Flanner House provides services and resources to sustain and empower individuals in order to build a self-sufficient community. Established in 1898, Flanner Guild, as it was then called, began as a settlement house for African Americans in Indianapolis, part of the nationwide social reform movement. White mortician Frank Flanner donated the original building on Rhode Island Street (now Colton) near Indiana Avenue. Although white Hoosiers started and helped fund the organization, middle-class African Americans, particularly women, took on active leadership roles, including a group of female schoolteachers who made educational and cultural improvement pillars of the organization’s mission. In 1912, the settlement’s name changed to Flanner House.
Growing Pains (1900-1930)
The early activities of Flanner House developed in response to the steady growth of an African American population in Indianapolis after the Civil War and during the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, as thousands of African Americans fled the rural South for northern cities. The increasing population magnified the difficulties facing the black community regarding housing, employment, living conditions, and health care. Over time, the organization became one of Indianapolis’ major social service agencies for African Americans, a population largely excluded from using mainstream support structures. In 1918, the organization relocated to buildings on north West Street. Operating within a system of racial segregation and inequality, Flanner House offered employment assistance, such as training women to work as domestics and laundresses.
Self-Help and A Helping Hand (1936-1975)
Self-help formed one of Flanner House’s key principles from the beginning, but it became a cornerstone of the organization’s mission under the leadership of Dr. Cleo Blackburn, who served as director for some forty years between 1936 and 1975. In 1944, Flanner House moved to 16th and Missouri streets. There, the organization’s services consisted of social services, employment help, health, self-help programs, and housing. Sample programs included sewing and woodworking classes, day care, a self-serve cannery, and a co-op store. To provide preventative health care, the Herman G. Morgan Health Center opened just south of the Flanner House building.
In 1950, Flanner House established Flanner House Homes, Inc. a self-help housing project, to provide low-cost family houses to offset the severe housing shortage caused by Indianapolis's de facto segregation practices. While holding full-time, mostly middle-wage jobs, men in the selected families worked together to build their new homes in their free time. Only 181 houses were constructed in a 178-acre redevelopment area between 10th, 16th, West, and Milburn streets, where the city had razed a so-called “slum,” displacing hundreds of people.
A Community Place (1976-present)
In the 1979, Flanner House moved to its current location on Martin Luther King Jr. Street, where it continues to “empower families and individuals to move from instability to self sufficiency.” The humble, seventies-style building houses a child development center, a senior center, and a program for working families as well as the Flanner House Branch of the Indianapolis Public Library. You’re more than welcome to stop in at the library to browse the shelves, ask the library staff questions, or take advantage of the free Internet.