Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

January 24, 2014

Re-examining the Greensburg riot of 1907

This week begins a series about events in April 1907; not a reprint of the 1994 series but on the same subject.

Former St. Paul resident Ruth Dorrel supplied most of the information in the 1994 series, and her research is being used in this series. Ruth worked at the Indiana Historical Society as editor of the genealogy magazine. She’s now at Franklin College. This time Dr. Calvin D. Davis, retired professor of history at Duke University, agreed to write an introduction to this series and gave advice about what should be included. Part of his introduction will be in this week’s column and the rest will be in next week.

Anything in this series could be found by anyone with patience and time to research it, so this isn’t an effort to appear to be an expert.

Curiosity prevailed years ago when told that all African Americans had been “run out” of town in a 1907 riot. While researching other subjects over the years, it became obvious that there were nearly as many Black Americans here after 1907 as before. That contradicted what had been spread about events of that year. Retired writer and newspaperman Smiley Fowler, who was 24 years old in 1907, clearly remembered what happened and shared his knowledge. Others who helped with this latest series include Russell Wilhoit and Lori Osting.

The first series was written before the Internet became commonplace, a good thing since we know not to trust everything we find from that source. It was especially distasteful when the old story was recently re-circulated without any regard for what actually happened. Dr. Davis’ calm approach helped immensely. Here is what he wrote:

“Pat Smith’s decision to revise and republish her 1994 articles about the Greensburg riot in April 1907 should be welcomed by all Decatur Countians. A few months ago an article appeared on George Mason University’s History Network which referred to another network article published in 2006. It was about Greensburg and was titled, ‘Honda’s All American Sundown Town.’ The author of both articles apparently was James W. Loewen, retired professor of sociology at the University of Vermont and a visiting professor at Catholic University in Washington D.C.

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