Indiana African American Heritage Trail
Early black settlers faced discrimination in Indiana. They couldn’t vote, serve on juries or attend public schools with white students. Yet, because of the short distance to Kentucky just across the Ohio River, southern Indiana was a strategic location in the 1800s for those escaping enslavement and looking for safe passage to the North.
This pivotal time in the state’s history is marked by the self-guided Indiana African American Heritage Trail, which includes more than 15 sites (and growing), spanning six southern Indiana counties – Clark, Floyd, Gibson, Harrison, Jefferson and Orange.
“We’re rebuilding a history of African Americans because if we don’t, this knowledge will be lost,” says Maxine Brown, Corydon resident and founder of the trail. “My family has been here since 1815, yet I had no idea how extensive black history was in the area until recently. I want to share it with others.”
Brown’s family includes her aunt, the late Leora Brown, who attended and taught at the Corydon Colored School for 24 years. Despite her experience and dedication, Leora Brown struggled to find work when the school closed in 1950 – because she was black. Today, the school, one of the oldest African-American schools in the state, has been restored and renamed the Leora Brown School and is on the Heritage Trail.
Other highlights of the trail include:
The Depot, 600 Quartermaster Station in Jeffersonville
Once a segregated restroom for the historic 1870s Quartermaster Depot, this is now the starting point and welcome center for the trail – a great place to enjoy breakfast or lunch and stock up on guides for the entire historical path. Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Group tours can be scheduled by appointment (812) 284-4453.
Taylor High School, 821 Wall St. in Jeffersonville
Formerly the Jeffersonville Colored School, it was built in 1891 and operated as a segregated school through 1952. A historic marker explains the site.
Division Street School, 803 Conservative St. in New Albany
Built in 1884, thousands of African-American elementary students were educated here before the school closed in 1946. Open 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays. (812) 945-3204.
Lyles Station Historic School & Museum, 953 N. County Road 500 W. in Princeton
The formerly enslaved Joshua Lyles founded one of the Indiana’s last remaining African- American settlements, Lyles Station, in 1849, which at one time included a railroad station, lumber mill, two general stores, two churches, a school and 55 homes. Today, the historical site includes a preserved school and museum. Open 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. (812) 385-2534.
Leora Brown School, 400 E. Summit St. in Corydon
Built in 1891 as the Corydon Colored School for African-American elementary/secondary students, the school has been rehabilitated as a cultural and education center. Open 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and by appointment. (812) 738-3376.
The Georgetown District of Madison
This section of Madison became home to free African-Americans as early as the 1830s. The homes of Underground Railroad conductors Elijah Anderson and William J. Anderson still stand, as well as more than 70 percent of the original structures from 1830 to 1865. A historical marker defines the site.
The complete six-county trail is a good two-day excursion, and there are many hotels and dining choices along the way. For a complete guide to the trail, visit www.indianaafricanamericanheritage.org. For more information about accommodations, contact the Clark-Floyd County Convention & Tourism Bureau at 800-552-3842 or www.sunnysideoflouisville.org, or stop in the tourism bureau’s visitors center (open every day) at 305 Southern Indiana Ave. in Jeffersonville.