The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce announced Friday the installation of a historical marker commemorating the Black Market firebombed by a KKK-linked white supremacist in 1968, according to a release.
The installation will take place at 10 a.m. July 31 at Peoples Park and will be live-streamed on the Chamber’s Facebook page.
The installation was originally planned for May but was rescheduled to July due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the release.
“Many people in Bloomington are unaware of the history of this park and the injustice that led to the end of the Black Market, and the Chamber and our Black-Owned Business Affinity Group are on a mission to change that,” Chamber president and CEO Erin Predmore said in the release.
The announcement came less than a month after June 19 when the mural at Peoples Park on the west wall of Bicycle Garage was found to be painted over by the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Defund BPD.” The mural originally read “Welcome to Bloomington You Belong Here” and spelled out “Bloomington” with colorful depictions of iconic scenes in the city, featuring basketball, IU’s bicentennial, a limestone quarry and rainbow flag banners. The words "Defund BPD" has since been painted over and removed, but the larger words "Black Lives Matter" remain.
Bloomington Police Department Capt. Ryan Pedigo said BPD is still actively investigating the incident as a case of vandalism and no suspects have been identified at this point. He said the suspects could be charged with a class B misdemeanor, facing up to 180 days in jail if convicted, or a class A misdemeanor if the amount of damage done to the mural is deemed to be over $750, potentially facing up to one year in jail.
It also comes after the alleged attack on Vauhxx Booker by people with Confederate flags yelling racial slurs on the Fourth of July at Lake Monroe that has caused Bloomingtonians to protest racism in their own town yet again.
Eva Allen, the original painter and designer of the mural, responded to the mural being painted over June 19 through her company Allen Design’s Facebook page.
“I’m sad that someone would deface the mural which was created to celebrate diversity and inclusivity,” she wrote. “But, it’s not about me.”
“Friends, don’t let this incident make you more exclusive/treat POC differently, or have disdain for the BLM movement,” she also wrote. “I will not. Instead, let’s continue moving toward reconciliation, equality, and empowerment. Because hate loses but love wins.”
Allen did not respond to requests for comment.
The date when the mural was found to be painted over, June 19, is a national holiday known as Juneteenth commemorating the day in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of the Emancipation Proclamation and celebrated their freedom.
Peoples Park, where the mural is located, used to be the site of the Black Market, which was firebombed with a Molotov cocktail on Dec. 26, 1968, by KKK-linked Carlisle Briscoe three months after it opened , according to a blog article by Lindsay Beckley, historian and outreach coordinator at the Indiana Historical Bureau and host of the Talking Hoosier History podcast.
The store was founded by members of IU’s Afro-Afro-American Student Association and managed by Clarence “Rollo” Turner, an IU student activist and founder of the AAASA. Beckley said in an interview that Turner founded the market in order to expose locals and IU students to Black culture and provide a gathering place dedicated to Black students. The shop sold African artifacts and Black literature and was funded by investments from IU's Black faculty members and students and the city's Black community, she said.
Following the firebombing, 200 students protested outside the burned-down Black Market. The community raised enough money for Turner to pay back the investors, but he eventually decided not to reopen the store.
In 1976, the vacant lot where the market once stood was given to the city, allowing for it to be developed by community members into what is now Peoples Park. Since then, the park has been the ground for flea markets, festivals and protests.
Beckley said in the interview that the way the community responded was a good example of an episode of progress in race relations in Indiana’s history.
“I think it’s just a really good example of Black students taking it into their own hands to combat racism on campus, especially in 1968,” she said.
Briscoe later pleaded guilty to second degree arson charges, was sentenced to one to 10 years in prison and served less than four years, according to Beckley's article. He would later commit crimes alongside Klan members and would be remembered as a Klan member, but William Chaney, the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan, denied Briscoe was a member of the organization. Charges for the firebombing were also brought to Briscoe’s getaway driver Jackie Dale Kinser, who was a Klan member and would continue to engage in Klan-related crimes, but the charges were subsequently dropped after he pleaded guilty to three other unrelated crimes.
Beckley said in the interview that the charges against Briscoe and Kinser were fairly typical at that time since the firebombing only caused structural and property damage and didn’t injure anybody.
“There were no hate crime laws at that time that would have boosted those sentences,” she said.
Since the early 2000s, Peoples Park has had a rotating mural program through a public-private partnership with Bicycle Garage, Inc., said Sean Starowitz, assistant director for the arts in Bloomington’s economic and sustainable development department. The “You Belong Here” mural by Eva Allen is the third mural of the program.
“We at the City don’t think that public art should always last forever,” he said in an interview.
Starowitz said the city’s contract with Allen, starting in 2017, ends Aug. 31. He said during a virtual monthly meeting of the Bloomington Arts Commission that the mural will stay as it is and the city will not repair or paint over it before the contract expires and the city decides on the future course of action for the mural.
At the meeting, Starowitz presented some of the potential themes of the next mural at Peoples Park including the history of Peoples Park, the Black Market, the civil rights history in Bloomington, Second Baptist Church and its Black architect Samuel Plato, Indigenous history and Black and Indigenous joy.
However, he said in the meeting that there have been concerns in the community about the next Peoples Park mural being vandalized again or incentivizing white supremacist groups. He also said because Bicycle Garage owns the wall, it will have a say on the next mural.
Nick Blandford, a member of the Bloomington Arts Commission and chairman of the Public Arts Planning Committee, acknowledged that deciding on the theme of public art requires a delicate balance.
“I think the balance to strike is art can challenge people, it can make people uncomfortable, but we want to avoid something that is full-on incendiary and going to specifically entice a lot of volatile reactions,” he said at the meeting.
During the meeting, Starowitz stressed the importance for the commission and the city to keep the conversation going in terms of promoting racial equity in art outside of the mural. The city has inclusion initiatives that support public artists through pairing up first-time public artists with more well-resourced creators. It also hosts diversity events such as the annual Black y Brown Arts Festival, which features African, Black, Hispanic, Latinx and Native American creative arts and artists.
“A prime example of criticism is the D.C. mayor putting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and renaming the street that, but then also not actually having a conversation about defunding police and what the community concerns are,” he said at the meeting. “So I don’t want us to also look like we’re doing political lip service without actually addressing other equity issues in our community.”
He said the city has not fostered the inclusion of artists of color as much as it would like and that because of this, the city hopes that the next Peoples Park mural would be created by an artist of color in the Bloomington community.