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The Colored School

Location: Sixth and Washington Streets, Bloomington. (Monroe County, Indiana)

Installed: 2005 Indiana Historical Bureau and Bloomington Black Business & Professional Association, and Unitarian Universalist Church of Bloomington

ID# : 53.2005.1

Learn more about African-American education in Indiana here.


Side one:

By 1874, what has been known as the Colored School opened in Center School here at Sixth and Washington Streets to serve African-American elementary students of Bloomington. An 1869 law had mandated education of colored children, with a separate enumeration and separate schools supported with tax revenue within the common school system.

Side two:

Before 1869, education of African-Americans was generally not within the common school system. The school building on this site was used until 1915, when it was replaced by the Carnegie library. Students attended classes at another site until the new Banneker School opened on the west side December 1915; the school remained segregated until 1951.


African American; Black History, Education

Annotated Text

By 1874, what has been known as the Colored School opened in Center School here at Sixth and Washington Streets to serve African-American elementary students of Bloomington. An 1869 law had mandated education of colored children, with a separate enumeration and separate schools supported with tax revenue within the common school system.(1)

Before 1869, education of African-Americans was generally not within the common school system.(2) The school building on this site was used until 1915, when it was replaced by the Carnegie library.(3) Students attended classes at another site until the new Banneker School opened on the west side December 1915;(4) the school remained segregated until 1951.(5)


(1)The 1869 law is located in Indiana Laws, 1869 (special session), p. 41. In this session, the Indiana General Assembly also ratified the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (Ibid., p. 128).

Emma Lou Thornbrough, The Negro in Indiana Before 1900: A Study of a Minority (Indianapolis 1959; reprinted Bloomington 1993), remains the best source on the education of African Americans in Indiana. She provides background and results of this legislation starting on p. 317. She notes that "By 1875 almost seven thousand colored children, or about 68 per cent of those of school age, were enrolled in public schools" (p. 325); there were, however, continuing problems, especially in areas with populations of black school-age children too small for a separate school (pp. 326-29). In 1877, another law was adopted to continue to allow separate schools, but it mandated that if there were no separate schools, colored children should attend white schools (p. 329; Indiana Laws, 1877, p. 124). According to Thornbrough, abuses continued (pp. 329-32). Thornbrough discusses educational opportunities for black students in high school and higher education pp. 340-46. The actual start of the Colored School in the Center School building is not certain. Apparently, because the Blanchard history reproduced a July 1881 Report of the School Trustees of Bloomington indicating colored students and teachers, the beginning of the Colored School has been tied to the 1881 date. Charles Blanchard, ed., Counties of Morgan, Monroe, and Brown, Indiana (Chicago 1884), pp. 471-72.

Frances V. Haisell Gilliam, in A Time to Speak: A Brief History of the Afro-Americans of Bloomington, 1865-1965 (Bloomington, 1985), for example, states on p. 24, "The Colored School' at the former Center School operated from about 1881."

A published map places the Colored School at this location by 1876. Map of Bloomington (Philadelphia: Cunningham and Twitchell, 1876).

Little information has been located on the Center School building. Blanchard, pp. 470-71; Bloomington Daily Herald-Telephone, September 24, 1968. It seems logical to assume that the city school system used Center School until the new Central School opened in 1873. In [Henry Lester Smith], Sixty Years of Service, 1871-1931: A Brief Account of The Central School of Bloomington, Indiana (May 1931), it is noted that the Central School building was "begun in 1871 and finished in 1873" (p. 8). Also in this pamphlet is a "Written Statement" by Kate Hight, dated April 1931, called "When this Old School Was New" (pp. 14-16). She indicates that Central School classes began on the first Monday in September 1873 and provides many specifics about people, classes, etc. There has been some confusion about the date that Central School opened; there is, however, no reason to doubt the evidence in [Smith] about the September 1873 opening. According to a letter from William Lowe Bryan, cited in [Smith] (p. 11), "The Central School building was for a number of years large enough to provide for all the school children of Bloomington including the high school and including the preparatory department of the university." Since the high school was included at Central School, there most likely would have been black students in this school. It is possible that black elementary and middle students were educated in Central School”or other schools”also until they were placed in Center School, according to the mandate of the 1869 law. Assuming Center School had been in use for classes before that time, it would not have been available for a separate school for black children until Central School opened in 1873.

No evidence has been located to substantiate a date of 1873 for the start of the Colored School. The 1876 map shows the Colored School at this location. Added to the reports of the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1871 to 1875, however, there is enough evidence to assert with reasonable certainty that pre-high school black students were being educated at Center School in the 1874-1875 school year. By the 1871-1872 school year, according to the 1872 report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), in Richland Township (west of Bloomington) there was a colored school being taught in one district, the average attendance of black students in primary school was 19, and there was one black female teacher. The report also indicates enumerated colored individuals of school age (6-21) totaling 88 in Bloomington and 34 in Richland Township (Year ending August 31, 1872, Statement No. 1, pp. 40-41). There was no colored school listed in Bloomington. The 1872-1873 SPI report still indicates one district with a black school and an average attendance of 55 black students in primary school (Year ending August 31, 1873, Statement No. 1, pp. 2-3). It is fair to assume that district is still in Richland Township, given later reports. Enumerated colored individuals of school age (6-21) totaled 99 in Monroe County (Year ending April 31, 1873, Statement No. VII, p. 21). Unfortunately, the 1873-1874 SPI report only indicates enumerated colored individuals of school age (6-21) totaling 140 in Monroe County (Year ending April 31, 1874, Statement No. VIII, p. 23). The 1874-1875 SPI listing for Monroe County, however, indicates that there are 2 colored schools with 129 attendees. This would correlate with a colored school remaining in Richland Township and a school for colored students having opened in Bloomington's Center School building, likely in the fall of 1874 (SPI Report, Statement No. 1 for year ending August 31, 1875, pp. 4-5). Gilliam notes that "Older residents remember persons who attended white schools in their own neighborhoods before all Black children were required to attend 'Colored School.' Schools mentioned as having been attended by early Black children were the Perry Township School on South High Street, Stevens School at the Woodyard, Finlay School, and Fairview School" (p. 23). She also provides information from the memories of those who attended the Colored School (pp. 23-25). According to Gilliam, "When the students from 'Colored School' or Banneker graduated from Grade Eight, they automatically went to Bloomington High School with the white students" (p. 24). NOTE: Reports of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Indiana were issued in a standard biennial basis from 1843 to 1942. They are full of statistics compiled from reports covering local and county school systems, arranged as numbered statements by individual fiscal years. Information varies from report to report and often includes reports from school examiners. The specific superintendent often commented on educational topics, including the education of colored students.

(2)Thornbrough notes that "Before the Civil War Indiana was one of the most backward states in making provision for public schools. The educational opportunities afforded white children were limited and inadequate, but colored children were denied any public educational facilities whatsoever" (p. 161). She continues: "The first school laws made no mention of color, and it is possible that a few Negro children attended the early township schools . . . . It is probable, however, that the failure to exclude Negroes from participation in the early schools was an oversight (p. 162). A law in 1837 specifically refers to "white inhabitants" (p. 162; Indiana Laws, 1836-1837, p. 15). An 1841 law "contained the proviso that the property of Negroes and mulattoes not be assessed for school purposes. Neither act expressly barred Negro children from the schools but the implication was that schools were for the white population" (pp. 162-63; Indiana Laws, 1840-1841, p. 82)).

Laws in 1853 and 1855 were more restrictive, making "the only opportunities open to Negroes before 1869 . . . those afforded by private schools and teachers" (pp. 166-67). The school law of 1852 provided some state tax support for public schools and permitted cities and towns to incorporate in order to set up their own school systems; it did not mention colored children (Indiana Revised Laws, 1852, pp. 439-57). A law in 1853 amended the 1852 law and barred colored children from its benefits: "in all enumerations the children of negroes and mulattoes shall be omitted. The property of negroes and mulattoes shall not be taxed for school purposes, nor shall any negro or mulatto derive any of the benefits of the common schools of this State" (Indiana Laws, 1853, p. 124). A law in 1855 creating the Common School Fund used similar language to deprived colored students of the benefits of the common schools (Indiana Laws 1855, p. 161).

According to Thornbrough, "In 1860 census figures showed a total of 1, 122 colored persons enrolled in some sort of school. This represented less than one fourth of those in the state between the ages of five and twenty" (p. 181). (3)Henry Lester Smith, A Survey of A Public School System (New York, 1917) is a published study of the Bloomington schools with information through the school year 1914-1915. Table CLI (pp. 290-91) "Facts About Each School Building. Spring of 1913, " lists the "Colored Building." The lot dimensions are 132 x 132 feet; the outside dimensions of the brick building are 40.5 and 26.25 feet. The Colored School toilets are listed as "Dry closets outside of building." Smith indicates the toilets "are in very poor condition . . . This condition would have been remedied last year except that plans are on foot to build a new building for the colored children of the city" (pp. 292, 297). The chart includes additional specifics about this and other Bloomington schools for comparison.

Smith indicates that "(Since the above facts were gathered two new buildings have been erected, one for high school purposes and one for colored school purposes. These last two buildings have been constructed according to the modern demands for school buildings)" (p. 297).

According to the minutes of the Bloomington City School Board, January 23, 1913, the Building Committee of the Public Library Board "presented a request to purchase the Colored School lot for the purpose of erecting a Public Library Building there. The Board made no definite decision in the matter and it is pending further consideration." On April 3 and 9, 1915, the School Board minutes record the public auction of the property to the Library Board for $12, 000 and the preparation of the deed (Minutes are at the Monroe County Historical Museum.). According to the August 5, 1915 issue of the Bloomington Evening World, the colored school was being torn down. (4)By September 13, 1915, according to the Bloomington Evening World, colored students were in the "old armory building at College Avenue and Third."

On December 7, 1915, black students "took possession of their new seat of learning." The Bloomington Evening World, December 8, 1915 also states that the colored students marched from the old armory to their new school yesterday.

On January 30, 1916 Banneker School was dedicated. Bloomington Evening World, January 31, 1916.

(5)On April 19, 1951, the Bloomington City School Board at its meeting discussed the expansion of Fairview Elementary School and closing of Banneker School, both in the northwest area of Bloomington. The Board discussed consolidation of the two schools "in the interest of economy." On April 23, the issue came up again citing decreased enrollment and the pending retirement of one of two teachers at Banneker. The issue came up several more times, but on July 10, 1951, the Board voted that Banneker would be known as the Fairview Annex starting with the 1951-1952 school year until the new Fairview School building was ready. City School Board Minutes (Monroe County Public Library).

The Bloomington Herald Telephone covered the school board actions, reporting on July 14, 1951 that Banneker, now the Fairview Annex, would house two rooms of sixth grade students in the fall. In the paper of September 6, Fairview School sixth graders were told to report to Fairview Annex. On September 11, the paper reported that 61 sixth graders were at the Annex. The article also notes that "The Fairview Annex has a gymnasium, a shop, recreation facilities, and other advantages not possible in the main building when all grades were crowded together."

After the new Fairview School opened, Banneker became the West Side Community Center. The Banneker History Project, begun in 2002 as a collaborative community effort, has researched the school's history with the participation of many who attended Banneker. An exhibit has been placed in the newly renamed Banneker Community Center. Bloomington Herald Times, May 16, 20, 2004.

In 1949, Indiana state law began the process of desegregating Indiana's schools. On September 1, 1949, a law became effective "establishing a public policy in public education and abolishing and prohibiting separate schools organized on the basis of race, color or creed, and prohibiting racial or creed segregation, separation or discrimination in public schools, colleges and universities and state of Indiana and prohibiting discrimination in the transportation of public school pupils and students" (Indiana Laws, 1949, pp. 603-7). The law allowed for implementation to be spread over a longer period: kindergarten and grade schools, September 1950; junior high schools, September 1951; high schools, September 1954. See Emma Lou Thornbrough, Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington 2000), pp. 145-52 for the effects of this law.

Note that the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, ruling that racially segregated public schools violated the U.S. Constitution.