Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Black Hoosier History: Lyles Station

Indiana’s attitude toward slavery wavered generally between acceptance and neutrality, but as a whole, it was never a “slave state.” In fact, several black communities thrived in the Hoosier State during 19th Century, one of which was located just a couple miles west of where I was born. See the partial map of Indiana, below, to locate the thriving black communities of the 19th Century.

Lyles Station is a historic gem in southwest Indiana and a growing tourist attraction in Gibson County. Founded by freed Tennessee slaves, the area once boasted a thriving agricultural community that supported a general store, grain elevator, post office, train depot and a church. The Lyles brothers settled in the rich, fertile soil of the Wabash and Patoka river bottoms, just west of Princeton.

The Lyles Station community boasted several notable residents, including the first African-American postmaster, and sent great men to serve in battle, in Indianapolis’ first black high school and in the White House. No small feat for a rural black community of about 50 families.

The story of this community and others like it is quite fascinating. They dotted the early Indiana forests. Wilma Gibbs of the Indiana Historical Society has done much work to document their existence and keep this important piece of Hoosier history alive.

I call attention to Lyles Station to commemorate and honor Black History Month, not because I want to seem politically correct and culturally sensitive, rather to show my great pride in the neighbors who co-existed peacefully and productively alongside my ancestors in Gibson County. I have no direct anecdotal evidence, but they must surely have interacted on some level.

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