Eunice Trotter spent over 30 years tracing her ancestry. After she discovered all of this information, she asked herself, “What do I do with it?”
Now, she tells the story through her first book.
“Black in Indiana” follows Mary Bateman Clark, who, despite being free, found herself in another form of slavery — indentured servitude. She would go on to win a lawsuit that would outlaw the practice of indentured servitude in Indiana in 1821.
“You have to know who your family is,” Trotter said her father always told her. “That stuck with me. I wanted to know who these people were and how they got here.”
The book is based on the genealogy information Trotter found about Clark — her paternal great-great-grandmother.
Clark initially lost her case, but later appealed it to the Indiana State Supreme Court. This case was the first to address indentured servitude and received an opinion from the Indiana State Supreme Court. It set the precedent for other cases regarding slavery in the form of involuntary servitude as illegal due to the 13th Amendment in the United States Constitution.
“In Indiana slavery wasn’t called slavery, it was called indentured servitude,” Trotter said. “For African Americans, you were indentured your whole life.”
Trotter said the title of the book came from the phrase “Back in Indiana” to give the reader a brief description of what’s in store before they start reading.
“To me, what this book is about is the foundation in this state for the earliest settlement of Black people,” she said. “I couldn’t think of a more fitting way to put that. So that’s why I said ‘Black in Indiana.’”
Trotter said her favorite chapter is 13, “They Ain’t Never Gonna Change,” a saying that came from her father.
“I made that chapter resonate with my father because that was his attitude,” she said. “This chapter is about my father whose ancestor had his cabin attacked. A couple of his siblings were killed, and his house was set on fire.”
She found this story highlighted in a Vincennes newspaper during her research and wanted the story to be told.
“I wanted that anger to vent,” she said.
With years of genealogical work to learn about her ancestral roots under her belt, she now helps others begin to do the same through her “Tracing Your Family Roots” workshop held at the Ujamaa Community Bookstore at Flanner House.
Trotter said the experience of leading the workshop has been enjoyable to watch because she sees others doing the same research she’s done. She hopes those who take time to do the research find a way to pen this information so it can last for generations to come.
“All of our history is getting wiped out because we aren’t writing it ourselves,” Trotter said.
“Black in Indiana” was released Dec. 1, 2020, and is available at the Ujamaa Community Bookstore and online.
Contact staff writer Terrence Lambert at 317-924-5243. Follow him on Twitter @TerrenceL.