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City of Bloomington, Indiana

Walk through pieces of Bloomington's African-American history learning about Bloomington's involvement with the underground railroad, as well as Indiana University's African-American heritage.

The city of Bloomington has maintained a deeply rooted African American history. Census data from the 1860’s through the 1880’s document that the city attracted many African Americans primarily from Virginia, North and South Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky in the first waves of migration to the north. Although the Indiana State Constitution of 1816 outlawed involuntary servitude and African American citizens were free to live and work anywhere in the state, there were still those born into slavery in the south who fled to the north and were returned for bounty. Bloomington’s citizens were active participants in what has come to be known as the Underground Railroad, a conduit of escape organized by citizens who opposed slavery and assisted in hiding individuals fleeing to freedom in the North. The path of escape led from Walnut Ridge, south of Bloomington, to northern stops in Martinsville, Morgantown and Mooresville. Bloomington was also the destination of a generation of Scotch Irish Presbyterians from South Carolina who belonged to the Covenanter Church and settled here in the first half of the nineteenth century. Their houses, the Faris and Smith homes on the southeast side, now are landmarks along the trail to freedom. Another prominent early resident, Robert Anderson, has a grave located in Covenanter Cemetery. Once an escaped slave, he chose to stay in Bloomington after emancipation. He joined the Presbyterian Church that supported his freedom and his heirs still reside on land near the cemetery at High and Hillside Streets.