Bil Browning

Martinsville, Indiana

Filed By Bil Browning | October 31, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: Barack Obama, Confederate flag, Indiana, Ku Klux Klan, Martinsville, racism, racist Obama supporters

Martinsville, Indiana is known in Indiana as one of the most bigoted, racist areas of the state. The Ku Klux Klan was headquartered in Martinsville at one time and, well, the effects linger. This image from the small city has taken the state by storm.


Gimme your best caption for all the fame and glory of being our wittiest reader.

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The sign in the front yard says Obama. Are you implying they are racist because of the confederate flag ? Some are proud of what they term "heritage not hate". Sorry, too complicated for me to caption. Guess one has to be from that area to understand. In Palm Springs the display would look eccentric, but I don't think it would spark a controversy.

O.K...I'll say it...I don't get it either ???

from Canada

Indiana was not a Southern State. We were big on the underground railroad and we didn't allow slavery. The confederate flag is a sign of racism here - and you see them around Martinsville quite often. As one of my relatives from the area told me the other day when I asked him who he would be voting for, "I'm voting for the n----r." Yeah.

So's the owner of this house.

OK. What's with the Obama sign ? I took my magnifying glass to look at it.

I wouldn't of known what a confederate flag looks like? Wasn't even sure what a confederate was either to be honest. I'd guess very few would know in Canada? I don't know whether to feel dumb for not knowing, or glad for never having been exposed to this kind of stuff?

So if I see this ever see this flag it's a racism flag?

The question might be more complex in the south, as some argue that it's about southern heritage (their heritage of racism, of course), but in Indiana, there's only one reason someone would have a flag like that.

I actually have to disagree with you on this one whole heartily, while some may signify the Confederate flag with racism, even in Indiana; it is a symbol of Federalism and States Rights issues, or a Constitution argument as old as our Country, as well. You can not tell me as a Yankee city gay boi that it is just a sign of racism.

I actually had a gay rainbow rebel flag that I use and one that I used to wear. But then again I also have a thing for The Dukes of Hazard (C&V not B&L) being a country boi at heart. You see some of us northern good old boys see the rebel flag as a sign of standing up to injustice by the law. So please dont loop all bearers of the Stars and Bars as racists or homophobes or whatever.

Some of us are just proud to stand up and be counted in the opposition to abuse by government and society and our emblem of choice is a rebel flag, with rainbows.

Our rebel yell well its definitely distinct.

im a southerner and i know what that flag stood for and still does to real was not about slavery ,but a defense against the political ,industrial and religious oppression of the north.thanks mr. white i appreciate intelligent comments about our people.i am a klansman fifth generation,but im not racist ,i have the same mind set of the founding fathers about this protective and beneficial organization.some people need to get an honest history on the south ,before they open their ignorant mouths.

Jesse Burpo | July 8, 2009 8:21 PM

yeah maybe the guy was from the south. The flag doesn't stand for racism. I'm from Martinsville, born and raised. We are no more racist than any other town.

"I wouldn't of known what a confederate flag looks like? Wasn't even sure what a confederate was either to be honest."

Wow. The US Civil War and its aftermath has shaped Americans's sense of self, race relations, politics, and God knows how many other things, ever since. It's almost incomprehensible to me that anyone can have even the slightest knowledge of the US without knowing about the Civil War. Hell, just the fact that I'm calling it the Civil War tells everyone something about myself as an American. (Southerns have different names for it)

Canada too, was effected by the war. Before and during it, there was a migration of Americans leaving slavery behind. And after it, there was a migration of Southerners who fled their devasted homes and/or US governance.

It is the historic basis for racism and segration, and a forerunner of the 'culture wars'. It's also the setting for an inumerable number of movies and TV shows.

In any case, the Confederates were the breakaway Southern States that fought the US government to form their own country, the Confederate States of America.

The flag displayed below the American flag in the picture was their battle flag. When the US began to desegregate in the south in the fifties, it was adopted as a symbol of resistance and racism. If you see the flag in a historical context, such as Civil War re-enactments, it is evocative of the CSA. If it's displayed across the back of a pick-up truck with a gun rack, they're sending a different message.

Not understanding this history of the US is as basic as not knowing that they're French and English people in Canada.

"O.K...I'll say it...I don't get it either ???"

That's why I said that, at the risk of sounding dumb for not knowing. I don't understand a lot about Americans and their ways, like Gay Marriage being such a big issue for one. A lot of people from Mexico prefer coming here, along with the snow, because they don't have to deal with issues that they would have to in the US. I could go on and on...
Canada's not the same as the US.

I'm sure if you showed that flag to Canadians, the vast vast majority would have no idea what it is.

"O.K...I'll say it...I don't get it either ???"

That's why I explained it.

"That's why I said that, at the risk of sounding dumb for not knowing."

I didn't say you were dumb. But having said that you didn't know about it, I felt it was incumbent upon me to fill you in. This way, you'll know if it ever comes up again.

"I don't understand a lot about Americans and their ways, like Gay Marriage being such a big issue for one."

These are not unrelated matters. People who cleave onto the old ways, such as keeping the races separated, or owing allegiance to a country that never was, are often the same ones who fear and resist same sex marriage. It's not a coincidence that the Bible Belt and the old Confederacy largely overlap.

"Canada's not the same as the US."

I'm aware of that. I didn't claim my history as yours.

"I'm sure if you showed that flag to Canadians, the vast vast majority would have no idea what it is."

What other Canadians may or may not know about the US Civil War is of no concern to me unless they're a part of this discussion. As I said, I was surprised that you didn't know, but that's on me.

Thanks Rory, no worries.

Ok, now back on topic to "Caption This"

-Never think outside of the Box, live in one !

-The Bumpkin House

-Photo circa 1860

-Rednecks on Trading Spaces

That's interesting. It's almost like people know that their racism is stupid.

On a similar note, there are several Obama signs up in my parents' swanky neighborhood, which is pretty much the same thing. It's almost like "He'll raise my taxes, but at least he won't start another war."

Melanie Davis | November 1, 2008 2:01 AM

"Vive la différence."


"Even rednecks get the blues."


"A house divided against itself cannot stand."


"Hell, I thought it was one of them Halloween headstone decorations."


"...and the doorbell chimes 'Y.M.C.A.'"

Melanie Davis | November 2, 2008 1:47 AM

Hey, let's talk!

I usually wouldn't consider a position for less than 35,000 a year, a company car, company credit card, and company paid no deductible all-inclusive health insurance, but times being as they are, I'll settle for a crust of stale bread once a day and some watered-down Sunny D.

Oh, and mileage reimbursement.

Call me: 219-555-CARDBOARD BOX

What did you expect, they live in a foursquare house (at least I think that is the style).

It's Halloween, the blue Obama sign is probably meant to scare their neighbors..... it worked!

I say give the accolades to Melanie Davis....

But... uh, Indiana had a lot of Southern sympathasizers during our late, great Civil War. The dialect in southern Indiana is mostly due to Virginians and Carolinians settling there. Vincennes used to vie for KKK fame in Indiana, the city park by the river used to be the KKK park/meeting place.

True LynnDavid. Indiana wasn't a part of the Confederacy; our racist history came after that. Three Indiana cities (including Martinsville) were recently featured in a documentary called "Sundown Towns." These were/are the small towns where blacks don't want to be after sundown. Some actually had signs saying so.

In fact I don't live too far away from the 1923 home of Indiana’s Grand Dragon of the KKK, D.C. Stephenson. Arguably the most powerful man in Indiana who was brought down by the vicious rape, and ultimate death, of a young Irvington neighbor, Madge Oberholtzer. The house is reportedly haunted.

Stephenson's spirit definitely lives on though in those rebel flags that dot quite a few Southern Indiana flagpoles and pick up trucks.

Indiana was officially not a "slave territory or state" based in the charter/bill creating the old Northwest Territory. But that didn't stop some people. Luke(?) Decker after whom the town of Decker, Indiana, is named had quite a few slaves. Two of which ran away and were given refuge by Quakers over around Seymour, I think. There was a trial (circa 1812?) trying to get their return, but I think nothing came of it. In Vincennes, there were some original French settlers who held slaves and there were slaves of some of those who came up from Virginia or the Carolinas. Some of the black families in Vincennes owe their ancestry to them.

One of the Catholic Bishops of Vincennes wanted to start a school in Vincennes to educate black children because they were not allowed in the town's school. But he was stopped by the powers that be in the town. There was a Roman Catholic priest in southern Indiana at the time of the Civil War who wrote a letter to the editor of a Catholic newspaper in support of slavery (he happened to be a French immigrant ancestor of mine [1st cousin 4x removed]).

Racism existed in Indiana long before the KKK; all they did was give it another name.

"Yeah, we put out the Obama sign. But just in case he comes around, we put out the cross, too!"

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 1, 2008 7:58 AM

Bil, as you know, my partner is an African-American, a transplant from the East Coast. The subject of the Confederate flag and its meaning to almost all blacks and the great majority of Americans who understand it has been something frequently discussed, and on occasion experienced.

I remember a couple of years ago when we set out to visit every Indiana county seat and snap courthouse pictures. While our experience was almost entirely positive, there were a few anxious moments in a small handfull of counties that I won't name, when that symbol reared its head as a big sticker on a teenager-driven truck, along the side of a two-lane road, or on the back of a tee shirt underneath a "God Bless America" cap. The stares at what may in have some cases been the only person of color in the entire county at the time were obvious.

Nothing happened, and I suspect that those sporting the confederate flag or its representation would have largely scoffed if told that it was offensive. And it may be a good sign that some of the readers of your post seem "not to get it", an indication that an era is finally going to be behind us.

But, lest there be any doubt as to what the symbolism of the Conferate flag still means to most black people in the United states, imagine being a member of the LGBT community and being confronted with a big "FAGGOT!" sign on the town square, along with apologists who explain: "Oh, I didn't realize that offended anyone."

As to Martinsville, I'm one who thinks it comes in for an excessive amount of ridicule because of events in its past, including a still unsolved murder of a black person there many years ago. Arguably some other places in our Hoosier state would be more deserving for less racial progress than Martinsville seems to have generally made.

But clearly, forgetting too soon the meaning of symbols like the Confederate flag is as unwise as never moving on. In that sense, assuming that the pro-Obama sentiment on the yard sign is genuie, the juxtaposition may be a hopeful thing.

Marlboro ads have replaced the confederate flag on the sides of racing autos at INDY 500, but I remember when that was not the case.

I live in Georgia and the Obama sign and the Confederate Battle Flag (Stars and Bars) would NOT appear in the front yard at the same time of anyone here. It's just ain't done. What I also see is many people who will not give up the old Georgia State flag that once has the Stars and Bars. Racism and bigotry is not as suppressed as it is in the North. Here, we have no doubt who the bigots are.

My country... warts and all.

What I find notable about Martinsville --- and I'll say this to give the fill-in to those outside Indiana --- is that it sits right in the middle between Bloomington and Indianapolis, probably the two most liberal cities in the state. (Not that Indianapolis is intrinsically all that liberal ... it's more liberal than the rest of Indiana in the same way that all big cities accumulate a liberal sub-population.)

So ... traveling from Bloomington to Indy (or vice versa) is like crossing through a foreign country --- perhaps like having to go through Coeur d'Alene, Idaho to get to Spokane from Missoula.

Luckily, there is little in Martinsville to encourage the traveling pinko's to stop for a little cultural exchange. Now that State Road 37 is four lanes, a quick transit through Klanland simply involves making sure your gas tank is full when you leave, and hitting a few stoplights on green.

15 years ago I lived in Bloomington and regularly drove up to Indy or spots further north. My partner at the time refused to stop in Martinsville for fear we'd get killed. No matter what, he just kept driving...

Chris Daley | November 1, 2008 9:14 PM

I remember driving back with a car full of mostly drunk folks from an Indy bar (give it up for NYC) when I was at I.U. Even though half the car had to pee, no one wanted to stop in Martinsville to do so. The likelihood of anything happening was pretty low, but the place had such a horrible reputation that none of us wanted to take any chance.

It is great to read from Denise that the town is making a conscious effort to evolve. I think that the pic above is some part of that evolution. It can be really challenging to understand how a symbol that represents such a horrible part of our country's dynamic means something more complex (containing that horror and so much more as well) to some, largely, low-income white folks. I do think efforts to create the kind of change Denise is mentioning benefit from grappling with that challenge, though.

My godmother lives in Bargersville which is about 10 miles from Martinsville. It's a very conservative part of the state (with, as AJ points out, Bloomington and the surrounding area being an exception). She'll tell you without hesitation that some of her neighbors are racist and that Martinsville still has plenty of racist people. But, like Denise, she'll tell you things are changing.

So it's Indiana's version of Vidor, TX

As far as the Confederate battle flag is concerned, using the 'people served with honor under it' spin is akin to saying the same thing to justify flying the flag of Nazi Germany.

Many WW2 German solders fought bravely and honorably on the battlefield as the death camps, the Waffen SS, Nazi party members and their sympathizers carried out their grisly work behind the lines making Europe Judenfrei and cruelly subjugating the peoples of Occupied Europe to build the Third Reich.

Contrary to the BS Southern revisionist historians put out, they seceded from the United States and fought a four year war in order to continue enslaving my ancestors in perpetuity.

Here's Exhibit A, the statements of secession for three states.

South Carolina



They all state slavery as the root cause of their secession from the Union.

So no, the Confederate flag was tainted even before white supremacists started using it as a symbol of opposition to the Civil Rights movement.

Denise Travers | November 1, 2008 4:15 PM

I'm a 20+ year resident of Bloomington, and I just want to make a couple comments.

First off, Martinsville is by far not the only corner of this fair state which daily still struggles with bigotry.

In fact, I believe some genuine and significant efforts have been made in recent years to 'reclaim' Martinsville from its legacy of hate. To the extent that any movement forward is a gift to be celebrated, I'm not sure that it serves the future well to dwell on the town's ugly past.

I believe that the real beauty of the photo is the Obama sign and the Confederate flag co-existing. Those two symbols would -- under any context -- instantly create cognitive dissonance for virtually anyone in the US. The fact that this photo was taken in Martinsville should be making us smile all the broader, not rehash that town's ugly past.

I'll submit that the Confederate flag isn't necessarily only going to be known for "one thing" in Indiana, as has been suggested upthread. With population migration (let alone the ease of "trade" in social and cultural capital), I'm just not sure that we can assume anything about many of this country's most "solid" symbols anymore.

This campaign season has shown me, over and over again, that people can change. Change can happen. I think people are "itchin'" to grow. That's why I get wee tears in my eyes when I see photos like the above. Damn, this is an amazing time to be in the US. I've been waiting a long time to be proud of my country. It feels really good.

John R. Selig | November 1, 2008 6:35 PM

"You had to push Beaureguard to be such a brain and finish 8th grade. I told you school would turn him into a fucking liberal! Now we are going to be forced out of the neighborhood."

Indiana has a substantial blue-collar population and education levels among whites are lower than in Pennsylvania or Ohio or Wisconsin. Definately not a progressive state, but hope Obama wins the state this time. First time a Democrat has won since 1964.

Hell, yeah, I'm a rebel but I ain't crazy.

I must admit that, some years ago, a number of us had the ill-conceived idea of converting the Stars n' Bars (as many call the battle flag used by the Confederate States in the War of Northern Aggression) to pink and purple, and using the triangular transgender emblem first authored by Nancy Nangeroni, in place of the stars. It's probably wise we never did so. i believe the idea had its genesis over shots of George Dickel's at a gay bar in Nashville, but I digress. I still think a Charger with such a flag on the roof, painted lavender, might be a fun thing to drive. However, I don't know of a GLBT general to name it after.

Martinsville's bad news. Been there, won't stop there again, although I must say I love the countryside of Southern Indiana in spite of its history. But do not forget that Corydon, about 20 miles west of Louisville, was where the KKK was actually formed.
I always feel that I am in the presence of evil when I stop there.

OK, one last comment from someone who was BORN in Martinsville, and lived there until he was 17 y.o.? (that would be me.)
Growing up in the 60's and 70's, I had many, many friends and role models who were not in the least racist. Teachers, nuns in catechism, parents taught us the equality of races. There were a few troublemakers (most of whom lived outside city limits) who made redneckism a fine art, but that was by no means limited to expressions of racial bigotry. And they were, by and large, proud descendants of Kentuckians.
The worst incident of racial violence was in 1968 (I was 8 y.o.), when a very young African-American saleswoman was stabbed to death on one of the main streets in town. The tragedy for her family was incalculable, but it was a horrible black mark for Martinsville. Ironically, as reported in the New Yorker (yes, that New Yorker) five or so years ago, the murderer had finally been identified as a drifter out of Indianapolis. Vindication for the community came more than 30 years too late.
When I went to Indiana University, people (not my friends!) thought it was hilarious to point out that I was from Martinsville to get a reaction out of students from Gary. I did not believe that anyone could be so foolish to think that someone must be a racist just because they come from a certain town. I was very wrong. And as a result, friendships suffered.
Today, there is a small but significant African-American population in Martinsville, and I understand that they are happy to be there and practice their professions.
I could write quite a bit more about growing up gay in Martinsville, and personal observations about race in the town, but the point I really want to make is that it is not right to label a community as racist when the majority are people of good will (hey, apparently, the same proportion of people there voted for Obama as in the rest of non-urban Indiana). While one decries bigotry, one must remember not to pepetrate it.

Martinsville is absolutely NOT the headquarters for the KKK. I really wish you would get your facts right.

And I wish you could read, Lisa. Allow me to spell it out for you with some bolding...

The Ku Klux Klan was headquartered in Martinsville at one time

There does your knee feel better now? That big jerk reaction you just had can be quite painful.

As you can read in the comments above (or at any library or Indiana history museum or, hell, in any Indiana history classes taught in school) Martinsville has a history with the KKK. That's just the facts.

And they're right.

Alright, I'm from Martinsville. There are some idiots here, but for the most part, that heritage is behind us. I fancy myself as an accepting person and do not tolerate any form of racism, sexism, or any of bigotry. You will find confederate flags all over this nation. Indiana has an ugly legacy, but Martinsville is no Burmingham.

just a little research will show that the kkk never had a headquarters in martinsville, indiana.
the kkk certainly did exist there, as it did throughout most of indiana, particularly through the 1920's.
but the rumors have continued to run rampant for decades, fueled largely by the murder of the saleswoman in 1968, coupled with the ongoing rumor mills and wives tales that indiana university students and faculty continue to spin.
it was later learned that the woman was killed by out-of-towners. battling iu's propensity to push fiction as fact is a different beast altogether, and their insistence on continuing the tall tales demonstrates their own ignorance, if not the general human tendency to project and point fingers at an easy scapegoat rather than the more difficult task of introspective analysis to see if any such sentiments may actually exist within themselves.

I'm originnaly from Martinsville. Left in 1969. My wife, who is Black, is very afraid to visit based on what I have told her. In fact, White hate groups operate openly in parts of the county, including a church in Baker township that is on land that my family donated. My parents are buried in the cemetary next to the church, and I can't even take my wife to see the graves because I fear violance. Awful place, glad I am in CA. Used to own restaurant in LA. Had customers one day from Bedford. Told them I was from Martinsville. They said that's a rednecki place. I responded: I'm not there antmore.

As a post script. when Bill Garrett was an All-American at Indiana and the first Black basketball starter in the Big 10, he was refused service at a diner in Martinsville after a big victory on the road. His two White teammates, when they were done, found him crying in the car. No wonder Martinsville has such a reputation.. Bloomington at least was an island of tolerance in a sea of hate.

You guys are all stupid everyone is the same and rebels are stupid quit living in the past its a democracy now