Note: A version of this blog post appeared in the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association newsletter in early 2018.
Butler Tarkington’s flagship park is the appropriately named Tarkington Park, located in a square block at 40th and Illinois. However, in the shadow of Tarkington Park, and a short walk to the northwest, is the lesser known Andrew W. Ramsey Park, located in the 300 block of West 42nd Street between Boulevard and Cornelius.
The parks location and orientation is somewhat unique, as it is completely surrounded on three sides by private homes. In fact, the park can be easily missed thanks to the only entrance being at the park's rather limited frontage along 42nd Street, just west of the intersection with Boulevard (see photo above).
The park’s footprint is the result of the prior owners of the land upon which the park sits. City maps note that the entire property, in fact, that entire block, developed in the early 1900’s, was something of an estate, with a large main house, and several outbuildings including a main house. Sometime after 1940, the property was sold to a fraternity at Butler University. In 1971, the property was purchased by the city for use as a park.
Aside from the park’s location and background, the man who it is now named after holds a significant place in the history of Indianapolis. Andrew W. Ramsey, who died in 1973, lived in Butler Tarkington at 3853 Byram Avenue, and was active in the Civil Rights movement in Indianapolis from the 1950’s onward, in addition to being a longtime educator. Mr. Ramsey was born in McMinnville, Tennessee and earned degrees from Butler University and Indiana University. He became a teacher in the Indianapolis Public School system, and taught foreign language at Crispus Attucks, Howe, and Shortridge High Schools.
While working as an edcuator, Ramsey also served with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), including as the president of the state organization and the local Indianapolis chapter.
In addition to his NAACP work, and teaching responsibilities, Mr. Ramsey was also a longtime columnist for the Indianapolis Recorder, writing a column titled Voice from the Gallery. Ramsey started writing the column in 1947 and addressed a wide range of Indianapolis centric and national topics, and provided commentary on numerous civil rights issues.
Ramsey also used his foreign language skills in outreach efforts for migrant workers around Indiana, and in 1972 was hired as a language liaison by a local realty company to provide translation services for foreign language clients.
Through his work as the president of the local NAACP, and while still teaching at Shortridge High School, Mr. Ramsey advocated against racial bias within the Indianapolis Public Schools ("IPS"), and was an instrumental force in helping initiate the law suit against the IPS board which would eventually result in the desecration of the school system. In early 1968, a parent of an IPS student filed a complaint with the US Justice Department alleging a lack of racial integration within IPS, in violation of the US Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Justice Department attorneys investigated the claims, although action was not immediately taken. According to the Indianapolis Star, Ramsey and other NAACP officials conducted a letter writing campaign to the United States Justice Department, encouraging action on segregation within IPS.
On April 27, 1968, the Justice Department filed a notice of intent to sue the IPS school board. Roughly one month later, on May 31, 1968, a lawsuit was filed in the District Court in Indianapolis. This commenced an initial 13 year period of litigation, which also involved the Marion County township schools and state interests. Issues relating to the initial lawsuit, especially related to busing, continued to be litigated into the late 1990’s. Mr. Ramsey retired from teaching in 1972, and died in May 1973.
The Indianapolis Recorder's May 19, 1973 editorial page paid homage to Ramsey, noting him as a "a challenging force to all injustice, wherever he saw it," and that his death was a "substantial loss to the state and city." In considering the name of Ramsey's long running column, the editorial recognized that the name of the column "indicated that he never considered himself a leader, though he was. He only sought to voice those philosophies of justice for the common man." On that same editorial page, the space where Ramsey's column had traditionally appeared was held blank in memorial, save a reference to Ramsey's favorite card game, and the traditional "-30-" denoting the end of a story, and his column.
On May 18, 1974, the city dedicated the park in honor and memory of Mr. Ramsey, who had lived nearby on Byram Avenue. The dedication was sponsored by the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association, with Mr. Ramsey's wife, Sophia, and Mayor Richard Luger providing remarks.
At the time of its dedication, the Indianapolis Star described the park’s amenities as including a basketball court, a spray pool, playground equipment, and a concrete pit with seating for “conversation and theatrical production.” Over time it appears the basketball courts and the conversation pit have been removed, the latter in 2001-2002, although a splash pad and playground remain, along with a shelter house. Aside from the Indy Parks sign at the entrance, there is no reference to Ramsey, or his service to city.
As a side note, it would be an interesting project to compile all of Ramsey's columns into a single volume (I've looked but I could not find such a publication.) I read several of the hundreds columns written by Ramsey and can attest that they range from entertaining to insightful to at time bitingly satirical. Until a full volume is assembled, I recommend you go to Hoosier State Chronicles, select the Indianapolis Recorder, and search for "Andrew W. Ramsey" or Voice from the Gallery to find his past columns.
Indianapolis Recorder, citations noted above.
Indianapolis Star, citations noted above.
IUPUI Baist Atlas Collection.
Shortridge Annual, 1970, p. 100
Special thanks to the Indiana State Library for providing the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper database.