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Indianapolis woman shares story of how south side neighborhood was impacted by I-70

Construction decades ago still impacting families
Interstates impact on neighborhood
Posted at 7:43 PM, Feb 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-09 19:43:34-05

INDIANAPOLIS — WRTV is continuing to take a closer look at the Indianapolis highway system and the impact the design and infrastructure had on communities in our area, particularly those with Black and immigrant families.

Several months ago we took a deeper look at the history of the interstate system. Today, a local woman is sharing more about the neighborhood she says is just a shell of what it once was.

“It was a together community. There was no division, we had no issues. I was proud to say I was from the south side neighborhood,” said Beatrice Miller. An Indianapolis resident in her 80s. “We had everything we needed in our area. We had grocery stores, filling stations, banks, the schools."

That neighborhood around South Meridian Street is much different than it was in the past. I-70 now runs right through the heart of it. Black and immigrant families in its path were all displaced. “It was horrible, miserable, terrible because what were they going to do? They didn't own the property, they had to go,” said Miller. Her home was spared, but she tells us many neighbors were kicked out and left to find a new place to live.

“Beginning in the 1930s the federal government decided to embrace racial inequality and project it onto the landscape. That is how the highway system gets formed, that's how real estate segregation happens in the 1930s and 40s, and that's one of the reasons in the early 21st century the landscape looks the way it does,” said Paul Mullins, Professor of Anthropology at IUPUI.

Mullins recently wrote a blog post about the impact the interstates had on Indianapolis families. “What seems just very natural to us is actually a very racialized landscape. These interstates in almost every city bisect black and immigrant neighborhoods, dividing people, displacing them and destroying what were often very vibrant shopping strips,” said Susan Hyatt, Professor of Anthropology at IUPUI.

Hyatt learned about the neighborhood near S. Meridian Street and I-70 and teamed up with students to write a book called, “The Neighborhood of Saturdays: Memories of a Multi-Ethnic Community on Indianapolis’ Southside.” They brought former community members together to share stories and memories of the neighborhood.

“I have a very vivid picture of what it was like. I never actually saw it that way, but I do actually feel this... sense of loss for something that I never knew but I can imagine. Shapiro's is really the last remnant of the old neighborhood still on that strip between McCarty and Morris on Meridian, which was once a very vibrant Jewish shopping center,” said Hyatt.

Hyatt and Mullins say it is important to learn the history of the interstate system so many of us use today.

“Certainly many of us drive down our interstates and look at them as being invisible spaces. We don’t even think about our time on the interstate. We are at home and then we are at work and there was something that happened in between that we spatially don’t even remember. That is how interstates and highways are supposed to work, so I always have believed that the beginning is that we first have to know that heritage"

"We first have to understand that the federal government, state government and city government were all committed to racist segregation and they reproduced it in a variety of ways that made the landscape today look the way it does,” said Mullins.

“When homes and businesses were seized from black and immigrant homeowners that wealth, in some ways, I think has never been recovered. Social networks were broken and people scattered all over the place and never really were able to come together again,” said Hyatt.

Beatrice Miller describes feeling hurt each time she drives through the area. She says moving forward there needs to be a shift in the way communities are viewed. “You have to get the rethinking of people, let them know I'm not a checker on the checkerboard that you just move around,” said Miller.

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