Leora Brown School
Indiana has a rich legacy of African American schools such as Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis, Lincoln High School in Evansville, and Roosevelt High School in Gary that emerged as the result of racial exclusion and segregation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it is interesting to note that African Americans were not initially excluded from Indiana’s public schools in the state’s 1851 Constitution. Statewide legal provisions for an education system required the state government “to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge and equally open to all.” Nevertheless, a series of laws introduced prior set a precedent for racial exclusion, and two acts introduced in 1853 and 1855 further restricted African American education by barring black students from any state educational benefits. Few educational opportunities were open to black children with the exception of a handful of private schools created by religious organizations until, in 1869, Governor Conrad Baker approved a law that enabled all children to attend segregated public schools.
Despite a rhetoric of “separate but equal,” black and white schools were far from equal in terms of the quality of their facilities and educational resources. Black schools were often overcrowded, run-down, and inadequately equipped by comparison to white schools. However, the creation of African American schools did open new employment opportunities to educated blacks, who became teachers in these institutions.
The Corydon Colored School of Corydon, Indiana was among those separate African American schools that emerged after Governor Baker’s education mandate, and the school graduated its first high school class in 1897. One 1923 graduate named Leora Brown benefitted greatly from her education at Corydon’s African American school, and she went on to complete a college degree at Blaker’s Teachers College of Indianapolis. A year later, Brown found professional employment as a teacher at her old school, where she continued to teach there for 26 years. During her many years at the Corydon Colored School, Brown witnessed the end of segregation in Indiana schools.
In 1949, the Indiana state legislature took steps toward eliminating inequality in the education system. The legislature introduced a law< which required that schools be “equally open to all and prohibited and denied to none because of race, creed, color, or national origin,” and sought to “abolish, eliminate and prohibit segregated and separate schools or school districts on the basis of race, creed or color.” All public schools were ordered to integrate black and white students by 1954. As a result, the Corydon Colored School closed in 1950, and its students transferred to formerly all-white schools. Unfortunately, the integration of public schools also eliminated teaching positions for many African American educators, including Leora Brown, who left the employ of the Corydon Colored School with its closing. Discrimination continued, as few black teachers were able to acquire positions in integrated schools. For example, by October 1954, only 27 of the 396 black teachers employed by the Indianapolis school system worked in integrated schools.
Several decades after the Corydon Colored School’s closing, Brown’s descendants restored the school house, renamed it in her honor, and today it serves as a cultural education and community center to “continually educate people about the contributions of the African-American community.” To learn more about Leora Brown and this historic school see the Leora Brown School marker and corresponding marker review report.