The Greater Terre Haute NAACP Branch marked 100 years of civil rights activism in this community. More than a hundred twenty-five members and friends turned out for the historic event. Organized in 1918 the local organization shared its historic journey by revealing its early activism and remembering the people who worked in many areas over the years.
A Proclamation by Mayor Duke Bennett was delivered by the Mayor through video. Bringing greetings from the City of Terre Haute, Office of the Mayor, Bennet congratulated the NAACP for one hundred years of dedicated service in civil rights.
Current Branch President Sylvester Edwards expressed honor and delight to have three past branch presidents in attendance. They are Mr. Donald Turner, who served from 1968 to 1974; Ms. A.Theressa Bynum, longest serving president – 16 years, from 1987 to 1995 and 1999 to 2008; and Ms. Valerie Hart-Craig, who served from 2011 to 2015. Between 1918 and 2018 there have been at least 20 elected leaders of this branch.
John E. Lang, Freedom Fund Committee chair, was elated by the community’s response to the occasion, from both individuals and institutions. “They seem genuinely interested in hearing our story and supporting the cause. We certainly appreciate their attendance and participation.”
In a ceremonial Roll Call, A.Theressa Bynum identified the list of activist volunteers in response to the audience’s chant of the theme “Lest We Forget …” Named were the early founders who stepped out on faith to improve the lives of African Americans fighting for equal rights and equal access, like Daisy Hood, the first Branch President, Dr. Iverson Bell, Robert Russell, and Rev. Noel Hord. Other courageous men and women called were Dr. Wesley Lyda, Dr. Geneva Ross, Alfreda Buckner, Warren Clevenger, Louella Casson, Rev. Tom Russell, Dorothy Drummond, Dr. Richard Landini, Hazel Lowenstein, John and Sylvia Laska, Aletha Carter, Mother Bettie Davis, Rev. Henry Barnhill, Orville Alexander, and scores more.
President’s Awards were presented to two local historians for their outstanding research that contributed to significant Branch work. The awards were presented by President Sylvester Edwards:
- Mr. James Flinn was recognized for his identification of the early accomplishments of African American educator Evangeline Harris Merriweather; due to his years of effort and working through the NAACP and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority / AEO Chapter, a historic marker was dedicated in honor of Merriweather at Indiana State University in 2018.
- Crystal Mikell Reynolds, Ph.D. was recognized for her extraordinary research of Terre Haute NAACP Branch history, including interviews with past presidents and family members of Branch leaders. Her collaboration has been invaluable in documenting the Branch history over the past decades.
Edwards also expressed appreciation to the branch officers and executive committee members, who do the work of the branch. Everyone is a volunteer. He presented each with a commemorative pendant as a token of appreciation. Recipients were John E. Lang, Drucella Thomas, A.Theressa Bynum, Oscar Session, Valerie Hart-Craig, Benjamin Kite, Jeanne Rewa, and Sandra Wickware.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1909 to work for full equality for Negro Americans, seeking to end racial segregation and other forms of discrimination in all public aspects of community life. The Terre Haute Branch was organized in 1918, when the local racial situation was very much similar to conditions prevailing in the South. Bynum points out, “the history of the Greater Terre Haute NAACP Branch – the accomplishments of its people – is part of the history of Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley.”
- 1918 – Interracial and interfaith from its inception – Terre Haute Branch was established when racial tensions were high in Terre Haute. Focus areas were employment, education, and voting.
- 1930s – One of the early initiatives of the local NAACP was the establishment of the Phyllis Wheatley House, originally for working Black women. It became a dormitory for Black female students who were excluded from residing in Indiana State Teachers College (ISTC) campus due to segregated customs of the time. [Located at 1105 Poplar St.] It operated as a dorm for Black women from the 1930a to the late 1940s when campus housing opened up for Black women.
- 1953 – Judge Webster Brewer served as chair of the Terre Haute Branch Board; Brewer was then in his 10th year of judicial service (Indianapolis Criminal Court).
- 1960s – Issues confronting national and local NAACP: Selma, Alabama, voting rights, and the Freedom Fighters. Funds were raised though a special emergency Selma Fund Drive. Also, the Branch wired President Lyndon Johnson an urgent appeal letter, to protect voting rights of Black citizens.
- Other issues: discrimination in housing and education. In 1965, after a long fought battle, the Indiana Legislature passed Education and Housing bills. Also, the infamous Indiana miscegenation bill was repealed. The local Lockport Public Housing Project was fully desegregated and Black families began to move in in 1965.
- 1968 – Local artist and teacher, Donald Turner, became Branch President a few days after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A native of Terre Haute and a student at Indiana State University at the time of his leadership in the organization, Turner first served as Housing Committee chairperson before becoming president. They focused on discrimination in housing, employment, and public education. They also had to deal with pressing police issues.
- 1970s & 1980s – Great membership growth period, perhaps due largely to very active membership campaigns spearheaded by Warren Clevenger, Alfreda Buckner, Mary Hornbeak, Orville Alexander, and George Curington.
- 1990s through 2018 – Rebuild community interest in NAACP. Sponsor workshops/programs through various committees to accomplish NAACP work. Scholaships for African American students graduating from high school; youth support for academic performance through ACTSO program; establishment of Terre Haute Human Relations Commission; naming of 13th Street to honor Dr. Martin Luthe King Jr. In Terre Haute; local ordinance/City Council Resolution in support of Hate Crimes Bill; developed positive working relationship with all areas of criminal justice system.