New Albany: African American History

Tour curated by: University of Louisville Public History Program

African Americans, enslaved and free, had a presence in Floyd County from the beginnings of European settlement in the area. The 1830 census listed 265 black residents. The population grew dramatically in later decades. By 1860 New Albany had the largest number of African Americans in Indiana. Free blacks worked in shipbuilding, as wagon drivers and draymen, and on the Ohio River as boatmen, firemen, cooks, engineers, and chambermaids. A few owned property. Many lived in the West Union neighborhood, which became a target of racism as debate over slavery escalated. African Americans lent support to runaway slaves fleeing the South and served valiantly in the Civil War.

The history of African Americans in New Albany is evident in many sites. Churches, public buildings, private houses, bridges, and cemeteries reflect the lives and experiences of African Americans. This tour focuses on sites associated with the African American past. It highlights the diversity of the African American experience and its centrality in southern Indiana history.

Locations for Tour

After the Civil War, African Americans strived to become full participants in society. Many saw education as crucial for advancement. In 1869, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation encouraging local school districts to provide black…

Before the Civil War, African Americans had limited educational opportunities. White children had access to tutors, private academies, and, in some areas, public schools. By contrast, black children, whether enslaved or free, rarely received formal…

Before the Civil War, New Albany was the largest city in Indiana. It also had the largest population of black residents in the state. At least eight percent of Indiana blacks lived in Floyd County. Runaway slaves routinely fled the South by crossing…

In the early 1830s, Andrew and Mary Israel arrived in New Albany, Indiana, from Ohio. Andrew, a native of Kentucky, earned his living as a cobbler. Mary, originally from Virginia, helped her husband finish shoes. Most of her time, however, went into…

Believed to be the oldest African American church in New Albany, Bethel African American Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church has been a pillar of black life and culture in southern Indiana for more than 150 years. Founded in 1848, the church became…

Lucy Higgs lived an extraordinary life. Born a slave in North Carolina, she gained her freedom during the Civil War, became a nurse to the 23rd Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, and lived out her days in New Albany. In 1898, a special act of Congress…

From the 1850s until the early twentieth century, Freedomland Cemetery served as the main burial ground for African Americans in New Albany. Originally called the “Colored People’s Burial Grounds” and the “Colored People’s Graveyard,” it…

During the Civil War, New Albany became a strategic supply and training center for the Union Army. Federal officials turned the Floyd County Fairgrounds into Camp Noble and converted local schools into hospitals. As casualties mounted, a burial…

In August 1860, at a site beside the Charlestown Road on the northeast side of New Albany, African Americans gathered to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in the West Indies a quarter-century before. Speaking before the group, a Reverend Kelly…