The 1930 mid-term elections would not be good for the Republicans. The Indiana Congressional delegation would go from 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats to 4 Republicans and 9 Democrats.
Despite the grim economic situation, there were the occasional seeds of future success being planted. In 1931, the Indianapolis Municipal Airport opened. It would later come to be known as the Indianapolis International Airport. But, in the interim, it was known as Weir Cook Municipal Airport after Harvey Weir Cook, a World War I flying ace who was born in Wilkinson, Indiana. He graduated from Anderson High School and went to DePauw. Weir Cook would later command air bases in New Caledonia during World War II where he died while hunting an enemy submarine. Another economic seed was planted when Ermal Marsh opened his first Marsh Food Store in Muncie, Indiana in 1931.
Strange Fruit in Marion
In August of 1930, Indiana received notoriety due to the lynching of two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana.
On August 6, white couple Claude Deeter and Mary Ball had been parked at a local lover’s lane in Marion. Deeter had been shot and killed. The Marion Chronicle Tribune had reported that Mary had been raped. On August 7, a mob formed at the Grant County Jail, and Ball’s father demanded that Shipp and Smith, who had been arrested for the murder be turned over to the mob. The police refused (though some reports suggest the refusal may have been mostly token), and the mob stormed the jail and dragged the inmates out into the square and hanged. Smith’s attempts to free himself were such that the mob lowered him to the ground, broke his arms, and raised him back up.
A third person — 16 year old James Cameron was also dragged out and almost murdered too:
“After 15 or 20 minutes of having their pictures taken and everything, they came back to get me,” Cameron told NPR in 1994. “Just then the sheriff, and he was sweating like somebody had throwed a bucket of water in his face. He told the mob leader: ‘Get the hell out of here, you already hung two of ’em so that ought to satisfy ya.’ Then they began to yell for me like a favorite basketball or football player. They said: ‘We want Cameron, we want Cameron, we want Cameron.’
“And I looked over to the faces of the people as they were beating me along the way to the tree. I was pleading for some kind of mercy, looking for a kind face. But I could find none. They got me up to the tree and they got a rope and they put it around my neck. And they began to push me under the tree. And that’s when I prayed to God. I said, ‘Lord have mercy, forgive me my sins.’ I was ready to die.”
That’s when some people say a local Marion citizen stood on the hood of his car and shouted, “He’s innocent, he didn’t do it.”
Somehow, that stopped the momentum of the mob. Cameron was lowered, the noose was removed, and he was returned to custody. Cameron said that Smith and Shipp had murdered Deeter. Ball later retracted the rape claim — and it seems to have been the alleged rape of a white woman by a black man, more than the murder, that provoked the lynching. One of the black policemen in town reported that the worst part wasn’t the lynching. Rather, “it was the belling . . . White people drove their cars down into South Marion, dragging cans from their bumpers and shooting guns in the air. ‘I bet you every car in town was in that belling,’”
The picture became famous and, among other things, inspired the poem “Strange Fruit” by Abel Meeropol:
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
This, in turn, became the famous Billie Holiday song. There were no legal consequences for the lynchers. The Grant County grand jury returned no indictments. The Attorney General issued warrants and brought two men to trial, but their juries quickly returned not guilty verdicts. No further prosecution was attempted. Cameron, was, however, convicted of accessory to manslaughter and served four years in jail.
Concluding this entry on Harry Leslie: Despite the Depression era challenges Leslie faced and despite the Republicans being routed in a landslide in the election of 1932, Leslie’s administration was generally praised as being “honest, efficient, and economic.” Leslie himself would become President of the Standard Life Insurance Company in Indianapolis. He became friends with such luminaries as Will Rogers and George Ade. Leslie died in 1937 of heart disease while visiting Ade in Miami, Florida.
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