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"Neighborhood of Saturdays" 

When IUPUI Department of Anthropology Professor Susan Hyatt heard about an annual neighborhood reunion the first Saturday in August, she didn't realize that she had stumbled on a significant piece of Indianapolis cultural history.

The "Neighborhood of Saturdays," as it is now commonly referred to, was a multi-ethnic area on the Southside of downtown Indianapolis (near Lucas Oil Stadium and Shapiro's Deli) that was prominent from the 1920s through the 1960s. Hyatt learned about how African-Americans and Jews were integrated there and decided to do an anthropologic study on the region through a two-semester course. The results were published in a collaborative book: "The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis' South Side." The book can be purchased here, and proceeds benefit the Concord Neighborhood Center.

"I met an African-American family just by chance, and I was talking to one member of the family, and she was telling me how the families displaced when I-70 was built, but still get together once a year for a neighborhood reunion," Hyatt says. "The first year that I went to the picnic, I started interviewing people, and they began talking about its multi-ethnic character and their Jewish neighbors."

The bustling produce market on the near Southside of Indianapolis remained a thriving local business and employer for many residents in the Neighborhood of Saturdays. - COURTESY OF SIDNEY ESKENAZI
  • Courtesy of Sidney Eskenazi
  • The bustling produce market on the near Southside of Indianapolis remained a thriving local business and employer for many residents in the Neighborhood of Saturdays.

In a chance encounter later in the year, Hyatt was able to track down some of the Jewish neighbors and started bringing both demographics together. By the time students started working on it, there was a plethora of people volunteering to do interviews and genuine excitement stemming from the project.

Hyatt said the book was called the Neighborhood of Saturdays because the first Saturday of August was the African-American picnic every year, and Saturday is the Sabbath for the Jewish community. The students in her class studied ethnographic methods and worked with residents to accumulate narratives, old photos, yearbooks, bulletins and pieces of neighborhood history.

For IUPUI graduate student Patricia Jordan, the project was particularly meaningful because she discovered family lineage through the project. She said she had no prior knowledge of the historical significance of the neighborhood or that her family had lived there before taking the course.

"I was at the Concord Center to do interviews, and someone stopped me and said 'I know you; your eyes -- I know your family,'" Jordan says. "I got a self-identity that I was able to explore. To hear other people talk about my family helped me feel closer to them. It started off as a class project, but I learned about my family, oral history and how the past is very important. How it explains the past, present and future."

Jordan said the project also exposed her to other cultures and was more powerful than "reading out of a textbook or watching a YouTube video."

The class photo from 1935 for Indianapolis Public School #22 began showing slight ethnic diversity of the neighborhood. - COURTESY OF NEIGHBORHOOD OF SATURDAYS FAMILY MEMBERS
  • Courtesy of Neighborhood of Saturdays Family Members
  • The class photo from 1935 for Indianapolis Public School #22 began showing slight ethnic diversity of the neighborhood.

The reason these two specific ethnic communities lived side by side in the Southside neighborhood is unknown. One common theory, according to Hyatt, is that African-Americans were moving north to get away from sharecropping and Deep South racism, while Jews were fleeing oppression overseas in Europe.

Hyatt says, "I think they both landed in this one little piece of land and they wanted to find peace and opportunities for their family and they were done with the kind of histories they had each experienced."

She says many Jews were also placed by job agencies, which had a goal to move Jews away from the highly concentrated areas on the East Coast, because they were concerned that could lead to the creation of Jewish ghettos. Other Jews and African-Americans heard of the high job potential in Indianapolis or had family in the area and decided to settle in the neighborhood.

Thus, the neighborhood was born, and people of all ethnicities started settling in the area, indifferent to cultural and skin differences.

African-Americans "lived across the street, and down the street," former Southside resident Gladys Nisenbaum says in an interview for WYFI broadcast "The Story of the Jews: A Neighborhood of Saturdays.""We were in school together. We were all poor. We were all immigrants."


The children played together and went to school together through eighth grade, when they were forced by law to go to segregated schools; regardless of race, this neighborhood was integrated. Kids played together in Babe Denny Park, African-Americans and Jews went to the same stores and restaurants, met at the Concord Center for camps, programs and clubs, and learned about each other's cultures.

"I am amazed at how much the African Americans know about Jewish traditions; they picked up so much living in that neighborhood," Hyatt says. "They know all about kosher and that kind of stuff."

The project has brought about events across Indianapolis featuring the neighborhood and its ability to ignore social norms and live a life without prejudice. Neighbors look forward to catching up, reminiscing about what life was like and sharing the story about what life can be like if people come together.

By 1944, school #22's diversity increased, as did the community's population of Jewish and African-American residents. - COURTESY OF NEIGHBORHOOD OF SATURDAYS FAMILY MEMBERS
  • Courtesy of Neighborhood of Saturdays Family Members
  • By 1944, school #22's diversity increased, as did the community's population of Jewish and African-American residents.

Just last year, the neighborhood held a joint Passover Seder and Easter service, and on March 30, the community came together once again at the Jewish Community Center for a dramatic reading by students involved in the project, followed by a panel discussion led by Indianapolis Star columnist Erika Smith. Much of the discussion ranged around hard feelings for the destruction of the neighborhood to build Interstate 70, and the desire to rebuild in the area and remind Indianapolis what true community looks like.

"People's lives were truly affected by the highway," Jordan says. "It was unheard of to have a cohesive and ethnic neighborhood. We have pictures. We have stories, and it's all true. Who would have thought it would happen in Indianapolis? It's amazing that it happened."

Jordan says that it is an important part of Indiana history that should be in local museums and portrayed as an important period in Indiana history.

"I think one of the greatest things about doing this program and the things Susan and folks have done is to give the message and what happened so long ago," Jewish Community Center Director of Arts and Education Lev Rothenberg says. "I think [the story] can really move us forward and open up the future."

This scene was captured at South Calvary Baptist Church, one of the spiritual hubs of the Neighborhood of Saturdays. - COURTESY OF NEIGHBORHOOD OF SATURDAYS FAMILY MEMBERS
  • Courtesy of Neighborhood of Saturdays Family Members
  • This scene was captured at South Calvary Baptist Church, one of the spiritual hubs of the Neighborhood of Saturdays.
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About The Author

Michael Gorin

Michael Gorin

Bio:
Michael Gorin is a financial planner for WestPoint Financial Group by day and freelance journalist at night. He is originally from St. Louis and graduated from Butler University in 2014. Michael enjoys friends and family, sports and staying active in the community with the Young Jewish Leadership Division and... more

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