The Color of Muncie

Facing Poverty in Muncie, Indiana, Poverty

I was born in Muncie in 1945 and grew up in the Whitely neighborhood. I have lived in town all my life. My father worked at the wire mill and my mother stayed at home and raised me and my 11 siblings. I was the youngest child. When I was 15, I moved into public housing with my mother. Due to finances, I lived in public housing for many years after that. I graduated from Muncie Central in 1963 and married the following year. I had two children, both boys. I was married for four years and the marriage ended in divorce. Fourteen years later I had another son and I married his father. We were married for many years and purchased a home in the Industry section of Muncie. My second husband passed away in 2001.

A few years after high school I began working for Head Start as a teacher. I started as an Assistant Teacher and was later promoted to Head Teacher. I worked there for 32 years. I truly loved my job at Head Start and enjoyed working with all of the children. This job also worked well with my schedule, as I did not need to arrange care for my children.

Although I did not graduate from college, I briefly attended Ivy Tech and Ball State University. I also studied for one semester in Lansing, Michigan, in order to receive additional training. After Head Start I worked as a Child Specialist at the Youth Opportunity Center for seven years. I worked with children who had behavioral problems. I am now retired. I have two grown sons and one son has passed away.

I have witnessed many changes in Muncie over the years, particularly in the area of race relations. The span of my life as an African-American woman shows me both the progress that has been made regarding race in Muncie as well as the many difficulties and challenges that still remain.

When I was a child, I remember that blacks were allowed to order meals “to go” from the counter at Kresge’s Five and Dime downtown, but they were not allowed to sit at the counter and eat. I remember that Tuhey Pool was for whites only. Blacks had to swim at Phillips Lake, which was part of the stone quarry.

Also, when I was a child there was only one side of McCullough Park that we as blacks could go on. The side that borders Martin Luther King Boulevard (formerly Broadway Avenue) was for us. The other side was for whites. The only time that blacks were allowed onto the other side was on the Fourth of July for the fireworks. In a way I can say that this was okay because that was all we knew. It had to be okay since that’s just the way it was. The park began to be integrated when I was a teenager.

When I was a child, black women worked mostly as domestic help and also as kitchen staff in the restaurants. There were no black waitresses at this time in Muncie. I knew women that did domestic work in the homes of white families, which included cleaning, cooking, and sometimes watching the children. They were paid $25 per week. Myself, I always knew that I was not going to do this type of work.

Black men worked mainly at the foundries and mills during this period. In fact, it was many years before large numbers of black men began working at the Chevrolet and General Motors plants. Also, in the black community we did not use the terms “low-income” or “middle-income.” If the father had a decent job, we said that family was “living well.” I also remember that as a girl growing up, there were a few black police officers on the force. However, they were not allowed to go into certain white neighborhoods and make arrests.

These days, I, along with many others in the black community, feel that Muncie still has a lot of work to do to improve the race situation. I often wonder why I do not see many black nurses or black receptionists in doctors’ offices here in town. There are also very, very few black waiters and waitresses. We are certainly capable of doing these jobs. We just need to be given more of a chance to do so.

Getting back to my life in Muncie, I am enjoying my retirement these days and I love spending time with my granddaughter. My youngest son and his wife live in town and I am able to visit with them from time to time. I am also very active in my church and feel that I am continuing to grow in the Word there.

— As told to Shawn Teague, Ball State Graduate Student in Sociology

This story originally appeared in Facing Poverty, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by TEAMwork for Quality Living in Muncie, Indiana.

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