The Herald Bulletin
In 1843, the New England Anti-Slavery Society sent speakers around the country to make 100 speeches promoting abolition. George Bradburn, William White and the better known social reformer Frederick Douglass came to Pendleton to deliver a speech not far from the banks of Fall Creek.
Tom McClintick of the Pendleton Historical Museum has provided one of the clearest accounts of Douglass’ visit. As the speeches began, a group of men attacked the speakers with clubs and eggs. Those who were sympathetic to the speakers were overwhelmed and fled.
Douglass made it to the south side of the creek where he was still physically attacked. Luckily, for all of America, local residents came to Douglass’ aid. Though he was too distraught to continue, he was taken to the nearby home of Neil and Elizabeth Hardy. Local women living in Spring Valley dressed the men’s wounds.
Two days later, the bandaged men spoke at the Friends Meeting House nearby. Douglass never regained full use of his arm. However, Douglass would return to speak to Hoosiers 12 times in 1876 at the request of state Republicans — the party of Abraham Lincoln. Douglass was welcomed back to Pendleton.
An incident of racism is rarely one to honor, but this is certainly one to memorialize.
About nine months ago, hoping to have a sign remembering the incident, local resident Bob Post sent an application to the Indiana Historical Bureau seeking a roadside marker to be placed near the site of the speech.
The state has asked Post to collect $2,000 for the installation, which is currently set for Jan. 14. Donations to help fund the installation can be made through the South Madison Community Foundation, 233 S. Main St., Pendleton, IN 46064 (www.southmadisonfoundation.org). Post suggested that donors note the contribution as “Douglass sign” and donors will receive a receipt for the tax-deductible contribution.
It is a noble cause that memorializes a genuine spirit of equality among pioneers that continues today in the Pendleton area.
Most recently in 2008, the Rev. Boniface Hardin, founder of Martin University in Indianapolis, re-enacted one of the anti-slavery speeches dressed uncannily as Douglass. Hardin has since passed away, in March of this year; Douglass, born a slave, died in 1895 after a prominent international career in fighting for human rights and writing an influential autobiography in 1845.
Some might say the Pendleton incident, and Douglass’ later forgiveness of his attackers, helped to define the great abolitionist for future generations.
Marking the speech by a sign, and reinforcing its significance in the public’s eyes, is a wonderful gesture by Post, the state, those who donate and those who will stop along the road to read the marker.
Many times, drivers pass by a historical marker without taking heed of the meaning behind its placement. When passers-by stop, they can better understand the nature and spirit of a community. But such signposts also remind local residents of the power of their own history.