A Fairbanks Park marker in remembrance of a dark day in Terre Haute now includes a reflection space and other features that recognize the community’s Black history.
In September 2021, local officials dedicated a historical marker on the north end of Fairbanks Park in remembrance of George Ward, who in 1901 was lynched by a mob that stormed the Vigo County Jail and hanged him from the Wabash River bridge.
Historian Crystal Reynolds talks about how the George Ward marker also celebrates the triumph of Black people in Terre Haute on Wednesday in front of the marker in Fairbanks Park.
On Wednesday, Crystal Reynolds, historian, and Terry Ward, great-grandson of George, announced the additions on behalf of the Ward Family and Friends Group. Also speaking were Mayor Duke Bennett and Allyson Midgley, Art Spaces executive director.
“This is a beautiful site. This is not a small endeavor. This is a great endeavor for history and for Terre Haute,” Terry Ward said.
Initially, his family wanted to make sure George Ward was memorialized. Now, the goal is to work on the George Ward pavilion, including a reflection space and educational/history spaces, “so we continue to help individuals understand what lynching and injustice does in our society,” Terry Ward said.
The space will be called “The George Ward Pavilion of the African American Experience and History of Terre Haute.”
The reflection space is now open to the public, with more features planned in the future.
The pavilion celebrates the Black culture, experience and history of Terre Haute, said Reynolds, who helped spearhead the project.
It visually and in writing tell the story of the trials and tribulations of Black people in Terre Haute “focusing on the triumph of the African American Spirit,” she said. “I wanted this space to be more than just the bad. … I wanted it to be an educational spot that taught people about our great history in Terre Haute.”
Rose-Hulman students inspired the design of the pavilion, and the city of Terre Haute has been instrumental in the project, Ward and Reynolds said. Indiana State University students also have contributed funding. Several individuals, groups and companies made the space a reality by donating their time, talent and finances.
Terry Ward, the great-grandson of George Ward, thanks those who have helped in the creation of the George Ward marker on Wednesday in Fairbanks Park.
Bennett said the George Ward pavilion is “a place to learn about our past and to make sure we don’t make the mistakes of the past.”
The more knowledge people have, “the better we are as a community,” he said. The project has been a “true collaborative effort.”
Currently, the site includes the George Ward historical marker and reflection space; the Clarence Walker/John Wooden Bench; and a specially designed panel that displays the history of the Black experience in Terre Haute and the city’s role in that history. The panel was designed by Ally Midgley, executive director of Art Spaces, Inc., and Reynolds wrote the history.
The Walker/Wooden Bench celebrates the 75th anniversary of the desegregation of the NAIB collegiate basketball post-season tournament in 1948, “a Terre Haute story.”
The 1947-48 Indiana State Teachers College basketball team, coached by the legendary Wooden, is credited with integrating intercollegiate post-season tournaments.
Clarence Walker, a Black player from East Chicago, was a member of the Indiana State team at the time. In 1948, ISU was invited to play in the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball 32-team tournament, and Walker was the first black athlete to compete in it.
On March 5, 1948, the NAIB board had voted 7-2 to lift the ban on black athletes.
According to Reynolds, future additions to the pavilion will include visual depictions of significant events and people that are part of the Black story in Terre Haute. She also hopes to include freestanding artistic figures representing well-known Black individuals who are part of that history.
“Black history is everyone’s history,” Reynolds said.
She added, “I’m elated we have gotten Phase 1, but there’s so much more to do because there are so many stories that are part of our history.”
Reynolds wants the space to have an impact on all visitors. She wants them to leave with more knowledge about Terre Haute’s history, and “I want everybody to leave better than they came.”