Revival Rooted in History

In 1938, Evansville held the largest concentration of African Americans in southern Indiana, with the majority of its black residents living in an area known as Baptisttown. On August 18 and 19, Indiana Landmarks hosts a two-day workshop and tour examining the area’s heritage.

Baptisttown Evansville
Evansville African American Museum is housed in the historic Lincoln Gardens.

Talks and Tour

Following the Civil War, African Americans crossed the Ohio River in search of a better life and settled around Liberty Baptist Church at 7th and Oak streets in Evansville. Founded by former slaves in 1865, Liberty Baptist’s congregation built a Gothic Revival-style church in 1886 after a tornado destroyed the original building. The landmark remains a church today.

Liberty Missionary Baptist Church, Evansville

Liberty Missionary Baptist Church

The Baptisttown community thrived in the early twentieth century. Residents created their own schools, churches, civic clubs, hospital, and stores. To combat poor housing conditions in the 1930s, the community petitioned for federal housing. Eleanor Roosevelt presided over the 1938 grand opening of Lincoln Gardens, the second Federal housing project built under FDR’s New Deal.

By the ‘90s, Lincoln Gardens faced demolition. Sondra Matthews, editor and publisher of Evansville’s Our Times Newspaper, organized a group to buy one of the apartment buildings from Evansville Housing Authority for $1. Repurposed as Evansville African American Museum, the site tells Baptisttown’s story, and highlights African American culture in Evansville through interactive exhibits, talks, live performances, and special events. One room remains outfitted as an apartment to allow visitors a glimpse of Lincoln Gardens’ heyday.

On August 18 and 19, Indiana Landmarks hosts From Segregation to Restoration: Reviving Baptisttown, a two-day workshop and tour examining the area’s heritage, and how harnessing such history can help revive African American places across the state. The museum hosts Reviving Baptisttown’s Friday night reception on August 18. On Saturday, Lincoln High School, the city’s primary black school, built by the Baptisttown community, hosts a panel of experts who’ll focus on cultural preservation, including exhibiting place-based artifacts, using technology to tell the story of places lost and extant, and re-purposing African American landmarks. National Trust advisor Jeanne Cyriaque of Georgia will discuss how to increase capacity for historic preservation in the African American community, with an emphasis on job creation and economic improvement.

Lunch and a tour of Baptisttown follow the program. Reviving Baptisttown costs $35 per Indiana Landmarks member and $50 per non-member. Sign up by calling 317-639-4534.

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