Reviving a Forgotten Freetown: Preserving the Legacy of the U.S. Colored Troops in Southeast Indianapolis

Kaila Austin, an independent scholar, will conduct an oral history and archive project with the descendants of U.S. Colored Troops in two small African American communities, Norwood and Lovetown, which began as Reconstruction-era settlements outside Indianapolis in 1872. The founders were veterans from Kentucky, drawn to the area due to its proximity to Camp Fremont, home of the 28th Infantry, Indiana’s only U.S. Colored Troops regiment. Norwood and its partner community Lovetown were affluent, independent Freetowns until they were annexed into Indianapolis in 1912. Today more than 15 descendant families still live on the lots their ancestors purchased over a century and a half ago. Because of their stability, each family has home-based archives dating back to Emancipation, tracking nearly every person and story in their extensive history. This grant will allow for Austin and a team of scholars to discover more about how this resilient community has retained its history, culture and spirit, often in the face of unrelenting injustice.

Kaila Austin is an Indianapolis-based public historian, writer and artist who runs a consulting firm that helps historical African American communities mobilize their histories to save their ancestral spaces. With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Association of African American Museums recently appointed her to a working group that will collaborate with museum-industry experts to address key challenges of the African American–focused museum field. Austin has served as a Burroughs-Wright Emerging Professional Fellow for the Association of African American Museums and as a fellow in the Indiana Arts Commission’s On-Ramp Creative Entrepreneur Accelerator. She holds a degree in art history, painting and African American and African Diaspora studies from Indiana University.