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President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Among the guests behind him is Martin Luther King, Jr.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Landmark legislation marks 50 years of aiding the disenfranchised

By Michael Dabney and Rebecca R. Bibbs

In the mid-1960s there were no licensed Black plumbers in Indianapolis admitted to the Plumbers Union Local 73 in Central Indiana. Therefore, Black plumbers were denied work on union-contracted jobs.

In 1969, U.S. District Court Judge S. Hugh Dillin (the same judge who handed down Indianapolis Public Schools’ desegregation order a couple of years later) found the union and the United States Association of Journeyman and Apprentices had engaged in a “policy and practice of discrimination . . . against Negro applicants.”  Though there was nothing in writing, the judge’s opinion said it was clear to Black plumbers, who mostly lived in Indianapolis, that the union was “whites only” and there was “intentional and illegal practices of racial discrimination.” The court ordered that such practices cease.

For much of the history of racial and religious minorities, women, and members of other protected classes in Indiana, judges did not have legal tools or mandates to arrive at the conclusion Dillin did.

That changed 50 years ago on July 2, 1964, when Congress passed Public Law 88-352 (78 Stat. 241), commonly known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Joined with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., 10 years earlier and the federal Voting Rights Act the following year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a game-changer – publicly and privately.
Title VII of the federal law prohibited employer discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, and later legislation added prohibitions against pregnancy, age and disability discrimination in hiring, promoting and firing employees. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established in July 1965 to investigate, enforce, and when necessary, file suit under Title VII.

The federal civil rights law gave rise to Indiana’s Civil Rights law and the Indiana Civil Rights Commission that helps enforce it.

“We have encouraged businesses to look at themselves . . . and see how diversity drives revenues and revenues drive the bottom line,” said ICRC Executive Director Jamal Smith.

Even with the Civil Rights Act in place, change hasn’t come easily, quickly or completely. There is still progress to be made: some of it through legislation, some through court rulings and some through changing cultural attitudes.

“We are working to put ourselves out of business,” Smith said.


Relying primarily on an agricultural economy, as most slave states did, Indiana has sometimes been called the northern-most southern state, where slavery was recorded as late as 1840.

The two Great Migrations, one from 1910 to 1930 and the other from 1940 to 1970, brought an estimated 6.6 million African-Americans from the fields of the Deep South to the factories of the North, including Gary and Indianapolis. The first Great Migration coincided with the political rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.

However, unlike states throughout the South, the Hoosier state generally did not codify racial discrimination under law, although de facto segregation existed throughout Indiana for the first half of the 20th Century, and for some time afterwards.
“It was practiced, but there were no ‘whites only’ and ‘colored only’ signs,” said former state Rep. William Crawford, speaking on the issue of social and economic justice in the state. “There was blatant racism on our state, but it was not codified by law.”

Early in Indiana’s history, the majority of immigrants who arrived here from overseas were German or Irish. But that changed around 1900 with the rise of the steel mills in the Northwest part of the state, where there was an increased need for workers.
Attracted by the prospect of jobs in the steel, meatpacking and automobile industries, Polish and other East European immigrants settled in East Chicago, Gary and South Bend. Though by today’s standards these immigrants from Europe’s seventh largest nation would be considered white, they often faced a great deal of discrimination. And in a nation founded in part to advance religious freedom for Protestants, Poles, most of whom were Catholic, were relatively unpopular because of their religion.

But as the needs for workers rose and Mexican laborers migrated to Northwest Indiana, the oppressed sometimes became the oppressor. Though Latinos now are the population majorities in East Chicago and Ligonier, they have faced resentment from other ethnic groups fearing a loss of their piece of the pie.


The impact of the Civil Rights Act has been largely positive for Indiana, the ICRC’s Smith said.

For example, in 1977, the state Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Vanderburgh Circuit Court invalidating the adoption of a separate actuarial table for men and women for determining the benefits to be paid by the state teacher’s retirement fund.
Through commission citations and court rulings, employers have been held accountable for discriminatory actions of their employees against other employees, such as creating a hostile work environment due to racial or sexual harassment, even when such a violation was not the employer’s intent.

In 1984, Susan Moffett, who was white, brought suit against the Gene B. Click Co. and several managers, alleging that she was harassed at work because she had a Black boyfriend.

A broader range of workers are demanding equality in the workplace. And in some instances, Indiana’s employers are ahead of the curve. For instance, as conservative lawmakers try to prevent gay marriage even as most of the country is giving in state by state, Hoosier employers have argued a ban on same-sex marriage is bad for business.

To combat such workplace problems today, most major employers in the state have diversity officers to help them handle issues that may arise related to the varying backgrounds of their workers, Smith said.

“The world we are living in is changing. The demographics of Indiana are changing,” Smith said. “We are being forced to work with people who do not look like you, play like you, worship like you.”


Civil Rights Game celebrates history and movement toward equal rights

By Michael Dabney

With the crack of Jackie Robinson’s bat for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Negro Leagues Baseball died, although at the time no one knew that for sure.

Within a few short years, as more and more Black players signed to play for teams in the Major Leagues, the Negro Baseball Leagues – which for three decades were some of the largest and most financially successful Black businesses in the nation – were decimated and faded into oblivion.

“With hundreds of employees and millions of dollars in revenue, the Negro Leagues, as Donn Rogosin notes, ‘may rank among the highest achievements of Black enterprise during segregation,’” Jules Tygiel wrote in 1992 in the Organization of American Historians Magazine of History. “In addition, baseball provided an economic ripple effect, boosting business in hotels, cafes, restaurants, and bars.”

Yet Black baseball left an incredible legacy for its high level of professional skill and sportsmanship, and for its entertainment value. It’s a legacy the Indianapolis Indians will honor at 7:15 p.m. Aug. 22 when they take on Toledo at Victory Field during the team’s third annual Civil Rights Game.

The game celebrates history and the progressive movement of all people toward equal rights, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission said in a media release.

“The partnership we have with the Indians has been amazing,” said Jamal Smith, executive director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, which hosts the game with the Indians.

“First and foremost, the fight for civil rights is still current and on-going. And we look for venues for getting that point across.”
The Indianapolis Clowns, a team of the Negro American League, similar to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters, was one of the last African-American teams to play competitive baseball. In fact, the future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, who went on to break Babe Ruth’s homerun record, signed his first professional contract with the Indianapolis Clowns and played with the team for three months in 1952. The 18-year-old’s contract was for $200 a month, and he played shortstop and clean-up hitter before his contract was sold to the Boston Braves organization for $10,000.

The American Brewing Co. originally sponsored an independent team in Indianapolis called the ABCs in the years leading up to the formation of the Negro National League in 1920, according to the website It was a powerhouse in the initial years of the league but fell into decline after the death of manager C.I. Taylor in 1922 and was disbanded in 1926.

Another team called the Indianapolis ABCs emerged in 1931 but it faltered financially and disbanded near the end of the decade.

The league of the 1920s also fell apart only to have another Negro National League created in 1933 with the Pittsburgh Crawfords as charter members. It was a strong team throughout the 1930s but was sold and moved to Toledo as the Toledo Crawfords for the 1939 season and moved to Indy as the Indianapolis Crawfords for the 1940 season. It folded after that.
Only four Hoosier Negro Leagues players – Junius “Rainey” Bibbs, Oscar Charleston, George Crowe and Charles “The Glove” Harmon – have been inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame. Charleston also was inducted into the national Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

The civil rights game has been tremendously successful, Smith said. With roughly 14,000 people in the stands, “each game was a sellout and we expect to do the same this year,” he said.

Though no former Indianapolis Clowns players have attended the civil rights game in the last two years, several former Negro Leagues players have attended and were honored. In addition, the Indianapolis Indians players paid tribute to the Clowns by wearing throwback jerseys.

Smith, who threw out the first pitch, said it is an honor to draw attention to the importance that Negro Leagues baseball had in the battle for civil rights. He also said he enjoyed the former players who have attended the game.

“They have been amazing,” he said. “They are full of spirit, and they really know the game. And some of them still talk a lot of trash.”



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