Thursday, January 30, 2020

Petition Wars: All the Way with RFK in Indiana

Early in the morning on Friday, March 22, 1968, Gerard F. Doherty, a Boston attorney who had departed from the East Coast in a snowstorm, stepped off a plane that had just landed at Indianapolis’s Weir Cook Municipal Airport. He had come to Indiana at the bequest of Ted Kennedy, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, to investigate whether there might be enough support for his brother, Robert, who had announced his candidacy for his party’s presidential nomination on March 16, to run in the state’s Democratic primary set for May 7. Five days earlier, Robert Kennedy had announced his intention to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Doherty, the former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, had little time in which to do his work. Just one week later all those who intended to run in the Hoosier primary had to be certified to be on the ballot by submitting to the secretary of state’s office the signatures of 5,500 registered voters—500 signatures from each of Indiana’s eleven congressional districts.

Before flying to Indianapolis, Doherty had stopped at the new Kennedy for President campaign headquarters in Washington, D.C., to be briefed on his assignment. Days earlier, he had heard about Robert Kennedy’s decision to run for president and had called Ted Kennedy’s office to volunteer his services. “I had just returned to the law business and I was chasing after ambulances,” Doherty recalled. “But, I said, I’m not going to . . . take apart paper clips and put them back together. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do, but it has to be meaningful.”

Doherty got his wish, and faced more of a challenge than he knew. He flew on to Indianapolis expecting to be “greeted by thousands of cheering people”—the multitudes needed in order to run a successful political campaign. When he arrived, however, he soon discovered he could initially only count on the assistance of three young Hoosier Democrats: Michael Riley, Louie Mahern, and William Schreiber.

The paucity of help for Doherty early on in Indiana reflected the chaotic nature of Robert Kennedy’s race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968. Time was short; Kennedy’s staff had to prepare for running in six primary campaigns in just three months. Leading up to his announcement, Kennedy had vacillated about taking on incumbent President Lyndon Johnson. “It’s all so complicated,” Kennedy lamented to Jack Newfield, a reporter for the Village Voice. “I don’t know what to do.” History was against the success of such an attempt. The last time a challenger had unseated a sitting president for his party’s nomination had come in 1884, when James G. Blaine won the Republican nomination over President Chester A. Arthur.

In Indiana the Kennedy campaign would be facing off against the insurgent candidacy of U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota and the Hoosier state’s Democratic governor, Roger D. Branigin, running as a stand-in for President Lyndon B. Johnson. With his patronage power, Branigin held a firm grip on the Democratic party in Indiana.

There were some Hoosier Democrats, however, who stood ready to work against Branigin in the primary. These Democrats were younger and more liberal than conservative party elders such as Branigin and had been inspired by the energy of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. When Robert Kennedy announced his candidacy for the presidency in 1968, this younger generation rallied to his cause.

One of these new breed was Michael Riley, a native of the coal country around Linton, Indiana. Riley’s father, a dragline operator for a coal company, admired union boss John L. Lewis and fiercely supported the Democratic Party. After completing his freshman year at Indiana State University, Riley had gone home and told his father he had decided to support the Republican Party. His father sat his son down on the screened porch of the family home and talked with him for three hours about the history of the Democratic Party and why his son should support its work. At the end of the talk, Riley turned to his father and said: “Dad, I’ll always be a Democrat.”

After earning his law degree, Riley found work in a variety of state government patronage jobs, including positions in the Department of Revenue and Secretary of State office. He also found time to work as a precinct committeeman. In 1965 Riley moved up the ranks a bit in the party by winning election as president of the Marion County Young Democrats. Two years later, he became president of the state Young Democrats organization. While in Gary, Indiana, attending a fund-raiser for the Young Democrats, Riley heard the news about Kennedy’s announcement of his presidential candidacy on television. When he returned home to Indianapolis, he called Jim Beatty, chairman of the Marion County Democratic Party, and told him if Kennedy were to come to Indiana, Riley wanted to be involved in the campaign.

On the morning of March 21, shortly after his conversation with Beatty, Riley sat in his Indianapolis law office on the second floor of the Circle Tower building when he heard a phone ring. His secretary answered and informed him that a gentleman identifying himself as Ted Kennedy wanted to speak with him. Riley picked up the phone and heard a man with a Boston accent on the other end telling him that Robert Kennedy planned on running in the Indiana primary and asked if the thirty-year-old Riley would take the job as chairman of the Indiana Committee to Elect Kennedy. Riley responded to the conversation but only reluctantly, as he suspected one of his friends might be playing a practical joke on him. “I’m just waiting for someone to laugh,” Riley recalled.

After about two or three minutes Ted Kennedy realized that Riley questioned whether he really was the senator from Massachusetts. Kennedy laughed and said he would have Frank Mankiewicz, Robert Kennedy’s press secretary, call and tell him more about what was expected of him. Mankiewicz called Riley and asked him to schedule a press conference to announce that Senator Kennedy had expressed an interest in exploring the possibility of running in the Indiana primary and Riley would be helping him make a decision.

On Friday, March 22, the Indianapolis Star featured an article noting that the first steps were being made for a statewide petition drive to place Kennedy on the ballot for the primary. The article quotes Riley as indicating that “more than 75 percent” of the activists involved in the Young Democrats organization were ready to throw their support behind Kennedy.

One of the activists Riley intended to involve in the campaign was Louie Mahern, a former U.S. marine whose family had long been involved in Indianapolis politics. Mahern’s grandmother on his mother’s side of the family worked as a Democratic precinct committeeman in Beech Grove in the 1930s. While he was growing up, Mahern also heard stories about political battles from his uncle, Paul Cantwell, who served as a Marion County commissioner and as a state representative in the legislature. “He brought some pretty interesting people around the house,” Mahern remembered. “I told my mother when I was eleven that I wanted to be a politician.” Mahern received his first experience in politics after World War II, when he assisted another uncle in the Democratic primary for the state legislature. He placed cards urging people to vote for his uncle on the windshields of those attending mass at Saint Catherine Catholic Church.

In 1968 Mahern worked as the Democratic chief deputy at the Marion County Board of Voters Registration, a job usually filled by county chairman Beatty as a way to groom promising politicians for the party’s future. As a veteran who opposed the war in Vietnam, Mahern found himself supporting McCarthy’s presidential candidacy, but, like many Democrats, harbored the “secret hope that Bobby Kennedy would run.” At that time approximately thirty Marion County Democrats would gather for lunch every Thursday in the basement of the Indiana State Teachers Association building. “There was usually a speaker,” Mahern said, who also served as chairman of the Young Democrats for the Eleventh Congressional District, “but the principle feature of the lunch was getting together with other Democrats and trading information and rumors.”

At about eleven o’clock in the morning on March 21, Mahern, sitting in his office at the City-County Building, received a telephone call from Riley asking if he would be attending the regular Thursday luncheon. When Mahern indicated he would be at the luncheon, Riley asked him to meet him on the Circle so they could walk over together. The two men met and Riley informed Mahern of his conversation with Ted Kennedy. Riley said once the luncheon had finished, he wanted Mahern to obtain and have copies made of the petition forms needed to place Robert Kennedy on the Indiana ballot. The Young Democrats had only a week to obtain certified signatures of five hundred registered voters in each of Indiana’s eleven congressional districts—a new, tougher requirement enacted by the Indiana General Assembly to make it harder for non-serious candidates to place their names on the ballot. The certified signatures had to be in the Indiana Secretary of State’s office before midnight on March 28.

After lunch, Mahern returned to the Board of Voters Registration and picked up a blank Branigin for President petition and walked over to Commercial Printing, located on East Ohio Street just west of Alabama Street and owned by Curly Ash. Behind the counter that day was Tom Ash, the owner’s son, who was just a few years older than Mahern. “I went in there and I saw him and said, ‘Tom, I need one of these things, but at the top here instead of where it says Roger Branigin, West Lafayette, Indiana, I want you to put Robert Kennedy of New York, New York.’ He looked at me and said, ‘No kidding?’” Mahern replied that his request was not a joke, should be kept secret, and he needed approximately eight thousand petitions printed by the next morning. Ash indicated the order would be ready on time.

The Young Democrats were joined in their efforts by a representative from the Kennedy campaign, Doherty, who had earned the Kennedys’ trust through his service to the family during Ted Kennedy’s first run for the U.S. Senate in 1962. During that race for the Democratic nomination against challenger Edward J. McCormick Jr., Doherty prepared a detailed report on each of the state’s districts. Ted Kennedy shared the report with his brother, President John Kennendy, who noted: “You know, whoever wrote this knew what he was talking about.”

Doherty later met with Robert Kennedy, who put him in charge of his brother’s effort to win the nomination and gave him his home and office number and told him to call if he had any problems. Doherty used this information as leverage during the campaign, threatening recalcitrant campaign workers with notifying Robert Kennedy directly if they failed to follow Doherty’s instructions. After Ted Kennedy won the nomination, Doherty received word from Robert Kennedy, who said: “You know I asked you to do something; you did it, you did very well. Our family will be forever grateful to you.”

Doherty had returned to his law practice in 1968 when he received another assignment from the Kennedys—to head to Indiana and see if there might be any chance for Robert Kennedy to enter the primary there. Doherty flew into Indianapolis and met with Riley, Mahern, and Schreiber. These three men became the core group Doherty worked with on the petition drive, as almost all Hoosier politicians of note avoided the Kennedy campaign “like the plague,” Doherty said.

In Massachusetts Doherty could always find some politicians to help out during a campaign, but in Indiana “they just pulled the shades down.” Mahern pointed out that senior members of the Democratic Party who would have normally supported Kennedy were stymied by Branigin’s decision to serve as a stand-in for Johnson and by the need to protect, at all costs, Congressman Andy Jacobs Jr., “the most important progressive officeholder in Marion County,” said Mahern. Jacobs faced a potentially tough opponent in the primary, a young attorney named Dave Foley, who received some support from the Branigin administration. “That’s why it fell to the Young Democrats to essentially run the Kennedy campaign in Indiana,” Mahern noted.

Doherty also reported to Ted Kennedy that a February 14, 1968, redistricting by a panel of three judges (dubbed the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre by Democrats) had badly hurt such Democratic congressman as Jacobs, John Brademas, and J. Edward Roush. “And for this reason,” Doherty said, “many of their friends, although sympathetic [to Robert Kennedy], do not want anybody in making waves. It seems everybody is with us on a voice vote but no one wants us on a stand up vote.”

Riley recalled Doherty as “just a great guy, funny, but all business. [He] knew how to run a campaign, [he] knew the ins and outs. We set up shop in my law office.” For the petition drive, Riley used his Indiana contacts to find volunteers to help secure the required signatures. Doherty also received under-the-table assistance from U.S. Senator Vance Hartke’s office, which provided names of Hoosiers who might be willing to support Kennedy. In order to help simplify matters, Doherty and his Hoosier advisers decided to solicit signatures in the most populous county in each congressional district. Schreiber received the assignment for the Third Congressional District in northern Indiana and set out for South Bend on Friday in a heavy snow with the names of two University of Notre Dame undergraduates, Chuck Naus and Mike Kendall.

Obtaining the necessary signatures proved to be dangerous work for some Kennedy supporters. A sophomore at the University of Notre Dame when Kennedy entered the presidential contest, Michael Kendall formed a Notre Dame Students for Kennedy organization, received the necessary petitions from Schreiber, and with other students went out over a weekend to collect signatures. Kendall, who went on to serve in the Indiana State Senate, received a painful lesson in participatory democracy. He and another student were set upon and threatened in downtown South Bend by local Democrats aligned with Governor Branigin. “So we got beat up in the United States of America trying to get petitions signed,” Kendall said.

Undeterred by the physical assault, Kendall and other members of the student group were able to obtain more than a thousand signatures on Kennedy’s behalf, including a large number at Michiana area Catholic Churches. Looking back on the experience, Kendall still finds it hard to believe he played that the Kennedy campaign allowed him to play such a vital role in its Indiana primary effort. “Can you imagine a person running for president today doing that?” he asked.

The First Congressional District, most of which centered on Lake County in northwest Indiana, proved to be a difficult area for those organizing the Kennedy petition drive. According to Mahern, the Democrats in Lake County “lived and died on patronage” and no politician wanted to risk angering Branigin. In addition, many Lake County Democrats harbored resentment toward Kennedy for a Justice Department investigation during his days as attorney general that indicted and sent to prison for tax evasion popular longtime Gary mayor George Chacharis. Democrats in the Region felt betrayed because Chacharis had aided John F. Kennedy in his quest for the presidency and helped deliver a sixty-thousand-vote plurality for Kennedy in the 1960 general election. In addition, white members of the Democrat machine in the county opposed to Mayor Richard Hatcher, Gary’s first African American mayor, remembered that Kennedy had sent his political aide, Dick Tuck, to assist Hatcher during the mayoral election. To circulate petitions, the Kennedy campaign had to rely upon volunteers from Chicago, a group organized by Richard Wade, a professor of history at the University of Chicago who headed the Kennedy office there.

Getting the petitions to the First District became the first challenge. At about ten o’clock in the morning on Friday, Mahern had been sent to the Greyhound Bus Station in Indianapolis to express ship blank Kennedy petitions to be picked up at the Chicago Greyhound depot. Later that afternoon, Mahern and Riley received word that the shipment had not arrived, so Mahern returned to Greyhound with a duplicate shipment, which also failed to reach its destination (Riley later learned that the Chicago depot had a work stoppage going on by its baggage handlers and no packages were being sorted). In order to get the petitions to the Chicago volunteers Mahern, whose own vehicle might not have survived the trip, borrowed Riley’s car and left Indianapolis at about two o’clock in the morning for the northwest part of the state. He arrived at a Hammond, Indiana, service station four hours later and handed off the petitions to the Chicago volunteers through the car’s window. “We didn’t even get out of the car,” said Mahern, who turned around and drove back home to Indianapolis.

Kennedy’s entrance into the presidential contest had prompted a number of people to call Wade’s Chicago office to volunteer their service. “When they would call up the Chicago office,” said Wade, “they would say, ‘What can I do for Kennedy?’ I’d said, ‘Forget Illinois. Can you get down? Do you have a car? Can you get down to Gary? Can you get to Whiting?’” The volunteers were especially important because any signed petitions submitted by those loyal to Mayor Hatcher were sure to be scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb by Lake County officials opposed to the mayor, Wade pointed out. In addition, the Branigin and McCarthy campaigns had already been working for several weeks to obtain signatures from registered Democratic voters.

After talking with Doherty, Wade went himself to Whiting, Indiana, a majority white area, with a non-official Kennedy for President petition and went door-to-door to gauge public opinion. “You could see it was do-able,” Wade said. “The people responded very fast to it.” Once the official petitions were ready, Wade’s volunteers returned to the homes of people who had signed previously and had them re-sign. “To get those petitions signed we put four busloads down there in two straight days,” Wade recalled. “That’s probably four hundred people.”

Doherty had spent most of the day Friday calling seminaries and Catholic high schools in the state asking for help and sending out petitions to those who volunteered their service. “It was just people working—all sorts of people,” said Doherty. “I had eighteen, twenty seminarians out in the northeast getting signatures in the snow. It was one of those things you see movies about.”

In Indianapolis, the Kennedy forces had the able assistance of a self-styled African American minister named Joe Turner, a nattily dressed man never seen without a clerical collar. Turner took petitions and gathered the needed signatures in Kokomo for the Fifth Congressional District. Once he accomplished that assignment, he performed the same stellar job in Terre Haute for the Seventh Congressional District. “Reverend Turner may have been the con man he was reputed to be,” said Mahern, “but he sure as hell knew how to get petitions signed.” In case Kennedy could not make it to the state in time to file his candidacy, the campaign gave power of attorney to Turner, Riley, and Schreiber to file on his behalf.

In reports to the Kennedy campaign from his room at the Marrot Hotel, Doherty outlined the political picture in the state and noted that the Kennedy campaign could expect “a hell of a battle.” He did express confidence that if Kennedy could garner enough signatures to be on the ballot, he could defeat Branigin. “NEED BODIES. NEED MONEY,” he wrote. Doherty did worry that there might still be some problems with the petition drive, because “in all probability the county clerks will make it difficult to certify names.” (Kennedy supporters had to go to court to obtain a write of mandamus to force Lake County Clerk John G. Krupa to certify the approximately twenty-five hundred signatures gathered in Lake County.)

By late Sunday evening Doherty had determined that the volunteers had accumulated almost ten thousand signatures—more than enough to place Kennedy’s name on the ballot. As the signature drive continued, Doherty received a call from the Kennedy campaign to return to Washington, D.C., for a meeting on whether or not to enter the Indiana primary. The meeting involved most of Robert Kennedy’s Senate staff and a number of old friends of President John Kennedy.

Most of those gathered for the meeting, including Ted Sorensen and Ted Kennedy, opposed making Indiana the first test for Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign. They were put off by the state’s conservative reputation and the lack of assistance from the state Democratic Party. The campaign might survive a defeat in Indiana by Branigin, but if McCarthy ran ahead of Kennedy his race for the nomination would be finished before it could begin.

Doherty found himself to be the lone voice arguing in favor of going into Indiana. A veteran of ward politics in Boston, Doherty, faced opposition from fellow party members in his campaign for the legislature. He had to go door-to-door to win support. By working so hard, Doherty said he began to develop what he called “a sense of the people who live on the second floor.” He developed such a feeling in Indiana. “You just can’t get that many signatures, people working for you, if you’re a dud,” Doherty said.

In his meeting with Kennedy’s advisers, Doherty argued that with just the initial help of three people, and with the entire state apparatus aligned against them, he could guarantee that they would have enough certified signatures before the March 28 filing deadline. As the argument continued, Robert Kennedy entered the room and asked a tired Doherty, who had been without sleep for several days, “Jerry, what do you say?” Doherty responded: “I say we go in and I think we can win.” Kennedy turned to the others in the room and said that as a candidate for president, he needed to know if he had any support. “The best thing to do,” Doherty recalled Kennedy saying, “is to run, so I’m going to run in Indiana.”

On Thursday, March 28, Kennedy, fresh from campaign stops in Denver, Colorado, and Lincoln, Nebraska, stepped off an airplane at Indianapolis’s Weir Cook Airport to officially file to enter the Indiana primary. Wearing a grey glen plaid suit, Kennedy arrived at the airport at 8:25 p.m., little more than a half an hour behind schedule. A crowd estimated at four thousand in size greeted the candidate, many with homemade signs with slogans such as “Anybody Over Johnson,” “All the Way With RFK,” and “Sock It To Them Bobby.”

Earl Conn, a Ball State University assistant professor of journalism, had brought his family with him to witness the senator’s arrival. “We could see him about 100 feet away speaking into a microphone but we couldn’t hear him,” Conn said. The crush of the crowd grew so great as Kennedy prepared to leave that some children were in risk of being trampled. “People were simply swept along; you could not stop moving if you wanted to,” remembered Conn.

From the airport, Kennedy traveled by motorcade to the Indiana Statehouse, where another large crowd, this time numbering more than five thousand, was on hand to cheer the candidate at the south entrance to the building. James Tolan, an advance man for the Kennedy campaign, noted the crush of people made it almost impossible for the Kennedy entourage to enter the Statehouse. “Indiana is a terribly important state,” Kennedy told the cheering crowd. “If we can win in Indiana, we can win in every other state, and win when we go to the convention in August.” He asked for Hoosiers help in order to “start a new course, start a new path to peace in Vietnam.”

The overflow crowd made it difficult for Kennedy and his entourage to leave the Statehouse after filing with the Secretary of State Edgar Whitcomb’s office on the building’s second floor. The melee prevented Kennedy from making it to his waiting car, and he had to return to the Statehouse and leave by another exit. In the confusion, the candidate became separated from his wife, Ethel, who had to take a separate car for the short trip to the Marott Hotel.

At the Meridian Street hotel, Kennedy gave a brief statement to members of the press. “I am not running against Governor Branigin,” said Kennedy. “I consider him an outstanding governor, and a close personal friend.” The issues in the campaign were not the govenor’s stewardship of the state, he continued, but “are the divisions among us, between races, between age groups, and most of all over Vietnam.” 

Kennedy left Indianapolis the next day for campaign appearances in New Mexico. The previous evening, however, Riley, Mahern, and Schreiber met with the candidate in his room at the Lincoln Hotel on East Washington Street. “I immediately noticed how swollen his hands were and the scratch marks that ran up his arms and disappeared under his sleeves, souvenirs from adoring airport crowds that clutched at him,” said Mahern.

Although Ethel Kennedy expressed concern about her husband losing his voice and suggested writing down his answers to the Hoosiers’ questions, Kennedy waved away her concerns; he said he would speak with them. He asked them a number of questions about the petition drive and the political situation in the state. When Kennedy asked them why so many people were so anxious to sign the petitions, Mahern said: “I don’t think the people in Washington have any idea how detested Lyndon Johnson is and how upset people are with this war.” Mahern added that a number of signatures came from Lawrence Township, a normally Republican area. “They were falling all over themselves trying to sign these petitions,” Mahern recalled, contributing it to uneasiness with what was happening in Vietnam.

Looking back on his encounter with Kennedy, Mahern said the most remarkable aspect “was the piercing nature” of the candidate’s eyes. “When I spoke to him he looked at me as though there was no one else in the world,” said Mahern. “I felt as though he could see the inside of the back of my skull

Monday, January 27, 2020

Man of the House: Representative Bill Crawford

The telephone call that altered William A. “Bill” Crawford’s life came hours before candidates seeking seats in the Indiana General Assembly could file to run in the 1972 election. While at work for Reverend Andrew J. Brown and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference at Saint John Missionary Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Crawford received a call from Julia Carson, then a staff member for Congressman Andrew Jacobs Jr. One of the candidates expected to run for a newly created three-member House district that was majority African American had dropped out of the race. “What are we gonna do?” Crawford remembered Carson asking him.

Thinking fast, Crawford suggested that he could try to find Glenn Howard, who had run, but lost, in a race for city council the previous year (Howard later served on the council and in the state senate). Unfortunately, Crawford could not track down Howard, and called Jacobs’s office to inform Carson, who herself was one of the candidates for the new House district as part of a political activist group known as the Urban Union. Crawford recalled the conversation as follows: “She said, ‘Well, Bill Crawford, what are we gonna do?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And then she said, ‘Well, Bill Crawford, why don’t you run?’” He had left his home that morning with no thought of ever running for political office, but could not turn Carson down. “Who ever said no to Julia?” he noted years later. Crawford decided to run, quickly made his way downtown to the Indiana Statehouse, and filed his declaration of candidacy just twelve minutes before the noon deadline.

Although the Marion County Democratic Party supported Carson, it endorsed white candidates for the two other Indiana House seats in that district. In spite of this, Crawford and another African American, William “Skinny” Alexander, as well as Carson, were elected. For the next forty years, until he left the legislature for good in 2012, Crawford represented the people of House District 98, twice served as Democratic chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee (the first African American to do so), and became one of the most influential lawmakers the general assembly had ever seen. “Twenty elections where the people had an opportunity to say ‘bye’ to me and they didn’t, and I’m very appreciative,” Crawford told fellow House members on the floor of the chamber in January 2011.

In addition to being one of the most knowledgeable lawmakers when it came to Indiana’s budget, and a person even his political opponents considered “a true gentleman,” Crawford, during his time in office, supported a variety of progressive legislation. These measures included instituting a minority teacher scholarship program, creating a Housing Trust Fund to assist people seeking affordable housing, prohibiting the execution of those diagnosed as mentally disabled and not able to understand their actions, and providing millions of dollars in state funding for research into minority health issues. “I’ve been an advocate for the constitutional requirement for equal protection under the law. I’ve advocated for all people to be treated equally; it just so happens that a disproportionate number of those people who are unequally treated happen to be minorities,” said Crawford.

Indianapolis’s success at reinventing and revitalizing its downtown from such unflattering designations as “India-NO-place” and “Naptown” during the 1960s to a thriving, bustling area owes much to Crawford’s work in the legislature and behind the scenes. He was the only African American member of the City Committee, an unofficial, invitation-only group that worked behind the scenes during the 1970s and 1980s to rejuvenate the city’s downtown.  Although he often differed philosophically with the Republicans he worked with, including former Indiana lieutenant governor John Mutz and Lilly Endowment’s James T. Morris (“the glue that held everybody together,” according to Crawford), he tried not to let political leanings color his decisions. “Partisanship never entered into that, it was always left outside,” he recalled.

Crawford used his political influence to back the building of the Hoosier Dome/RCA Dome and Circle Centre Mall, as well as striving to prevent the total demolition of Lockefield Gardens, the city’s first public housing project originally developed in the 1930s by the Public Works Administration. “We . . . began to talk to each other and not at each other,” Crawford recalled. He also worked to increase minority enrollment at Ivy Tech Community College while working as its manager of community relations from 1993 to 2012. He also served as an influential figure with the Indiana Black Expo, twice serving as its president and remaining active with the group throughout his life. “Bill Crawford was powerful in a time when African-Americans didn’t have a lot of power in civic affairs,” noted Mike Murphy, a former GOP legislator. Crawford’s involvement in such matters fit in perfectly with advice he often offered to other members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus: “If you ain’t at the table, you are probably on the menu.”

Influenced as he was by Larry Conrad, an Indianapolis civic and Democratic Party leader, Crawford tried to do his job in a bipartisan fashion. “That just led me to believe that working together—which was the theme of Indiana Black Expo, Working Together Works—that it in fact did work,” said Crawford. Voters always knew, however, that their representative at the Statehouse stood ready to be a voice and ally for those unable to help themselves. One of Crawford’s first acts while in the legislature was successfully placing $10,000 in the state budget as compensation to a man, J. W. Prewitt, wrongfully imprisoned for years for a crime he did not commit. “A thank you wasn’t necessary. It was doing what was right and fixing a mistake,” Crawford recalled. “I just happened to be in a position to do it.”

Crawford’s political career followed the standard established by onetime Democratic presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey, who believed that the “moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” Crawford also tried to remember that he had been elected to represent the people who voted for him, and it was important “to be engaged in the community on an ongoing basis, not just during an election.”

The U.S. Navy veteran and former railway mail clerk’s impetus to work on behalf of the underdog in society came in response to a national tragedy—the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, while in Memphis, Tennessee, in support of striking sanitation workers. Crawford learned of King’s death as part of a crowd that had gathered the evening of April 4 at Seventeenth and Broadway Streets in Indianapolis to listen to a speech by U.S. Senator RobertF. Kennedy of New York. Kennedy was in Indianapolis to kick off his campaign for the Indiana Democratic presidential primary in a race against incumbent Indiana governor Roger Branigin and U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota. Active with the local anti-Vietnam War movement, Crawford went to the Kennedy rally because the senator had been such an outspoken critic of the conflict in Southeast Asia.

Like most of those who were there that night, he was shocked when he heard Kennedy break the news about King’s death. “There was a lot of anger and frustration that Dr. King, whose message was one of non-violence and working within the system, was the victim of that kind of racism,” Crawford said. He decided, however, to turn his anger into more constructive action—making a difference in the nation’s political dynamic. “My thinking was that if this man [King] could give his life, I had to do something,” Crawford remembered. “Didn’t know what that something was . . . but I couldn’t just sit back.”

By the end of April 1968, Crawford had quit his job at the post office, ended his studies in data processing and computer programming at a local technical college, and became a key member of the Black Radical Action Project headed by local African American activist Charles “Snookie” Hendricks. Crawford worked at the organization’s bookstore at Twenty-third and North Meridian Streets, selling literature that supported rights for African Americans and other progressive causes. 

Sporting an impressive, jet-black Afro hairstyle at the time, Crawford was considered a radical by some, but had much to learn when it came to injustice in the city. Hendricks challenged him to concentrate more about issues that were important to the black community. “I was a contented public servant, had never been abused by a police officer, had never been on public assistance, had really no axes to grind other than the segregation, the disrespect that we got based on the color of our skin from not being able to participate in the main social activities that were Indianapolis,” Crawford recalled. He eventually became committed to forming biracial coalitions to address problems in Indianapolis. Crawford remembered that the pervasive attitude among African American involved in civil rights was best articulated by Sam Jones, the Indianapolis Urban League president, who said that problems could be worked out without resorting to violence.

Born on January 28, 1936, in Indianapolis, Crawford was the middle child in a family with two older sisters and two younger brothers. The Crawford family was one of the first to move into Lockefield Gardens. “My mother always said I was the strangest child she ever had,” said Crawford. “But I’ve always been quiet. I’ve always been laid-back.”Although the family was not Catholic, Crawford’s parents decided that their middle son needed a parochial school experience and sent him to Saint Bridget, where he remained through the eighth grade.

Crawford remembered having an “entrepreneurial spirit” as a young man, doing anything he could to “earn a legitimate dollar,” including washing cars and windows and shining shoes. One day he experienced firsthand the segregated nature of his hometown. Crawford and one of his younger brothers had gone to the downtown bus station at Ohio and Illinois Streets to shine shoes. The Rodeo Theatre was located next door to the bus station, and Crawford decided to treat his sibling to a movie. “We walked there and the lady said very politely, ‘Sorry, we don’t serve colored here.’ And I walked around the corner to the Ohio [theater] and was told the same thing,” he said. Years later, Crawford also still remembered how African Americans in the city were refused entrance into the popular Riverside Park, a privately owned amusement park that displayed signs notifying patrons its pleasures were for “White Patrons Only.” The park relaxed its restrictive policy for only one day each year, which it dubbed “Negro Day.”

After stints at Cathedral and Crispus Attucks, Crawford dropped out of high school. “I was bored,” he said. “The things they were learning were things that I had already learned, and I was somewhat distracted and just began to hang out on the streets.” Crawford joined the U.S. Navy in August 1954, serving until July 1958. Racism dogged him during his time in the navy (the armed forces had only been desegregated since July 26, 1948, following President Harry S Truman’s executive order). During his service, Crawford had achieved the rank of radarman third class and had gone to Norfolk, Virginia, to take a test to advance to radarman second class. Before he could take the exam, a white officer said to him, “I don’t think blacks can lead whites. I’m not going to allow you to take the test.” Crawford appealed the decision to a higher-ranking officer, who noted what had been done to the young enlisted man had been wrong but declined to reverse the injustice. This, and other prejudice he experienced while serving his country, aided him later in life in framing his “commitment to protest,” as well as teaching him about discrimination and “the rules of the game and how to fight and that fighting is done in the right way.”

Upon his return to Indianapolis, Crawford paid the five-dollar fee and passed a General Education Development test, and then enrolled at the Indiana College of Business and Technology using his GI benefits. Even before he joined the navy, Crawford had successfully passed tests for jobs at the Indianapolis post office and the U.S. Army Finance Center at Fort Benjamin Harrison; he accepted the post office position. “I was a railway mail clerk,” he said, “and that’s where you would go down to Union Station. I would catch a train. I was the hot mail clerk, that’s registered, certified, all that kind of mail.” As part of a three-man crew, he often traveled via train to Pittsburgh, spent the night, got back on the train the next day, returned to Indianapolis and traveled from there to Saint Louis, where he would spend the night and then return home. “That job suited me,” Crawford said, as he worked six days and had eight days off, then worked seven days and was off for a week. “People used to think I was unemployed because I was home so much,” he recalled, “but that was one of the best jobs I ever had.”

Crawford’s opposition to the Vietnam War led to his first experience at public speaking. It came during an antiwar rally at Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple Park, with the majority of the crowd being white. Attending the gathering with Hendricks, Crawford remembered that the black activist encouraged him to say a few words. When Crawford protested that he had never done any public speaking, Hendricks dismissed his excuse and responded, “Look, all black brothers can crow.” Crawford bowed to the inevitable, got up on a picnic table that served as a makeshift podium, and offered brief remarks. “I believe I was eloquent,” he later joked, “but I don’t remember the substance of it.”

Inspired by King’s legacy and prodded by Carson into running for state office, Crawford had an immediate impact on how Indiana was governed, as he received a plum assignment to the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for writing the state’s budget. “You want to understand state government,” Crawford noted, “you serve on that committee.” Over the years he became an expert on budget matters and became someone other legislators went to when they had questions for which they could not find answers. Crawford, called “a student of the budget” by a fellow Democratic legislator, learned well. “Your institutional knowledge is gained by following the money,” he said. That knowledge paid off in 2002, when House Speaker B.Patrick Bauer of South Bend, who had served as the committee’s chairman for more than a decade, appointed Crawford as budget chairman (he also served in the post from 2007 to 2010). “A lot of people say, ‘Well, you were a pioneer. You appointed the first chairman of Ways and Means.’ I tell you what, I appointed the best person to be chairman of Ways and Means,” Bauer said.

In his usual quiet manner, Crawford fended off claims that he served as only a stooge for the real power behind the throne—Bauer. “I’m not anyone’s yes man,” Crawford told a reporter for the Indianapolis Star. “We disagree, but like with family matters, it’s done behind closed doors. Sometimes I win, and sometimes he wins.” His work as chairman won the respect of Republican leaders in the legislature. House Minority Leader Brian Bosma described Crawford as “a person of commitment and experience and a guy that never fails to stand up and speak for what he believes.”

Bauer and Crawford were contrasts in style; Bauer was known for being combative on occasion with the media as well as the opposition party, sometimes springing last-minute budget maneuvers on Republicans. Crawford, in spite of his penchant for wearing double-breasted suits, was unassuming in nature when it came to his increased stature. “I hate for people to call me Mr. Chairman,” he once said. “I always like to be Bill.”

Former Indiana lieutenant governor and governor Joe Kernan remembered that Crawford treated his responsibility as chairman the same way he did with his other duties, “with passion, creating opportunities, and not just in his district. He had an eye toward the entire state.” Crawford also had a way of calming tense situations, even within his own party. Scott Pelath, a Democratic legislator from Michigan City, who considered Crawford a mentor, remembered long, nerve-racking caucus meetings at the Statehouse where Crawford would stand up, flash a grin, and “at that moment, all the tension went out of the room and people began to heal. That was a healing smile.” Joyce Rogers, Indiana Black Expo president, noted that Crawford, whom she called “quietly effective,” had the ability to still a noisy, combative room because when he spoke “there is so much knowledge there.”

Throughout his time in office, Crawford remained committed to protecting the interests of his constituents, especially when it came to their constitutional right to vote. On July 1, 2005, the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly, wishing, it said, to protect the integrity of the ballot box, passed a law that required all persons voting in person to present valid government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. (Previously those wishing to vote had only to sign in at their local polling location.) As the bill made its way through the legislature, Crawford had spoken against it as a law designed to do one thing—suppress the black Democratic vote. “I defy you to find instances where voters are presenting themselves at polling places as someone else,” he asked the Indianapolis Star’s editorial board in 2005. “There is an inference that in my district, which is in inner-city Indianapolis, we have been historically voting dead people and perpetrating fraud. I’ve been through 17 elections and I don’t see the problem. Why then impose another barrier on the people I represent?”

Crawford viewed the legislation, signed into law by Governor Mitch Daniels, as “patently offensive,” and signed on, along with the Indiana Democratic Party and several nonprofit groups, including the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, to reverse the law through court action. “I was willing and involved in the debate in the House,” said Crawford. “So I was simply the right person at the time.” The case, Crawford v. Marion County ElectionBoard, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On April 28, 2008, the Court, in a 6–3 vote, rejected the challenge to the voter-identification law, indicating the state had a legitimate interest in trying to prevent voter fraud. The court defeat reinforced Crawford’s willingness to fight for those who had no voice. “He had no fear of speaking up for those who could not speak for themselves,” noted Joe Simpson, Washington Township trustee, who had joined Crawford in combating the voter-identification law.

Crawford ended his time as a lawmaker at the close of the 2012 session of the IndianaGeneral Assembly. Thoughts of retiring from politics had flitted through his minds for several years, but as he got closer to serving for forty years in the legislature, Crawford said he began to be reminded of how Moses had wandered in the wilderness for that amount of time. “I just conceived the idea that I’ve been wandering in the public policy wilderness and might as well go to 40 years,” Crawford said, “get out and unlike Moses maybe get to see some of the Promised Land.” A worthy goal, but one Crawford may have not accomplished, as he died on September 25, 2015, at the age of seventy-nine.

Those who gathered at the Eastern Star Church on Indianapolis’s east side for Crawford’s funeral after his casket had lay in state at the Statehouse rotunda the previous day included politicians from both parties, including Governor Mike Pence, Congressman Andre Carson, former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson, and several members of the state legislature. Those who served with Crawford in the general assembly and were mentored by him lauded his service and standing as the most influential African American public servant in the state’s history. State Representative Gregory W. Porter described Crawford as a “trailblazer and drum major for justice.” Peterson, who recalled Crawford coming to him during his first years as mayor to develop ways to partner with more minority contractors, said he possessed “an unparalleled moral force” in a career spanning the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today’s renewed questions about racial inequality. “He was uniquely ours. One of us,” added Peterson. “We the people of Indiana and the people of Indianapolis. . . . There will never be another Bill Crawford.”

Recognition from his fellow politicians was not something that seemed to concern Crawford. Reflecting on his service in the general assembly, he had hoped he had done what he was supposed to do as a representative of the people from his district. “The people supported me,” he said, “and that’s all the remembrance I’ll need.”

Friday, January 10, 2020

Corydon: Indiana's First Capitol

The War of 1812 was going badly for America in the winter of 1813 when the Indiana Territory’s general assembly met in the territorial capital of Vincennes. Although the war created financial difficulties for the legislature, a greater problem was brewing—which city would have the honor of becoming the new territorial capital?

Forces opposed to former Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison, who had left the state to help fight the British, wanted to remove the capital from Harrison's Knox County stronghold. Several cities—Charlestown, Clarksville, Jeffersonville, Lawrenceburg, and Madison (which offered to donate $10,000 if the legislators located the capital there)—were considered before the lawmakers decided on Corydon.

Corydon’s selection, according to The Western Gazetteer, caused “great dissatisfaction in other parts of the state.” To forestall any interference with the orderly transfer of the capital, the general assembly gave the territorial governor the power to call out the militia to provide for the “safe conveyance of any books, papers, or other thing by this act made necessary to be conveyed to the said town of Corydon.” The move was made officially on May 1, 1813, and the tiny hamlet served as the center of government for Indiana until 1825, when the capital was moved to Indianapolis.

In the early nineteenth century the town of Corydon was “an easy-going, old-fashioned Virginia village, with an ambition to be decent and to cultivate the social spirit,” according to Charles Moores, an Indiana Historical Commission member writing in 1917. The town occupied land purchased by William Henry Harrison in 1804; he named the town after his favorite song, “The Pastoral Elegy,” which laments the death of a young shepherd, Corydon.

One of the leading figures in the town’s early history was Dennis Pennington, former speaker in the lower house of the territorial legislature who had come to the area in the early 1800s. Known as a devoted champion of Harrison County, “Uncle Dennis,” as he was called, played a key role in securing for Corydon its distinction as state capital.

A carpenter and contractor by trade, Pennington represented Harrison County at the 1813 session of the Indiana Territory’s general assembly. Maneuvering behind the scenes, Pennington suggested Corydon as the perfect site for the next capital, noting that the Harrison County Courthouse then being built could be used as the territory’s capitol. This new structure, however, would not be completed very quickly. Although Corydon became the capital in May 1813, the courthouse would not be ready for occupancy until 1816. Pennington supervised construction for the $3,000 structure, an immense sum when one considers that surrounding counties were erecting log courthouses for about $500.

During the flurry of building activity in Corydon, the Indiana Territory had reached the necessary 60,000 population to be considered for statehood. Forty-three delegates were elected for a constitutional convention (including Pennington), which met in Corydon from June 10 through 29, 1816. Some sessions were held in the new courthouse but, due to the oppressive summer heat, others were organized beneath the shade of a massive elm tree (now known as the Constitutional Elm) located just a short distance away. Delegates approved the new constitution on June 29, 1816 and, six months later, President James Madison signed legislation designating Indiana the nineteenth state of the Union.

The initial Indiana General Assembly met in the Corydon capitol on November 4, 1816. Space was tight in the two-story building, as the representatives, senators, and lieutenant governor had to share space with the three supreme court judges, some of Governor Jonathan Jennings’s officers, the county court, and county clerk.

A bigger concern to legislators during subsequent years was the cost for boarding in and around Corydon during the sessions. The Corydon Indiana Gazette in December 1820 noted that the “old famous resolution to remove the legislature to Charleston or some other place where it is imagined members can get boarding lower than Corydon is going the formal rounds of legislation, when it is understood that no more is intended by it than to beat down the prices of boarding.” Prices for boarding, fixed by the county commissioners, were 37 1/2 cents for breakfast or dinner, 12 1/2 cents for lodging, and 37 1/2 cents a quart for whiskey.

Corydon’s time as the heart of Indiana government ended in 1820 when the legislature appointed a commission to find a new site for the state capital. In the fall of 1824 Samuel Merrill, state treasurer, led a group of wagons carrying the state’s records and finances on the one hundred and twenty-five-mile trip from Corydon to Indianapolis. With the loss of its status as state capitol, the Corydon building reverted to a full-time Harrison County Courthouse.

During the renewed interest in state history spawned by the Indiana centennial celebration in 1916, plans were made to preserve the old state capitol. In 1917 the general assembly passed an act to purchase the structure “as a memorial to the pioneers who established the Commonwealth of Indiana.” In the late 1920s the old capitol building was restored to its original appearance.      

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

"A Business Without a Boss": The Columbia Conserve Company

Three days before Christmas in 1917, workers at the Columbia Conserve Company, an Indianapolis canning plant that manufactured condensed soup, catsup, boned chicken, and other items packed and sold under private brands of customers throughout the country, gathered in the firm’s dining room to hear the annual report from the company’s president.

Instead of a bland rendition of profit and loss, however, Columbia employees learned they were to be part of an experiment in workplace democracy, an effort to create “an industry of the worker, by the worker and for the worker.” The employees, of which there was only one with a high school education, were to be responsible for determining the length of time they worked, how much they were paid, their share of production, and all other policies involved in running a business. They also shared in any profits—an almost unheard of business practice at that time—and eventually used them to buy, through stock held collectively, the firm in which they toiled.

Initially, the plan met with, at best, skepticism from those who would be its chief beneficiaries. “Those [workers] who understood did not believe me, and very few understood,” noted the plan’s architect, Columbia president William Powers Hapgood. “Why should they? Their own experiences, as well as those of their forefathers, told them it was all a lie.” Hapgood, part of a trio of remarkable brothers that included Norman, journalist and editor at Collier’s National Weekly and Harper’s Weekly, and Hutchins, author and bohemian, struggled mightily over the next few years to convince the company’s workers of his sincerity and to inspire confidence in their own abilities. His efforts, including lending a hand on the shop floor by assisting the head cook, produced dividends; by 1930 the company’s approximately 150 employees collectively controlled most of the the firm’s voting stock.

Although the workplace democracy ultimately collapsed from within, due in part to forces unleashed by Hapgood’s own son, Powers, the Columbia experiment focused nationwide attention on Indiana as William Hapgood and his employees attempted, through trial and error, to develop “a new kind of association between workers and stockholders, technicians and the rank and file.”

Born in Chicago on February 26, 1872, William Powers Hapgood was the youngest of three sons (a fourth child, a daughter, died at age ten) raised by Charles H. and Fanny Louise (Powers) Hapgood. A successful plow manufacturer, Charles moved his family to Alton, Illinois, in 1875. An admirer of agnostic freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll, Charles attempted to instill in his offspring “an acute distaste for moral softness,” noted eldest son, Norman. Still, his father’s tenacity about principles was neither sour nor narrow, but a broad approach allowing his sons the freedom to experience life and decide for themselves on the need for such values as industry, frugality, and truth. Hutchins recalled that his father, the hard-working businessman, was the first person he ever heard “talk sympathetically about socialism, the ultimate advent of which he predicted and would have welcomed.”

Growing into a lively, athletic young man who termed sports as “the most interesting activity of my early life,” William, like his brothers, received his education at Harvard University. Unlike his brothers, who had worked on the editorial side of the Harvard Monthly while at the Boston university, Norman as editor and Hutchins as a writer, William served as the periodical’s business manager. His interest in the commercial realm continued after his graduation when he became an assistant shipping clerk in November 1894 at Franklin MacVeagh Wholesale Grocery in Chicago, a firm owned by a friend of Charles Hapgood.

Seeking new challenges William, who had married Eleanor Page in 1899 and whose son, Powers, was also born that year, convinced his now retired father to buy in 1903 the Mullen-Blackledge Canning Company, located on South Meridian Street in Indianapolis. The new Columbia Conserve Company, with brothers William, Norman, and Hutchins as stockholders, had an inauspicious start; by 1910 the firm had left Indianapolis because of financial difficulties and moved its operations to an abandoned factory purchased by Charles for $5,000 in Lebanon, Indiana. Reincorporated with $125,000 in capital stock, the company returned to Indianapolis in 1912 and set up shop at 1735 Churchman Avenue.

By 1916 Columbia had “brought a great increase in our sales with quite as great an increase in the net profits,” said William Hapgood. Buoyed by this success, he decided that the time seemed favorable to unveil his plans for moving Columbia from “an autocratic to a democratic form of government.” For a number of years, Hapgood had discussed and debated with his brothers and friends the idea of installing democracy in the workplace. He had been troubled by the fact that complete control of the company had been vested in him “not by superior ability necessarily, but by property rights,” since the Hapgood family owned Columbia’s entire stock.

William Hapgood’s initial plan for Columbia’s employees involved creating a ten-person committee, three appointed by the firm’s owners and seven elected from the plant, to oversee such issues as wages, hours, hiring (including supervisory personnel like foremen), and other plant policies. Hapgood retained the authority, withdrawn a year later, to veto the committee’s decisions, but such an action could be overruled by a two-thirds vote by that body. One of the committee’s first acts, done without Hapgood’s presence, reduced working hours from fifty-five to fifty hours per week—an action that caused some local businessmen, astonished that employees could set their own hours, to dub Columbia the “rocking chair cannery.”
In 1924 the committee and another workers’ group elected to act as advisers to the committee were merged into what came to be known as the Council. Any full-time worker who attended a Council As Columbia employees gained more confidence in their new work situation, the Council became more daring in its actions. One of the factory workers questioned Hapgood about why only a few employees at the firm were paid by the week and retained by the year, while others were paid by the hour and kept employed only as long as their time could be fully occupied (regularity of employment was always a problem in the seasonal canning industry). “He asked if I had more concern for the needs of my family than he had for his,” Hapgood recalled, “and what the reason was for the present system of special privileges for a few and ruthlessness to the majority.” Acting on the worker’s concern, the Council did away with the time clock and placed most of the wage force at the Indianapolis company on a salary.
Columbia’s employees received no overtime pay under the salary arrangement, but did receive paid vacations and time off for sickness and other necessary absences. Other fringe benefits included: a pension plan; medical, dental, and hospital care; accident insurance; free meals in the company’s cafeteria; free classes in various subjects at the plant; and reimbursement to workers hired from out of town for their traveling expenses to move to Indianapolis.    
Realizing that the Columbia experiment could be checked or destroyed as long as control by the workers was only given to them voluntarily, and not by a definite contract, Hapgood, in 1925, set about to create a way whereby the employees could eventually own the business. Approved by the workforce, the plan called for net profits, after dividends had been paid, to be distributed to the employees in order to buy common stock in the company at $150 per share. Stock was not held on an individual basis, but owned collectively by the workers and overseen by three trustees elected by the Council.

With the Great Depression making itself felt on business, Columbia began to experience problems. Pledged to keep employees on the job even if there were no orders to fill, the firm attempted to stem the flow of red ink by cutting salaries. At the end of May 1931, with sales shrinking, salaries were reduced by 50 percent. As the depression’s effects worsened, that figure grew to reach 75 percent.

Trying to stem the tide of red ink, the company, in late 1932, embarked on a far-ranging plan to market its product under its own label. Workers, who in some instances had endured paydays without pay, balked at the expense of such a program, including the $2,000 a year paid to Norman for publicity and advertising work. Among the most vocal critics were former union leaders brought into the firm by Hapgood’s son, Powers, who had spent his life fighting for the rights of working men and women as a union organizer.

Powers joined his father’s company late in 1929, bringing with him his brother-in-law Dan Donovan, Leo Tearney, and John Brophy. Norman, who was not “enthusiastic” about the hires, claimed that the men were all dedicated to the belief that while employed at Columbia they “could carry out ideas for which they had become accustomed to doing political combat either in the Socialist party or in left-wing labor factions.” Although Powers Hapgood himself supported the publicity campaign, Brophy and Donovan attacked the plan, blaming it for the reduction in workers’ salaries, and wondered why the savings could not come from administrative expenses.

Matters came to a head at the end of January 1933 when the company’s board of directors acted against the Columbia Council’s wishes and summarily fired Brophy, Donovan, and Tearney. Believing that the men had been unfairly dismissed, Powers, still recuperating from being wounded in an accidental shooting at the family’s farm, quit his job at Columbia. “Poor Powers was terribly torn,” Brophy said, “having to choose between his friend and his father, and able to see some right on both sides.”
Hoping to bring some kind of order to a chaotic situation, William Hapgood agreed to place the matter before an impartial outside committee that included professors Douglas and Jerome Davis and liberal churchmen Sherwood Eddy and James Myers. The Committee of Four, as it came to be known, ruled that the three employees should be reinstated with back pay “on the condition that they agree to a common loyalty to the policies of Columbia and to do everything they can to promote its prosperity.”
For Hapgood, however, there existed in his mind no room for such a compromise. He threatened to resign from the company if the Council did not agree to get rid of Brophy and Donovan. The Council acquiesced to Hapgood’s wishes. Defending his actions, Hapgood said that in a democracy, either industrial or political, charges of bad faith are often made during times of “stress and confusion.”
Although Hapgood received sharp criticism from liberal publications for his seemingly capricious actions, Columbia eventually regained its footing following what he later called the “disheartening and disintegrating conflict,” even making a profit for a time. The experiment in workplace democracy survived until 1942, when workers, who still controlled approximately 60 percent of the company’s stock, went on strike over wage issues. In 1953 Hapgood, who had become blind from trachoma, sold Columbia to John Sexton and Company, a Chicago wholesale grocery chain.
Tragedy plagued the Hapgood family in later years. Powers, who had continued to work for the union’s cause as a regional organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations, died in 1949 due to a coronary blockage as he was driving to the family’s farm. He was forty-nine years old.
A few years before, William Hapgood reflected about the Columbia experiment to reporter and author John Bartlow Martin, saying: “I don’t know that we convinced anybody that a producers’ cooperative would work, don’t even know that we convinced ourselves.” Hapgood, who died in 1960, lived long enough to see the fringe benefits enjoyed by his Columbia employees become a common fact of life for workers in other industries. As his private secretary Dorothea Nord Hold once told him, the experiment at the central Indiana canning factory “did not just happen, but due to your background, education and philosophy of life, you had to do it. You had no other choice.”

Monday, January 6, 2020

Sand and Glass: The Hoosier Slide

At eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning in 1930 government dignitaries and civic leaders gathered to lay the cornerstone for a structure that represented, according to an editorial writer for the Michigan City News, “a new industrial era” for the city—a $9 million generating plant for the Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO). The writer envisioned the “location of many splendid industries in Michigan City,” attracted by the availability of cheap power, a good transportation system, and the city’s central location in the United States.
Buried in the description of the event was the information that the station occupied a tract of land formerly home to one of the area’s notable landmarks, the giant sand dune known as the Hoosier Slide. Today, nothing is left of the mountain of sand that could be seen as far away as Chicago and managed, year after year, to attract countless tourists to its slopes and provided a way for enterprising merchants to make a living.

By the late nineteenth century, the Hoosier Slide, along with the Indiana State Prison, attracted tourists from Chicago, Lafayette, Peru, Indianapolis, and other communities. The Monon, Lake Erie & Western, and Michigan Central railroad lines lured passengers to Michigan City by touting the Hoosier Slide’s beauty and its panoramic view of Lake Michigan. Even those just passing through on trains were awed by the Hoosier Slide’s size. Writing about the sand hill, Carter H. Manny, whose father William B. Manny would be one of the first to see the potential industrial uses for Hoosier Slide, noted that “some people from afar who passed through in the winter time often inquired of the railroad men how such a big pile of snow got there.”

A number of excursion steamers also made Michigan City a main destination. Ships such as the Theodore Roosevelt, United States, Indianapolis, Soo City, City of Grand Rapids, and Christopher Columbus brought countless visitors to Michigan City’s shores. The Michigan City News announced on August 17, 1887, that 600 tourists, after working up an appetite while seeing the sights, had dined at Shultz’s restaurant. Gladys Bull Nicewarner, in her history of the city, reported that on one day in 1914 six steamers brought approximately 10,000 people to see the northwest Indiana community’s attractions.

To entice more and more tourists to their fair city, Michigan City merchants offered merchandise and cash prizes for races up the giant sand pile’s slopes and even held marriage ceremonies on its peak. An Indiana State Prison official, hoping to attract visitors from southern Indiana, offered a free marriage license, minister, and excursion to any couple who would be willing to exchange their wedding vows on Hoosier Slide. A Mr. Plasterer, a southern Indiana farmer, and his bride-to-be accepted the offer, and many residents and tourists trooped up the sandy slopes to witness the happy occasion.

In addition to marriages, the towering sand dune hosted hill-climbing contests, firework shows, and wrestling and boxing matches. Daredevil youngsters used wooden toboggans and hand-fashioned metal sheets to slide down the hill during winter and summer. The ship captains who brought tourists and freight to Michigan City also depended on the landmark.

The beginning of the end for Hoosier Slide came in the late 1890s. From time to time the Monon Railroad, which ran a switch track alongside the hill’s eastern slope, received requests from a downstate Monon agent for Michigan City sand. It was used to sand railroad tracts for better traction. This development caught the attention of William Manny, who worked for the line for several years and grew up in Michigan City. Manny and I. I. Spiro, a local lawyer, began purchasing large amounts of the lakefront, believing that the region was ripe for industrial development. Hoosier Slide was part of this property, and in 1906 Manny incorporated the Hoosier Slide Sand Company. The giant sand dune’s death warrant had been signed.

The Hoosier Slide’s destruction was aided by the industrial boom that occurred after the discovery of extensive supplies of natural gas in central Indiana in the mid-1880s. Cities such as Muncie, Anderson, Kokomo, Richmond, and others were soon besieged with new factories wanting to take advantage of this cheap natural resource. Glass companies, for example Ball Brothers in Muncie and the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company in Kokomo, sent north for Michigan City sand to help manufacture their products.

Glass factories were not the only concerns clamoring for sand, according to Carter Manny, who upon his return from college in 1912 took over the sand business from his father. Manny, who faced competition from another firm, the Pinkston Sand Company, which was served by the Michigan Central Railroad, filled orders not only from Indiana businesses, but also from companies as far away as Massachusetts and Mexico. Hoosier Slide sand was used for making glass insulators for telegraph and telephone poles, cores in iron foundries, canning jars for the Ball Brothers Company in Muncie, sand beaches for lakes and municipal bathing areas, and as fill for sand traps at Hoosier humorist George Ade’s private golf course in Kentland, Indiana.

In the beginning, workers (known as dockwallopers) loaded the sand into freight cars using wheelbarrows, planks, and shovels. Eventually, the sand was loaded through a system using tracks and small dump cars. The new system, however, created a problem. Although the dumb cars were chained down after work was over, youngsters sneaked into the area, broke locks, and took joyrides down the tracks. “I recall that when I visited this spot one Sunday afternoon with my father,” said Carter Manny, “we arrived just in time to see one of these cars loaded with boys come barging down the trestle and across its end to fall on the other side of the freight tracks below.”

As the sand operation grew, the railroad tracks encompassed the Hoosier Slide’s northeast corner and traveled down around its north side, which faced Lake Michigan. Between the tracks and the lake, a small village of sand workers sprouted. “It was a hard life, but one seemingly enjoyed by the people,” Manny noted. During the winter, when frigid blasts whipped shoreward from Lake Michigan carrying cutting sand particles, the dockwallopers enjoyment of life perhaps lessened considerably.

Manny implemented more efficient mining methods when he took over the business from his father in 1912. Within two years, the Hoosier Slide Sand Company became the first firm to purchase a small locomotive crane to load the sand. Manny also experimented with a machine, powered by electricity, that tossed the sand back into the ends of the boxcars. The era of the dockwalloper came to an end.

By the early 1920s the Hoosier Slide Sand Company, in conjunction with the Pinkston Sand Company, had managed to level what had once been Michigan City’s main landmark. With the demise of the giant dune, Manny moved his sand operation west of the former Hoosier Slide to virgin duneland. The leveled land was eventually sold by the Pinkston and Hoosier Slide companies to NIPSCO as the site for its power generating station.

The amount of sand moved in the years since the first shovel broke the ground is a matter of conjecture. Some have estimated the amount at approximately 13.5 million tons (based on fifty tons of sand per railroad car and three hundred shipping days per year over a thirty-year period). Manny, however, who had years of on-site experience, believed that estimate to be “exaggerated” and placed the total tonnage at nine million, which he based on a twenty-year period of removal.

Whatever the total amount removed, the result was the same—Hoosier Slide was gone. For today’s visitors to Michigan City’s lakefront, all that remains are the photographs and memories.