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Historian believes new soccer stadium site has African American remains

Historian believes new Indy 11 soccer stadium site has African American remains
Posted at 11:17 PM, May 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-09 23:17:42-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Plans for the site west of Lucas Oil Stadium include space for 20-thousand soccer fans, hotels, and apartments.

"There are no records indicating that the African Americans were moved," said historian Leon Bates.

A local historian said that same spot was once a cemetery, and he tells WRTV's Amber Grigley it's unclear whether all the remains of African Americans were moved.

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"If we had these conversations 100 years ago, we wouldn't be in some of the hard places we are in our country," said Judith Thomas, Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement.

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A rendering of Eleven Park, a planned 20,000-seat stadium for the Indy Eleven soccer team.

The new Indy 11 soccer complex is set to break ground sometime in the month of May, but historians say Indiana’s history may lie under these grounds.

"When this first cemetery was started in 1821," said Bates.

It lies just down Kentucky Avenue, near the intersection of South and West Street.

"We do not have a map, but we have records that talk about the quote 'colored section," said Bates.

This patch of land bears a lot of history. Before it became the Old Diamond Chain Factory, it was once known as Greenlawn Cemetery, dating back to before Indianapolis became the state's capital.

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"We don't know where that colored section was. It was either inside the fence and at the back, or it was outside the fence and toward the river," said Bates.

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When the cemetery closed in the 1890s, remains were moved to four known cemeteries across the city, but the colored section of Greenlawn Cemetery remained.

"Some of us believe the largest African American burial ground in the state of Indiana is right over here," said Bates.

As the city moves forward with development plans, Bates wants leaders to consider a proper plan that will allow those remains to have a respectful resting place.

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"We need to move the people. We need to take the time to get them out, get them relocated properly," said Bates.

"We're really just starting. So, this is how we're starting to build a team," said Thomas.

Tuesday, city leaders and the community gathered to discuss plans for the future Henry Street Bridge, which will utilize part of the former Greenlawn Cemetery land. During that meeting they discussed what steps they would take if remains were to be found on the property.

"We're talking about something that was very sensitive that was a burial ground and how do we honor those folks that were there and acknowledge that they were there and also acknowledge how they were buried, potentially in a segregated cemetery," said Thomas.

"If it were up to me, I would leave these people here and turn the whole 25 acres into a park," said Bates.

A new expansion of the cultural trail just announced today would also be located on the part of the former cemetery.

City leaders said this project is in the very early stages. Community input will ultimately help them decide how to move forward while preserving Indianapolis's history.