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November 03, 2015

Early Political Fun in Noblesville

Early Political Fun in Noblesville

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

In honor of Election Day, this photo shows an interesting incident in Noblesville’s political history.  The background on it is from an undated article in the library collection published sometime around 1910-1922, probably in the Noblesville Times and titled Noblesville Holds First Negro Grant and Wilson Pole Raising.  It was owned by an African American resident of Noblesville named Belle Bush (1858-1926) and shows the southeast corner of courthouse square at the intersection of Ninth and Conner streets.  None of the buildings in the picture are still there.

1872 pole raising picThis is a political rally on August 8, 1872 to support the election of Ulysses S. Grant.  A pole raising was a community building activity and an act dating back to classical Rome meant to symbolize the overthrow of tyranny. The pole was particularly significant in this case because the rally was organized by the African American community of central Indiana.  The Fifteen Amendment to the Constitution had been passed in 1870, giving citizens the right to vote, no matter what their “race, color, or condition of previous servitude” and this was this first presidential election in which many African Americans were able to vote.

The 1872 election pitted Grant and Henry Wilson (Republican) against a collection of other candidates, such as Horace Greeley (Liberal Republican), Thomas Hendricks of Indiana (Democrat), and Victoria Woodhull (Equal Rights Party) – the first woman ever to run for president.

The newspaper article said about the event in Noblesville:

[blockquote text=’“Reports of the day state that there were thousands of colored people in Noblesville for the celebration. Special trains were run from Indianapolis and a colored military company from Indianapolis, known as Grants Military Guards was present in a body to do the honors of the day. The pole was 160 feet long and was equipped with a mammoth Grant and Wilson flag. Cannons were fired with the final bringing of the pole into position, and the military companies’ salute is said to have reverberated up and down the White River Valley.”’ text_color=’#8dc63f’ width=” line_height=’undefined’ background_color=” border_color=” show_quote_icon=’no’ quote_icon_color=”]

Some of the men involved in raising the pole who were identified were Aaron Mitchell, Clark “Major” Howard, Rick Munden, Henry Johnson, Greenberry Roper, Albert Wallace, and Henry Hedgpath.  Some of these men have descendants living in Noblesville today.

Later that day, a barbecue was held at the county fairgrounds, (now the site of North Elementary School), where speeches were given and the program continued.  The keynote speaker was to have been Hiram R. Revels, the first African American elected to the US Senate. Unfortunately, Revels missed the train out of Indianapolis and was unable to be present.  Local speakers were found instead and Lin Carlin’s Silver Cornet Band and the Westfield band furnished the music during the day.  Among other things, the barbecue raised funds for the construction of a building for the First Baptist Church.  Today that building is the Birdie Gallery of the Hamilton County Artists Association

While the raising of poles at political rallies was not unusual at this time, this allegedly was the first one in the United Stated organized by African Americans.  Since many of them had recently been freed from slavery before moving to Indiana, this adds a special significance.