Skip to Content

O, Pioneer

WEAVER, IND. (WPTA21)-It’s the image that shocked the world then and shocks us now, two black teenagers, Abe Smith and Tom Shipp, dragged from a jail cell on August 7th 1930 and hanged on the lawn of the Grant County courthouse in Marion, Indiana for a crime they didn’t commit. The amusement, and raw hatred on the faces of the crowd that watched it.

Five miles south of that courthouse lawn is another chapter of Grant County’s black history…these broken headstones marking the graves of Black pioneers. In 1840 thirteen covered wagons carrying Black families left North Carolina in search of a better life. They stopped here, south of Marion, and built a community.

There were stores there were schools there were churches,” says sociologist Kersten Priest. “It was a thriving community of hundreds of people, even before the Civil War.”

This was Weaver, Indiana, a Black settlement of farmers, school teachers, businessmen. That’s Jack Pettiford outside his blacksmith shop, if its made of iron they’d say Jack Pettiford can fix it or make it.

Norma Johnson’s a descendant of the original Weaver settlers, works hard to keep their stories alive.

She always told me and how everybody was related to me,” Johnson recalls. “And she would say ‘you know cousin Edith Peek and I used to swim in the pond. And I couldn’t go in the water because my hair would krinkle up and hers wouldn’t.’”

For one hundred years the Weaver settlement thrived, it’s farmers tilling 3000 acres of rich Grant County land. By 1930 though things began to change. Young families left for jobs in Chicago and Detroit. Young men left for the service, Lewis Jackson flew fighters with the Tuskegee Airmen, that’s Eleanor Roosevelt in the back seat of his plane. Edwin Pettiford was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in World War Two. By 1940 Weaver, Indiana was gone but it’s been resurrected at the Marion Public Library and Museum in this exhibit of photographs and artifacts that tells Weaver’s story of close families, good friends, tireless workers. Just five miles south but a world away from that tragedy on the Grant County courthouse lawn. A story rich in human dignity, a story that asks us, now, to pay attention.

Eric Olson

Skip to content