Black history showcased on Indiana State Museum

Black History Month
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INDIANAPOLIS — This month, the Indiana State Museum is highlighting exhibits, historic sites and certain artifacts that showcase Hoosier Black History.  

They are hosting public and private tours to give people a look at displays in the exhibits specific to Black history. They are also giving an in-depth behind the scenes looks at some not on display. 

“It’s important to make sure we’re telling Indiana’s story, and Black History is Indiana’s story too,” said Marcy Dodson. 

She is in charge of leading tours that take you beyond the display labels. 

“So we go beyond what you’re going to read on your typical museum visit,” Dodson said. “To learn a little bit more about how the artifacts connect us to the theme of the tours. And this month is Black History Gallery tours.” 

In the tours, she shows Madam C.J. Walker’s hair products, a model of a bike that world champion cyclist Major Taylor would have rode, and an exhibit of the Ambey family, one of the first Black families to serve in the war. 

“We have several pictures that connect us to their descendants. And then we’re really lucky, we can learn about where these men served thanks to these Muster rolls,” Dodson said. 

“So we’re able to track where they went, what battles they fought in and where their descendants  ended up living today, even.” 

Something not on the tour are historic copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, which helped free slaves. The copies are signed by Abraham Lincoln.  

The museum’s copy of the 13th Amendment is one of three also signed by the speaker of the house at the time, who was a Hoosier. 

“It was recognized by people at the time, how important this was, how really it would change the country. And so this copy is, you might think of it as a souvenir probably given,” said Chief Curator & Research Officer Susannah Koerber. 

They are light-sensitive, so they don’t put them out often, but they did make a video detailing their history. 

“They’re incredibly rare documents, but perhaps even more than that, they speak so powerfully to the history of our country, and to the end of slavery and to issues we’re still grappling with today,” Koerber said. 

The Black History also extends past the museum and into some of their historic sites like the Levi and Catharine Coffin House which was a stop on the Underground Railroad in Fountain City. 

“This is a place that I can visit, A physical location that I can visit, and share the story of Blacks who came to Indiana, who found a home and who built communities and who worked to help other individuals find a way,” said Curator of Social History Kisha Tandy. 

Levi came to Indiana in 1826. He used his house for the Underground Railroad because he wanted to help because he had seen the impacts of slavery first hand. 

“As a young child he had seen the horrors of slavery and so he was very anti-slavery. He was a Quaker and he wanted to help individuals to find their freedom,” said Tandy. 

People can visit it and see the small crawl space freedom seekers had to hide in. 

“You had individuals who were fleeing slavery, fleeing bondage, and they made the decision, the very tough decision, to come to freedom because that journey was not an easy journey,” Tandy said. 

If you’re interested in a tour at the museum you can find a link here, and if you’d like to visit the Coffin house click here for details. 

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