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To Remember the Forgotten School

Published on 4/15/2023
Some stories are so precious and painful that their caretakers shield them. Even after several years of research, Shannon Hudson and Vicke Swisher-Hudson could not unearth most of the stories about students who attended the Lincoln School for Colored Children to include in their soon-to-be-published book, To Remember the Forgotten School.

Many of the stories were challenging to locate “to say the least,” noted Shannon Hudson. “As a result, we resorted to many resources we might not have utilized, such as the Indianapolis Recorder, which included stories of Crawfordsville's Lincoln School.” They used the bits and pieces provided to fill out the history as best as they could. Considering what they hoped to find versus what they uncovered, the book provides a strong outline of education for Black children in Montgomery County.

The book provides a history of the struggles of the county to fulfill the compulsory education laws with equity for Black residents. It covers the complications of education as a right in Indiana and shows the differences foisted upon “Colored” and “Mulatto” children - explanatory note: these were the respectful terms used then - in Montgomery County. Initially, the children were educated at the Bethel AME Church. When the county met its legal obligations to provide a building and teachers, it built a school near the corner of Spring and Walnut. Over the decades, attempts to integrate Black and White students (and teachers) met with resistance from White citizens. At times, the school board proposed takeovers of the building to use for White students.

Eventually, the city built a school on the site where Lincoln Park sits. The brick building that later became a recreation center for the Black residents, was built without windows on the side facing the well-traveled East Wabash Avenue, a disgraceful visual barrier to further separate Black residents from White.

Behind those barriers, amazing personal histories unfolded, a few of which evoked powerful emotions for the authors. Clara Freeze Coleman, the longest-serving female teacher, who was truly beloved, left her post at the Lincoln school to start her own business. Shortly afterward, she died in a tragic car accident. John W. Evans, indentured as a child to pay for his father's debt, became the first Black Wabash College graduate, learning while he taught at the school. Later he became an administrator and transformed the St. Louis schools. Among the students were Wilbur and Sydney de Paris, renowned jazz musicians who found tremendous fame, and Frances Wooden who transformed the Crawfordsville community with her service. 

Countless young men and women who attended through the 8th grade went on to Crawfordsville High School, at times having to work much harder to prove themselves- and they did. Though Crawfordsville is not listed as a “sundown” community, the city’s two newspapers documented the civic divisions created when two young White women objected to the presence of two accomplished Black men at portions of the graduation weekend events. The papers indicate the men handled the opprobrium with dignity, though their personal responses were not recorded. 

Being entrusted to document the Lincoln School’s history, lest it be completely lost, was at first nerve-wracking for Shannon Hudson.

“I will admit I was very nervous when first starting this project. We are trying to tell stories of people who have been largely forgotten and/or overlooked, yet overcame so many challenges to succeed and need to be celebrated and lauded. These people's stories must be told to show the other side of "separate but equal" education. As a teacher, this story is vitally important to me - more so than others because children are our future.”

With so many people who used their force and agency to make children’s lives better, the stories begged to be told. 

“Blanche Patterson spoke to me,” said Hudson. “Her grandmother, Mariah Gates Patterson, began the Bethel AME Church, which is Montgomery County's best-kept historical secret.  Blanche was so far ahead of her time. She started her own business in the Ben Hur building, became a podiatrist, and had a true servant heart.”

To learn more, please join the League of Women Voters at Learn with the League on Friday, April 14, 2023, at 6:00 pm, Bethel AME Church of Crawfordsville, 213 North Street West, Crawfordsville, where Vicke Hudson Swisher and Shannon Hudson will present a timeline history of the Lincoln School for Colored Children as well as descriptions of the issues faced by the children of color before, during and after the existence of the school.  Presenters will talk about their efforts at documenting the school's history and their plans to publish the results as a book. A question-and-answer period will be followed by light refreshments.