Dozens gathered to belatedly celebrate Black History Month on Friday at the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, but the delay only heightened the joyful celebration.
As guests mingled inside the William E. Steckler Ceremonial Courtroom, the light notes of a piano wafted among the chatter and laughter of those attending the Black History Month celebration at the Birch Bayh Federal Courthouse in Indianapolis. The crowd gathered to hear from honorary guest Major General Marcia Anderson, the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of major general in the history of the United States Army.
The May 3 celebration had originally been scheduled to take place in early 2019. However, because of the long-lasting federal government shutdown, the event, usually celebrated in late winter, was rescheduled for the spring.
Indiana Southern District Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said "the one positive outcome of the near shutdown" was the ability to extend the Black History Month celebration from February, the official Black History Month, to May.
During her service, Anderson was assigned to the Pentagon, where she served in the role of Deputy Chief Army Reserve, overseeing the planning, programming and resource management for the execution of an $8 billion Army Reserve budget. She retired from the Reserve in 2016 after 36 years of service and has been employed as the clerk of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin for more than 25 years.
Also an attorney, Anderson graduated from Rutgers University School of Law, the U.S. Army War College and Creighton University.
In honor of Black History Month, Anderson focused her presentation on the migration of African-Americans during the 20th century. She specifically addressed how those movements from southern to northern states has ultimately influenced and impacted urban populations, the workplace, education, politics and the civil rights movement.
What strikes her most about the topic, Anderson said, is that many of the faces in the room, like herself, had family members who made that long-distance trek.
“That’s why I think this is so important that this is a national topic for 2019,” Anderson said. “It’s emblematic of what made our country what it is today.”
There were two great migrations of people from the South to the northern states, she said. The first occurred between 1910 and 1930, and a second, smaller migration between 1930 and 1970. During 1916 and 1918 alone, there were 400,000 African-Americans moving north, she said.
“Just think about that for a minute. That’s about 500 people a day taking what they hoped was going to be a journey to freedom,” Anderson said.
The massive number of people migrating to the North resulted in obvious change, as the North had never maintained such a large population before, Anderson added. That forcibly resulted in a transformed America, changing the country politically, culturally and socially.
It also created the black middle class, Anderson said. The number of people formally with little to no education as a result of their work on southern farms now had an opportunity for higher education and better paying jobs.
Labor shortages stemming from World War I prompted the recruiting of hard-working African-Americans to northern factories, Anderson said, bringing groups of people to industrial Indiana cities like South Bend, Gary, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, as well as industrial in cities in nearby states such as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
“The population growth in those areas was exponential,” she said.
Anderson highlighted several celebrated black figures with Indiana ties, including entrepreneur and philanthropist Madame C.J. Walker and Marshall “Major” Taylor, a professional cyclist and Indianapolis native.
While Indiana’s African-American population growth made leaps and bounds during the 20thcentury, there were challenges. Not all white businesses were welcoming, Anderson said, even though Indiana had an anti-discrimination law that had specific language about the use of public facilities. She noted several lawsuits were filed after African-Americans were denied access and service to certain businesses and restaurants, as were suits filed regarding housing.
Over time, the pushback has lessened, Anderson said. In 1958, a survey found that 44 percent of white Americans said they would move if they had a black neighbor. Today that figure is less than 1 percent.
As that number has decreased, the number of African-American women holding white-collar jobs has increased to more than 67 percent.
“I don’t think any of those things would have happened without the great migration and the force of change with people who look different from you moving into your community,” Anderson said. “You saw they were engaged and interested in making your community a better place.”
Anderson said she’s is optimistic that greater things are still in store for the country.
“It was the number of African-Americans who came, their determination, their thirst to become full participating members of the community, their ability to obtain an education, their willingness to engage,” she said. “I think sometimes out of adversity come good things, and I think all of us in this room represent that. I have a lot of hope.”