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The Early Integration of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood

Regular readers of this blog know that many posts are related to the history of my neighborhood, Butler-Tarkington. Posts on this site relating to the neighborhood also often appear in the BTNA newsletter. One of the major historical points in the neighborhood’s history is the period in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the neighborhood was undergoing a period of increased, and more widespread integration. This time period also saw the creation of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association ("BTNA"), founded by neighbors in 1960, although its predecessor, the Butler-Tarkington Civic Association, had been operating since 1956.

This post will be the first of a series which will look at the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, its history with segregation and racial issues in the first half of the 20th century, and the founding of the BTNA and the Civil Rights era in the neighborhood. To start this series, we first need to explore and understand the extent that the neighborhood was integrated prior to the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the neighborhood, and BTNA, were known for working towards a peaceful integration of the neighborhood.

The integration in the 1950’s and 1960’s was more related to the striking down of racially based housing restrictions which limited African Americans to certain parts of Butler-Tarkington, most notably to areas south of 42nd Street. As detailed later, from the 1910's onward, the area that would later become Butler-Tarkington, which had been predominantly white in the second half of the 19th century, and early 20th, already had African American families settling in the future neighborhood. However, the extent of this early integration was limited both in numbers and geographic area. The Google map below shows the homes owned or rented by African American families in Butler-Tarkington based on US census data from 1920, 1930, and 1940. Each census year is color coded, and you can select to view each year alone, or with the other years for comparison. Click on the small arrow box in the upper left corner to open a menu to select and deselect the census year layers.

As the map shows, African American families were already living in the future Butler-Tarkington in 1920, and in fact, information indicates some of these families were residing in the neighborhood several years before. Prior to this, the area around Mapleton, at 38th and Illinois, and the surrounding farms, was a largely white area.

As shown on the map, the number of families increases in 1930 and 1940. A few comments about this map. First, the individual addresses on the map usually identify the heads of the household, their spouse, as well as any children or others living at that address. If the census data identified whether the property was owned or rented, that too is noted. The 1940 census also indicated whether the family residing at the home had lived at that same address in 1935. I’m guessing this was a Great Depression related question to gauge displacement during that period.

Also, the data being gathered was subject to the whims of the enumerators. Admittedly, there may be some inaccurate information contained in the census records and the enumerators own interpretations and opinions may skew the data. For example, the 1920 census identifies almost every African American family recorded in the neighborhood as “mulatto.” There are a few exceptions where the family is noted to be “Black,” but these only appear a few times. Unclear why this was done, but some families who lived in the same location during the later 1930, or 1940 census were identified as Black in those years, evidencing the inconsistency with the 1920 information. While investigating this, I found an excellent blog post from the genealogy blog, Reclaiming Kin. The author of the blog, named Robyn, explains that the "mulatto" designation was based on an 'eyeball assessment' of the enumerator, and the individuals being counted for the census were not actually asked their race. Thus, the numerous 'mulatto' designations in the 1920 census were likely inaccurate and based instead on the enumerator's own observations and opinions.

The location of the families who had moved into the neighborhood should also be closely reviewed over the course of the three census years. A common factor between the three maps, and referenced above, is the lack of African American households north of 42nd Street. There are several factors contributing to this.

First, in 1920, much of the southern end of Butler-Tarkington had been platted and was in the process of being subdivided for residential housing. In contrast, the area north of 42nd Street remained less developed and generally agricultural, dominated by several large farms (including the Blue family’s fruit farms), and Fairview Park (soon to be the site of Butler University). Even the area south of 42nd Street was not fully developed, as noted in the 1916 Baist map for the area below. Undeveloped lots and blocks were still quite common in the area leading up to 1920. 42nd Street is at the top of this map, with 38th (a.k.a. Maple Ave.) at the bottom. The town of Mapleton was centered around the area at the bottom right of this map.

Baist maps Indianapolis history
Credit: IUPUI Sanborn & Baist Collection, 1916 Baist Atlas

A small number of African American families had already moved into Butler-Tarkington by 1920, and I located several advertisements in the Indianapolis Recorder which were advertising for homes and lots in the neighborhood and were directed towards African American homebuyers. An early ad in the October 5, 1912, edition of the Indianapolis Recorder advertised property all around Indianapolis, including empty lots in "Columbia Place," highlighted in yellow, which is in the southern part of Butler-Tarkington, just north of 38th Street (the "Columbia" name is visible in the Baist map above).

Indianapolis Recorder, October 5, 1912

Later ads in the Recorder continued to advertise property for rental and purchase in the future Butler Tarkington. This ad for a rental property on Cornelius in the Recorder on September 17, 1927:

The 1930 census data shows a growing number of African American families, but still none north of 42nd (or east of Boulevard). The areas north of 42nd are mostly developed at this point, but it is possible that the real estate companies developing these areas were restricting the buyers in the area. A recent interactive exhibit from the Fair Housing Center for Central Indiana, titled 'Unwelcomed: A Fair Housing History of Sales & Lending Discrimination,' detailed racial covenants in place for housing developments around Indianapolis. Information on this exhibit can be viewed here, and credit to Jordan Ryan for their research on that exhibit. After viewing Unwelcomed, I searched for similar restrictions in Butler-Tarkington, and found a few advertisements for new housing developments referencing "restrictions" associated with the property. One advertisement for the Beverly Heights section of the neighborhood (44th south to 43rd, and Sunset to Illinois on the east and west) detailed restrictions in the development:

Indianapolis Star, June 18, 1916

The advertisement mentions construction requirements, and restrictions on apartment buildings and billboards. Racial restrictions are not expressly mentioned, but the ad notes that "valuable restrictions that protect the purchaser from all kinds of undesirable encroachments--such restrictions as cannot be secured downtown at any price--are in effect." Statements such as this often-indicated racial restrictions, or that the developer would not sell to non-white buyers.

Admittedly, the information on racial restrictions derived from advertisements is limited, as I am unable to review the actual deeds for the properties, which would formally record these restrictions. However, these "restrictions" detailed in this ad, and others, likely contributed to the limited part of the neighborhood where African American families were living at the time of the 1920/1930/1940 censuses.

Indianapolis history Buter-Tarkington
Indianapolis Recorder, June 29, 1929

Additionally, there were various neighborhood and civic associations operating in the area, both in Butler-Tarkington, and the northside as a whole, who were opposed to integration. Included among these groups was the Northside Federation of Civic Groups, and the University Services Club, both of which opposed integration and actively sought to restrict African American homeowners. The excerpt from the Recorder in 1929 details information about the University Service Club. The latter club was apparently active in Butler-Tarkington itself, and on September 13, 1930, the Indianapolis Recorder reported that the club "was perfected for the purpose of preventing colored people from owning property in what is known as the Butler-Fairview addition." (NOTE: a blog post focusing on the activities of these neighborhood groups, and the founding of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association is in the works, and should be posted sometime in June)

The 1940 census map shows many more African American families, but still none north of 42nd. The reasons discussed above likely still played a role this, although the practice of redlining was also now in play. Redlining came about as a result of the policies of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the mid 1930's when maps were established to evaluate the risk for real estate investment within cities around the country. Various factors were considered in these assessments, including race and socio-economic conditions. The name came from the maps developed as part of this process which divided locations into four color coordinated categories: Best (green), Still Desirable (blue), Definitely Declining (yellow), and Hazardous (red). Areas in the yellow and red zones were often African American neighborhoods, and faced disinvestment and limitations for obtaining mortgages, insurance, and other financial opportunities. The Mapping Inequality website which provides online access to the redlining maps, can be accessed via this link.

Butler-Tarkington was not in a "red" zone, but as can be seen in the map below, most everything south of a line running roughly along 43rd street was in a yellow, or ‘declining’ zone, while north of that line was a green zone. The yellow zone which covered southern Butler-Tarkington continued south into the Crown Hill neighborhood.

Also note the eastern boundry of the yellow zone in Butler-Tarkington corresponds to Capitol Avenue. This could help explain the lack of African American families residing east of Boulevard. Additionally, while the yellow zone in Butler-Tarkington ran along 43rd street, the Area Description form (shown below) which accompanied the maps, reinforced the 42nd Street line which was a de facto northern boundry for African American families in the 1920 and 1930 census. The Area Description notes in the "Clarifying Remarks" that a "narrow strip--42nd to 43rd Sts. from Boulevard Place west, solid white section but affected by several negro families in section south of 42nd St."

Also note that the Area Description indicates "negro" infiltration into this section, although, as noted above, African American families had been living in this area for over 20 years by the time the redlining maps were created. Through the redlining policies, and other forces described above, African American families would continue to be prevented from purchasing or renting homes north of 42nd Street at the time of the 1940 census, and redlining would continue to be an ongoing influence in Butler-Tarkington's development in the coming years.

This blog post, and the Google map above, will be an ongoing project, and updates will be made as additional information is found. Most important among the future updates will be a review of the 1950 census, which was just recently made public. However, the amount of data contained in that census will require quite a bit of time to review and add to this map. Additionally, as noted, above, other blog posts related to the history of Butler-Tarkington will be posted in the next few months.

Hopefully this post, and the Google Map above, can help the residents of Butler-Tarkington better understand the history of their neighborhood. Also, I hope the map can help those residents who have lived in the neighborhood since the 1920-40's, and the descendants of the African American families who moved into the neighborhood 100 years ago, explore this history and serve as an encouragement to explore the census data firsthand.


Indianapolis Recorder: October 5, 1912, September 17, 1927, June 29, 1929, September 13, 1930

Indianapolis Star: June 18, 1916

United States 1920, 1930, and 1940 Census Records (Accessed through Library Edition, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library

"About That Mulatto," Reclaiming Kin: Taking Back What Was Lost,

'Unwelcomed: A Fair Housing History of Sales & Lending Discrimination, Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana,


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