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Muncie church that stood against KKK needs help standing

Drive to raise $60,000

CNN News Wire | 8/29/2013, midnight
One night when the worst of Hoosier humanity was on murderous display, a little church in Muncie brought out the ...
Shaffer chapel.

MUNCIE, IN — One night when the worst of Hoosier humanity was on murderous display, a little church in Muncie brought out the best in its congregation, supporters and townspeople.

Eighty-three years after Shaffer Chapel stood up the Ku Klux Klan, the church at the corner of Highland Avenue and Wolff Street on Muncie’s northeast side, needs help to keep standing.

The church and its members are leading a drive to raise $60,000 by the end of September to make the 120-year-old chapel handicapped accessible, to improve restrooms and windows and to landscape the grounds.

The drive is led by Cornelius Dollison, who married his wife Mary in the church 51 years ago.

“We have to know and understand our history before we can move forward, and realize that all those things that happened 83 years ago, that’s part of our history,” said Dollison, as he stood in the sun before Sunday morning services. “We have to look forward but we have to know and understand what happened back in that time to realize how important our freedoms are that we enjoy.”

Those freedoms were enforced with guns and prayers one night in the summer of 1930.

In nearby Marion, a White woman was raped and her husband was killed.

Three Black teens, Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith and James Cameron, were locked up in Marion’s downtown jail.

Outside crowds formed and townspeople howled.

After dark, on Aug. 7, the mob broke into the jail, bound the teens and took them to a tree on the grounds of the Grant County courthouse.

Cameron was spared. Shipp and Smith were hung in what is the last recorded lynching in a northern state.

An iconic photograph was snapped of the murdered youths and the crowd.

Jazz singer Billie Holiday’s lament, “Strange Fruit,” was based on a poem about the lynching.

The KKK intimidated the sheriff of Grant County and would not permit him to take the bodies down as a warning to other Blacks about the fate that would befall them if they should be arrested in Marion.

Local churches and funeral homes were refused to retrieve the corpses.

One Muncie minister/mortician would not be terrorized, though.

“They came together because it took that for that pastor at the time, whose name was J.E. Johnson, to go all the way to Marion and actually get the officials from Muncie to go along with him so that they could get the two young men that were lynched, to bring the bodies back to give them a proper christian burial,” said Rev. Christopher G. Randolph, the current pastor of Shaffer American Methodist Episcopal Church.

The bodies were transported to Highland Avenue and Wolff Street on Muncie’s northeast side where Rev. Johnson prepared them at his mortuary three doors down from the church.

“The Klan was rallying to take the dead bodies and drag them through the streets,” said Rev. Randolph.

Former State Representative Hurley Goodall was born three years before the lynching. He’s lived down the street and attended Shaffer Chapel all his life.