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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

What’s In A Name, Indy? James Russell Lowell School

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The elementary school that serves the Brightwood-Martindale neighborhood today is the James Russell Lowell Elementary School. This school is also known as Indianapolis Public School #51. The original building, seen in the two photographs with this news column, was built in 1900. An addition to that building opened in 1913.

In 1981, James Russell Lowell Elementary School was closed. Children living in the neighborhood were bused to other public schools in Marion County as part of the desegregation of public schools in Indianapolis. On Aug. 15, 1981, an advertisement in the Indianapolis Recorder indicated that Indianapolis Public Schools was accepting bids for the sale of the building and land of School #51. While it was reported that the property was sold to a church for $20,000 in November 1981, the specific details of the ownership of the real estate from the early 1980s through the first years of the 21st century are uncertain. It may be that a sale took place in 1981, but Indianapolis Public Schools reacquired the real estate at a later date or it may be that Indianapolis Public Schools never relinquished full ownership of the real estate.

Indianapolis Public Schools eventually decided to reopen a public elementary school in Brightwood. The original school building and its addition were demolished in 2004; a new building was then constructed at the same site. The new school building opened to students, teachers, and staff in August of 2006. The current address used for this school is 3426 Roosevelt Ave. in Brightwood. According to the Indianapolis Public Schools, “Many of the features in our new building include remnants of the old building. We placed these reminders of the old building in our new cafeteria and gymnasium. Many community members and organizations in the Brightwood neighborhood had input on the design of this great new state of the art building and playground area for our community.”

Indianapolis Public Schools noted this school is a community school that provides a variety of resources for students and families throughout the Brightwood-Martindale neighborhood. Children are able to participate in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program here. A number of civic organizations meet at the school, with a small public park located next to the school.

This photograph shows James Russell Lowell sometime between 1855 and 1865. (The photograph was provided courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

The namesake for this school was an American poet and abolitionist. James Russell Lowell was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1819 and lived until 1891. “In 1855, Mr. Lowell…[was a] Professor of Modern Languages at Harvard University, and in 1857, he was the first editor of the Atlantic Monthly magazine,” according to a statement from the National Park Service. “Later in life he served as American Minister to Spain and Great Britain.”

“Mr. Lowell wrote many articles and poems upholding the principles of abolitionism,” continued the statement from the National Park Service. “His poems may have been inspired by his wife, Maria White Lowell, who strongly opposed slavery as well. In 1845, he became a regular editorial writer for the Pennsylvania Freeman, a fortnightly journal devoted to the anti-slavery cause. In spring of 1848, he agreed to contribute either a poem or a prose article each week to the National Anti-Slavery Standard of New York.”

The National Park Service uses a quote from Edgar Allan Poe to describe how some people — people who supported slavery — should refrain from reading the works of Mr. Lowell: “Mr. Lowell is one of the most rabid of the Abolition fanatics; and no Southerner who does not wish to be insulted, and at the same time revolted by a bigotry the most obstinately blind and deaf, should ever touch a volume by this author.” The occasion for the quote from Mr. Poe was his 1848 review of Lowell’s “The Biglow Papers.”

In addition to this Indianapolis school, Lowell continues to be remembered today through the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): The Crisis Magazine. The name for this magazine comes from a poem written by Lowell in 1844: “The Present Crisis.” The founding editor of The Crisis Magazine at the NAACP was another leader of human rights, W.E.B. Du Bois.

Another view of the original James Russel Lowell School. The structure to the left was the initial part of the school opened in 1900, while an addition to the school (seen to the right in this photo) was opened in 1913. (The photograph was produced by Glory-June Greiff and was provided courtesy of Indiana Landmarks, 1983.)

Do you have questions about communities in Indianapolis?

A street name? A landmark? Your questions may be used in a future news column. Contact Richard McDonough at whatsinanameindy@mail.com.

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