Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim
Martinsville and Rushville are two of Indiana’s most up-and-coming cities. Martinsville is on the cusp of a major downtown revitalization after a private developer purchased more than 20 buildings to restore the city’s historic square. To the east, Rushville is seeing an infusion of funding for community development projects.
But progress also requires acknowledging the past, including a rough chapter in Martinsville’s history, Martinsville Mayor Shannon Kohl said. In 1968, Carol Jenkins-Davis, a young African- American woman from Rushville, was murdered in a racially-motivated crime as she sold encyclopedias in Martinsville. The man arrested in connection with Jenkins-Davis’ death didn’t live in Martinsville, Kohl said, but the stigma remained.
Nearly fifty years later, Kohl and Rushville Mayor Mike Pavey stood before their residents to dedicate memorials to Jenkins-Davis’ life.
They and their community members wanted to let the family know they were sorry.
And they wanted to help their communities move forward, so Hoosiers know Martinsville and Rushville for what they are – places that value diversity and inclusion.
“I felt it was time,” said Kohl who is in her first-term as Martinsville mayor. “It’s been nearly 50 years, and it was time for us to give her family some peace and comfort, while expressing our condolences. We needed to acknowledge our past to be able to move forward. Carol’s family needed closure. Sitting and listening to her family member talk at our event, she was very moving. You could tell what she was saying was 50 years in the making.”
Rushville will dedicate a city park in her name. Martinsville is placing a memory stone outside of City Hall with the inscription: “Carol’s life had enormous value and promise. The Rushville and Martinsville communities have joined together to honor Carol and recognize her family’s love.”
In attendance at both events were Jenkins-Davis’ mother, father and other family members.
“I can’t imagine what it was like to be a person facing such discrimination,” Pavey told those gathered at the Rushville park dedication. “I can’t comprehend a time when tolerance and hatred were condoned in our society.”
Her name on the city park will leave an impression on Rushville’s children, and interactive storytelling stations will talk about her life and the times she lived in, Pavey said.
“This is our teaching moment,” Pavey said, “and this our teaching environment…It is never too late to do the right thing.”
For Martinsville, the dedications come at a critical moment for the city.
“I got the feeling during the last 10 years we had just kind of given up. Like it was a hopelessness, and I felt it, too,” Kohl said. “We lost our pride in our community. We hadn’t taken care of our community. We lost some pretty big players in economic development. We’re turning the corner on that now with a great deal of promise on the horizon.”
“We have some really nice people who have moved here who would tell you they are happy here,” Kohl said. “Martinsville has come a long way in welcoming diversity.”
And the dedications come at a time when Martinsville is believing in itself again. A group of business owners recently purchased nearly all of the downtown’s buildings to rehab and fill with restaurants and boutiques.