Moment of Indiana History

Evansville African American Museum

With its spacious dimensions, pleasant views and various amenities, Lockefield Gardens in Indianapolis distinguished itself among housing projects erected in the 1930s under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration. After the complex closed in the 1970s, however, all but seven of the project’s original 24 buildings were demolished. Lockefield Gardens’ significance in the city’s history—especially that of its African-American community—was acknowledged by the placement of its extant structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another significant landmark from the New Deal era was facing obliteration in the late 1990s, before a community activist intervened. The only other PWA housing project built in Indiana—one of the first fifty built in the US—went up in Evansville’s historically African-American community known as Baptisttown. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt herself cut the ribbon at the Evansville project’s 1938 opening. With such facilities as its own USO, the segregated Lincoln Gardens complex went beyond housing the city’s poor to serving as the center of black life in a neighborhood that was well served by its own cadre of professionals—from black doctors and lawyers to teachers and merchants.

By 1998, all but one of the project’s original buildings had been razed. Sondra Matthews, who grew up in Lincoln Gardens, managed to persuade the Evansville Housing Authority to deed the remaining structure to the board of the Evansville African American Museum, which opened in June 2007. The facility showcases memorabilia from the city’s all-black schools, and pays homage to such celebrated native sons as jazz drummer “Big Sid” Catlett and actor Ron Glass. Visitors may also tour a restored one-bedroom apartment that would have housed a family of six.

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