Katherine “Flossie” Bailey
It is a challenge to do justice to the memory of someone like Flossie Bailey, one of those selected to the 2021 Howard County Hall of Legends. By all reports, she was brave, smart, full of energy, tireless in her pursuit of justice, a keen organizer and leader, even stylish and poised. It would be easy to paint her a saint, but she would probably object. She might point out that while she fought for justice, she failed in her effort to see anyone in Marion, Ind., held to account for the lynching deaths of two Black teenagers, Abram Smith and Thomas Shipp. In fact, she had tried in vain to prevent the lynching but was met with dissembling and evasion from the sheriff, the mayor, and even the governor’s office. According to James Madison’s detailed account of Bailey’s life in Traces Magazine (2000), she remained frustrated by her failure to stop these murders.
Regardless of hindsight, what is known is that she stayed busy in her Marion home the night of August 7, 1930, calling for calm in the wake of this terrible, shameful event, when a mob dragged and attacked three young men accused of rape and murder from the Marion jail. James Cameron was spared by someone’s plea from the crowd, but Smith and Shipp were lynched. An iconic photograph captured a crowd of White spectators surrounding their hanging bodies. Flossie appealed to the governor for the state militia to help quell the ensuing violence threatening all Black residents in the area. She organized, which was one of her most valuable traits. As the Grant County head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she was known as a force to be reckoned with. She was successful in preventing further bloodshed in the following days. She was also clearly brave, evident from her continued work in the face of threats of violence to she and her family.
Many of her accomplishments are a matter of the public record. Flossie Bailey fought for racial equality. She and her husband sued a movie theatre for being denied entrance because of their race. She became Indiana leader of the NAACP. Significantly, she led a grassroots campaign to get an anti-lynching law passed in Indiana. The 1931 law called for the dismissal of any sheriff from whose jail a prisoner was taken and lynched. This law was essential in defusing the constant threat of vigilante violence to Black Hoosiers.
While most people knew of Katherine “Flossie” Bailey from her time living in Marion, Ind., she was born in Kokomo in 1894 to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Harvey. She was raised in the city and graduated from Kokomo High School. She married Dr. Walter T. Bailey in 1917 and moved to Marion, where he had established his practice. They had one son, Walter Charles. Flossie soon began her involvement with the recently founded civil rights organization, the NAACP. She formed the Marion branch working diligently for years to gain support and membership. At points, when she feared her phone line was being tapped in Marion, she returned to Kokomo to continue her organizing. On the basis of all her accomplishments and the strength of this connection to her hometown, the nominating committee honors Bailey as a Howard County legend.
America’s Black Holocaust Museum website: https://www.abhmuseum.org/freedoms-heros-during-jim-crow-flossie-bailey-and-the-deeters/
Madison, James H. (2000). "Flossie Bailey: 'What a Woman!'". Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society. 12 (1): 23–27.