By Nick DiMaggio, Indiana District CPUSA
March 22, 2021
INDIANA- White Republican Indiana State representatives physically attacked Black Representatives on Feb. 23, 2021 in the IN Statehouse.
Black Democrats were arguing against HR 1367, a bill to supporting resegregation of the S. Bend schools. Republicans are making a concerted, anti-democratic, effort to roll back anti-racist laws across the State, and to disenfranchise Black communities in S. Bend, Gary, and Indianapolis. While HR1367 ended up being voted down, the Republican majority in IN General Assembly will continue to push for resegregation and anti-democratic policies.
On February 23, Democrat members of the IN General Assembly’s African American Caucus were booed and shouted down while voicing their concerns of HB 1367s effect on racial diversity. Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis and Vernon Smith of Gary, both Democrats, received multiple loud boos and jeers from white Republican representatives. The representative from Gary gave a reasoned yet impassioned opposition to this bill and its potential effect on all Indiana students. This would essentially be teaching children that “separate but equal” facilities are acceptable in a more informal way. This type of segregation would not have “white bathroom” and “black bathroom” signs posted. No, it would be a more nefarious type of de facto separation and exclusion. Rep. Smith and his colleagues truly strove to drive home the point that any kind of “separate but equal” can never be allowable again.
Eric Brooks, Chair of the Communist Party of Indiana, CPUSA said “We stand 100% with the Black community and all democratic forces in Indiana against this and similar bills. We will join with all who fight against racism, to end gerrymandering, and for local self-determination in Indianapolis, Gary, and other areas of Indiana that have large African American populations, against the State House Republicans’ racist, misogynist, and anti-democratic initiatives.”
IN Speaker Huston was called on by the Black Caucus to take two necessary actions to fight racial disrespect and confrontation in the Assembly among fellow legislators.
First, bias and racial sensitivity training for the entire General Assembly and not merely a few offensive individuals. These problems have deep seeded roots in local Hoosier political establishments.
Second, a formal reprimand for all lawmakers involved in these actions.
Chairwoman Shackleford has also confirmed that the African American Coalition of Indianapolis, among others, will be monitoring the situation. The people and workers of this Indiana should never accept or ignore racial bigotry in their local legislators.
The intersection of race and education is a point of heated contention in the American political arena. Another battle in this war for racially diverse and integrated schools came to a head in the Indiana General Assembly last month. Not only were floor debates between Black and white legislators a raucous, uncouth affair, but shockingly even altercations took place in the Statehouse over reactions to a school redistricting bill.
Indiana Republicans put forth IN House Bill 1367 to change how predominantly white local townships can leave desegregated school districts. This program would allow for the unilateral “disannexation”, or leaving, of Greene Township from the racially mixed South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC). Greene Township would be able to join with the far less ethnically diverse John Glenn School Corporation without any input from the SBCSC. Currently, both the South Bend and John Glenn School Corporations would have both needed to give their consent for a disannexation to occur. HB 1367 seeks to change that and it’s gaining steam by having advanced out of the lower chamber and into the Indiana State Senate. This bill and the debate surrounding its purpose in South Bend schools opens many old wounds that have yet to heal.
South Bend, like numerous Indiana cities, had a deeply ingrained segregationist public education system. Whether this be de jure or de facto was merely a matter of a location and era. Even though in 1949 Indiana law strongly endorsed racially integrating public schools, which a few did achieve, these mandates were largely ignored or barely attempted. The federal government forced hundreds of cities to remove the legal barriers to educational integration in the ‘50s and ‘60s. This included South Bend, and other Indiana cities, but problems remained when a rigid de facto system of school segregation arose. It took several years to tackle these injustices using multiple, cross-county lawsuits led by working-class Hoosiers and activists. Their noble struggle was to gain equal educational opportunity for every man or woman that sought it regardless of race. The earliest court case came nine years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954. Much of the legal efforts were spearheaded by the NAACP chapter in Indiana. Here is a short list of legal cases that tried, with some success, to enforce integration upon divided Indiana cities1:
- Bell v. School City of Gary (1963)
- Copeland v. South Bend Community School Corporation (1967)
- Banks v. Muncie Community Schools (1970)
- Martin et. al. v. Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation (1972)
- U.S. v. South Bend Community School Corporation (1981)
The last of these is of prime importance to what is currently happening with the SBCSC and the disannexation of Greene Township. South Bend schools would lose 900 students from Greene Township to John Glenn. This incurs a loss to SBCSC of $7,000 per student in state funds which, like most urban school systems, it desperately cannot afford to lose. However, St. Joseph county, where John Glenn school district lies, is allotted $15,000 per student by the state.
Local activists, SBCSC employees and concerned citizens fear the passage of HB 1367 may undermine the de-segregation mandates of 1981. Moreover, this bill is seen to encourage and legalize white flight to the suburbs under the guise of educational and township redistricting.
When asked how racial diversity might be impacted if the bill becomes law a venerable SBCSC employee remarked, “It will be worse than it was in ‘81”. Then, asked if there was any chance of stopping the disannexation if the bill passes, he merely replied they were “hoping the feds will come in and desegregate” as they had to in 1981. Coincidentally, the SBCSC employee interviewed for this article also fought for desegregation in these same schools forty years ago.
The fact that he must fight against this same travesty decades later has, understandably, angered and frustrated him.
Many Hoosiers shared in his anger, as well as disgust, over the reactions on and off the floor of the Indiana General Assembly.
On February 23, this story took an even darker turn. Democrat members of the General Assembly’s African American Caucus were booed and shouted down while voicing their concerns of HB 1367s effect on racial diversity. Specifically, Rep. Greg Porter of Indianapolis and Vernon Smith of Gary, both Democrats, received multiple loud boos and jeers. The representative from Gary gave a reasoned yet impassioned opposition to this bill and its potential effect on all Indiana students. This would essentially be teaching children that “separate but equal” facilities are acceptable in a more informal way. This type of segregation would not have “white bathroom” and “black bathroom” signs posted. No, it would be a more nefarious type of de facto separation and exclusion. Rep. Smith and his colleagues truly strove to drive home the point that any kind of “separate but equal” can never be allowable again.
At least one Republican representative, Jim Lucas of Seymour, Indiana, walked out on Rep. Smith’s speech in blatantly disrespectful protest. Rep. Lucas was previously censured by the Speaker of the House Todd Huston for the sharing of racist content online last summer.
Sadly, this was not the end of confrontation between African American Legislative Caucus members and their GOP colleagues. Off the floor of the Assembly, in a side hallway, another storm of words as brewing which almost came to blows. Rep. Vanessa Summers, a Democrat and Caucus member from Indy, got into a heated argument with Republican Sean Eberhart. Rep. Eberhart accused her of verbally assaulting him with accusations of racism. Things further escalated as Summers claims Eberhart began to physically grab at her becoming even more aggressive than earlier. The two had to be forcefully broken up and kept apart by their fellow legislators. Certainly, not the proudest day in the history of Indiana state politics.
Vernon Smith, the legislator earlier booed while speaking, was further confronted by an “honorable” Republican assemblyman. This time it was off the floor and in the building restroom. In brazenly hypocritical fashion, Rep. Allan Morrison (R) accused Smith of racial bullying by suggesting that HB 1367 would inhibit desegregation. Morrison then berated his fellow assembly member outside the bathroom and down the hall. Continuing to add to an already tense day, until another person finally pulled Rep. Morrison aside, and Rep. Vernon Smith could be left in peace.
Later speaking at a press conference, Smith explained he had felt reasonable fear for his safety. The Chair of General Assembly’s Black Caucus, Robin Shackleford, said “enough is enough,” in response to these provocative actions. She went on to passionately thunder that this “behavior is aggressive, intimidating and not becoming of a legislator.”
At this time, no such reprimand or sensitivity training has come forth. The Speaker of the House Todd Huston, a Republican, did give a stern reading of the rules of decorum. He asked all present to respect their fellow lawmakers when speaking to remain in their seats. This is probably the harshest reproach anyone can truly hope to occur.
HB 1367 has progressed out of the Indiana House of Representative by a vote of 52-43 largely split down party lines. Unfortunately, the partisan nature of the bill and extensive GOP majority in the Indiana Senate will probably get the bill passed into law.
1 EXAMINING THE CROSS-ROADS: SCHOOL SEGREGATION IN INDIANA (Indiana U. study, 2017) https://cepr.indiana.edu/segregation.html