samuel T. Evans, Adolphus Frazier and W. S. Meadows. Stewards included Irene Hood, W. S. Meadows and Adolphus Frazier. President of the Missionary Society was Mrs. W. S. Meadows. In 1915 the church had 20 active members, a Sunday school of 14 youngsters.

The church was active until the membership started to decline around 1919 and the last service was held Jan. 31, 1921. The church and land were sold in June 1929 but not recorded until December that year. Anna Davis, representing the trustees of the church, signed for the African M.E. Church to the Board of Church Extension, The decision to sell the property was apparently helped along with the declining health of two of the trustees Irene Hood and Nellie Johnson who were both deceased by October 1929.

The church had been given a large bible by the First Presbyterian Church in Greensburg on May 13, 1914. When the church closed the bible was given to Anna Davis, last trustee of the church, by Julius Brooks. The building was used for a home at various times after religious services were no longer held there and was finally fell into disrepair and condemned by the state fire marshal. The church was torn down in December 1939 by Ed Applegate who had purchased the building from William A Stewart of Indianapolis. Anna Davis’ daughter Gertrude Longmyre gave the bible to the local historical society as well as pictures of her family.

Before and after 1907 African Americans in Greensburg did not live in ghetto like conditions. Their homes were scattered over the city from South East Street to North Lincoln Street, McKee Street, East North Street, East Central Ave., West Washington Street and Forsythe Street.

Adolphus Frazier was a plumber for a large local hardware store, Bonner, Hart and Martin. His brother William “Billy” was a horseman for Web Woodfill who had a store on the square. James Wright lived on South East Street across from the paint store. His wife had two daughters Maude and Eleanor Primm.

William Meadows was a barber with a shop in the basement of the DeArmond Hotel. He was born in 1860 and was 47 in 1907. He died in Greensburg in 1923.

Next week we’ll continue a bit about families here before and after 1907.