Racism in Martinsville, in

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Racism in My Hometown

Denise Langdon
Eth /125

The murder of Carol Jenkins in 1968 is largely accounted for giving Martinsville, Indiana the racist image it has today. Although this was not the first or last act of racist hate crimes in the town, this one stuck in the minds of many people. This woman was murdered by who was thought to have been a local resident, protected by police, and started a huge controversy about racism in this small town of 14,000-20,000 people. Racism is a problem that plagues each community but I think it is more prominent in smaller towns throughout America. This is just one story about the troubles that one small town has gone through in its troubled past and present. The incidents that affirm the racist image of this town, and things the town has done to erase that negative image are plenty. The citizens of this town want nothing more than to shed this bad image and show people who this town welcomes people of all cultures and races with open arms.

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan activity was very strong and the first rally took place in 1923 right in the town square. Thousands of people were members of the Klan in the 1920s, including women and children. They wanted to promote 100% Americanism ("Martinsville: A Pictorial History. Chapter 10” 2000-2001). Martinsville was dubbed a “sundown town” because while Blacks were allowed to work here, sometimes, during the day--it was known that they should not be caught here after dark. The town has been the alleged headquarters for the Ku Klux Klan and several other hate groups such as the CCC are present here.

I have heard stories from my parents about the horrible events that took place in this town when they were young. There used to be a sign on the side of the highway that states this was a sundown town with the typical “N___, don’t let the sun set on your back!” signage letting people know what kind of town this was (E. Roth, Personal Communication). I have also heard that several African American people were hung on the town square in the 1960s (R Whitehair, Personal Communication), but I cannot find any news coverage or articles on the matter. Another terrible tragedy in Martinsville’s malicious history was the one I mentioned earlier, in the beginning of my paper. Carol Jenkins was a young Black woman who was selling encyclopedias door-to-door on Morgan St. in Martinsville in 1968 (Rimer, 2002). Two men and a child stopped and the men attacked the woman, stabbing her with a screwdriver. I can only imagine what was going through that little girls mind as her father and his friend murdered this colored-woman for no reason. The girl recalled her father saying, “She got what she deserved!” The murder went unsolved for almost 40 years, until that same little girl came forward about what she had seen so many years ago. She told the police about the events that took place that night and one key detail made her a credible witness; she had information about the murder that was not released to the public. I think that the funny thing about this story is, the man who murdered this Black woman in Martinsville, Indiana that set in stone the racist image of the town, was not even from Martinsville. This man was just passing through when he got the urge to murder this woman, he did not know it but his actions stained this town. Finally, just one more example of the horrific events to unravel in this town, a group of students from Indianapolis was visiting the Jimmy Nash City Park, and they had one Black student with them . The town’s people showed up with shotguns and their loud mouths, running these people out of town....
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