“Indiana Doesn’t Discriminate”: Except for this one thing

Indianapolis is my home town.

I was born there in 1954, moved away in 1955, returned in 1965. I went to high school at what was then John Marshall high on the east side (it was downgraded to a junior high in 1986), graduated in 1972, and considered Indianapolis home until we got married in 1976.

During today’s interview of Governor Pence by George Stephanopolous, George asks the Governor five times if same-sex discrimination would be legal in Indiana (as one of the law’s supporters had claimed). In each case, Pence responded that people in Indiana don’t discriminate and that this wasn’t the purpose of RFRA. The purpose was to stop government overreach (I think this opens the state up to major litigation by nonbelievers but I’ll skip that for now).

I think about Pence’s non-discrimination claim in light of my history. Maybe individuals are kind and nice to everybody as the Governor suggests, but the history tells a more complicated story.

AttucksIndianapolis Public Schools was sued by the Department of Justice in 1968 because of the existence of de jure segregation (that’s segregation by law and not just by outcome). They made minimal attempts to adjust (closing the all-black Crispus Attucks high school in 1970). Here is a summary from the Indiana Historical Society:

In May 1968, the United States Justice Department filed suit against the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) to force the desegregation of its schools. In 1970 with the anticipation and threat of a federal court desegregation order, IPS began a minimal busing program within the district. The case was tried in July 1971. IPS was found guilty of de jure segregation. Finding for the plaintiff, the court charged IPS with “operating a segregated school system wherein segregation was imposed and enforced by operation of laws.”

IPS initially tried to address the concerns by playing around with the feeder system to the high school. Changing which junior highs went to which high schools was an baby step toward solving the problem. There was little preparation for the transition that took place.

I was in my senior year at Marshall the first year of the restructuring. While my graduating class had three black students out of a class of 350, the incoming freshman class in 1971 was 35% black. We did have a convocation the previous spring with ministers telling us of the importance of tolerance. There were also posters in the hallway that read “It takes both white keys and black keys to play the Star Spangled Banner”.

Late that fall, there was an unfortunate convergence of elements that put Marshall as the lead story on the evening news. We had what they said was a “race riot”. In reality, it was a group of upset individuals with a lot of yelling and a little bit of shoving (I got off campus right away). My math teacher said “the natives are restless.” The principal got on the PA, said that school was closed, and anyone on the school grounds in 45 minutes (I think) would be arrested for trespassing. IPS used city buses for transportation and nobody was prepared for the student body being dumped on the street.

The following year, Federal Judge Hugh Dillin established a court mandated busing program that moved inner-city black students to predominantly white high schools in the city and some surrounding townships within Marion County. Busing is never a popular solution but was seen as necessary to undo the nearly half-century pattern of segregation (the length of Attucks’ first run).

The DOJ oversight of IPS continued until 1998 — thirty years after the initial lawsuit. Here’s more from the Historical Society report:

In January 1997, IPS requested that the court lift the busing order. Dillin ruled that the order would be “continuing and permanent.” IPS appealed Dillin’s decision and later that year the 7th United States Circuit Court ruled that the busing order was never meant to be permanent and that IPS should be permitted to show why its African American students should return to IPS. In June 1998 a settlement was reached between IPS, suburban township schools, and government agencies when Dillin approved an agreement that would phase out busing of inner city black students to township schools by 2017.

The one-way busing to the townships ended in 2005 — 34 years after it began.

To review, Crispus Attucks was opened in 1927 as an intentionally segregated school. It took 78 years for the last impacts of that de jure segregation to go away. And that conclusion was reached only a decade ago.

Indiana was also a key location for Ku Klux Klan activity, centered around Tipton and Kokomo. According to “Hoosier History Live”:

“At its height in Indiana in the 1920s, one quarter to one third of native-born, white males in Indiana were Klan members,” Professor Safianow noted in an article in the Indiana Magazine of History about the discovery of the Hamilton County membership records and memorabilia.

Hamilton County is the county directly north of Indianapolis.

The Klan disbanded in Indiana and we’ve made great strides in pushing cases of individual racism underground. But those individual behaviors and attitudes opened the door for the segregation through law that followed.

This is why Stephanopolous’ continued questioning about whether discrimination is legal in Indiana was so central to evaluating the RFRA implications. It’s not a matter of individual attitudes but a matter of legal status.

Given Indiana’s difficult history with regard to race, it is virtually impossible to take Governor Pence at his word when it comes to sexual orientation.

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