Tribute to Nelson Mandela: Reconciliation and the History of Shaffer Chapel

Last night I attended the Tribute to Nelson Mandela: Reconciliation and the History of Shaffer Chapel.  The event took place from 7-9 p.m. at the Student Center’s Ballroom.  The event was opened to the public.  The first hour of the event was dedicated to talking about apartheid and Nelson Mandela.  There were a few speakers who were able to give their accounts of what in occurred in South Africa.  Then those speakers talked about the connection that they had with Ball State University. Both speakers talked about how they were able to take what they had learned here in Muncie, Indiana and apply it back in South Africa.   One person even talked about the time they were able to get the chance to meet Nelson Mandela.  The second half of the tribute talked about the history of Shaffer Chapel.

For those who don’t know the significance of Shaffer Chapel, it all took place in Marion, Indiana during 1930.  During this time, the Ku Klux Klan had a strong influence in politics in Marion.  In Marion, a white woman was raped and her husband was killed.  Three black teens were accused of the crimes.  Their names were Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith, and James Cameron.  The teens were then sent to Marion’s downtown jail.  During the night of August 7, 1930 a mob stormed the jail.  They bound the teens and took them to a tree located at the Grant County courthouse.  James Cameron was spared when someone from the crowed spoke up for Cameron.  Smith and Shipp were then hung.  It was the last recorded lynching in a northern state.  In Marion, the KKK had told the sheriff of Grant County that nobody had permission to take down the bodies to send a message to the black community.  In Muncie, Indiana word got to a minister who found out that local churches and funeral homes in Marion were not allowed to give them a proper funeral.  Rev. Johnson then snuck down to Marion to get the bodies and transported them to Muncie.  According to, “The Whitley community held an all night vigil in order to prevent anticipated rioting following the delivery of the bodies.”  Shaffer Chapel then helped give the men the proper funeral that they deserved.    This story made its way out to New York where a teacher by the name of Abel Meeropol wrote a poem about the event.  The poem was called “Bitter Fruit”. It was published in a teacher’s magazine in New York.  Then the poem was then put to music and got out to Billie Holliday.  In 1939 she recorded it.  The song was then retitled “Strange Fruit”.  In 1999, Time Magazine recognized the song as their Song of the Century.  In 2003, members of the families met.  The purpose of this event was to be able for each party to apologize to each other for what had happen.  Then last night, the mayors off both cities reconciled.

The last week in class we have talked about identity in politics.  The story of Shaffer Chapel can be related to identity politics.  The book relates social movements to the identity of politics.  In Marion, there was a shared social identity towards blacks since they were influenced by the KKK at the time.  They wanted to send a message by hanging the three men and leaving them for everyone to see.  Today in class we talked about Leith, North Dakota.  In Leith, white supremacy groups are buying property and creating towns their based on their social identity.  Based on their social beliefs and practices, they are trying to make their towns a reflection of them.  We watched a trailer for a documentary about what is going on out there.  We have seen how people’s identity can affect place and politics now.

I was glad that I attended the event.  I learned a lot about Shaffer Chapel and the events that took place here in Indiana.  If there is ever the opportunity to listen to a talk, or if there is a program of the event, I highly recommend taking the time to participate.

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