Note: This "It's Your Business" column by Erin Predmore, the Chamber's President & CEO, first appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of the Bloomington Herald-Times.
Earlier this summer, we unveiled an important historical marker for our community as a whole, for the business community and, most importantly, for the Black business community.
In the 1960s, a business called The Black Market operated in the spot where Peoples Park is located now. Owned and run by Indiana University grad student Rollo Turner, it was a Bloomington store celebrating Black culture, with African art, clothing and music. It was a welcoming place for Black IU students and community members to gather.
On Dec. 26, 1968, in a violent reaction to the civil rights movement, the Black Market was firebombed. What was one moment a thriving, locally owned business and center for Black culture became in the next moment a burning symbol of hatred and racism. The store was destroyed in the fire.
As time passed, this location became a gathering place for local students, civil rights activists and other residents. The family that owned it later gave this land to the city of Bloomington to be maintained forever as a public park — Peoples Park.
But as time passed, the story of this place — The Black Market, the firebombing, and its place in the history of the local civil rights movement — was left behind. People stopped telling others about it, and many residents never knew what happened here.
I first learned about this history almost two years ago, when the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce began working with leaders in the Black business community in an effort that led to the formation of the chamber’s Black-Owned Business Affinity Group. With their leadership, we partnered with the city of Bloomington to submit an application to the Indiana Historical Bureau. That work led to the installation of an historical marker at Peoples Park that we celebrated on July 31.
But really, we were celebrating our community’s Black business owners and acknowledging that what happened here in 1968 still matters to Bloomington today. We forget that history at our peril.
The treatment of people of color in Bloomington and Monroe County has been horrible, ranging from microaggressions at work to racial profiling to physical violence. Taking a stand against these behaviors is required by of all of us who want to be decent and humane.
For those who don’t believe this is a moral issue or don’t acknowledge that racism still exists here, at least consider the economic impact of our community’s reputation. This summer, our office has fielded calls and emails from individuals and groups who were no longer willing to come to Bloomington because of the racist actions of some of our community members. In 2018, visitors spent over $418 million in Monroe County. What would we do if they all decided not to come back after the pandemic abates?
Here’s another harsh reality, from the Monroe County Quality of Place & Workforce Retention Plan: “Minority residents do not feel the sense of welcoming community that Monroe County prides itself on. The legacy of the KKK in the region is remembered and felt today. Recruiters have trouble attracting diverse candidates to the region, to Monroe County, and to Bloomington.”
Our community’s success is intricately tied to the success of our neighbors, friends and colleagues. We will all rise or fall together, and we can only rise by supporting those who need to be recognized as valuable members of our community. We must embrace the minority members of our community and stand for equality, equity and inclusion.
To all people of color, the chamber is glad you are here.