Hoagy learned of Black life through socializing with Black communities in Indianapolis and Bloomington. He told a story in his autobiography The Stardust Road about spending many of those spring afternoons with friends out at Granny Campbell’s “drinking the home brew she dispensed.” Hoagy wrote, “Granny… had a sure touch with the malt and the hops and the yeast that went into the dark-brown potent home brew that she dispensed. But Granny had a misery; a misery or two and she used to sit in her old rocker and asked to be handed her own bottle. That old rockin’ chair had her.”
He claimed that after one such afternoon the lyrics to the song “Rockin Chair” began forming in his brain. The song later became a theme song for Native American (Couer d’Alene) musician Mildred Bailey, who sang it, and African American trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who played it.
The 1925 Bloomington City Directory shows Irene and Harry Campbell living on the west side of Bloomington. In her younger days Irene worked as a laundress. By 1920, the Federal Census for Bloomington shows she was no longer working outside the home. The Bloomington City Directories show that Irene’s husband, Harry, changed jobs frequently in the 1920s.
The downtown Bloomington business district and Indiana University expanded in the early 1900s, which put pressure on the existing east-side African-American neighborhood. Black renters were evicted as real estate developers bought out African-American property owners. African-Americans found themselves redlined into the newly developing neighborhood west of Rogers Street, now known as the West Side Historic District. The neighborhood consisted of small lots with vernacular home styles often available through catalogues like Sears and Roebuck.
“There was not a realtor in town who’d show us anywhere else but there,” says Betty Bridgwaters. “People think that was the Dark Ages, but that wasn’t so long ago.” A member of the prominent Eagleson-Bridgwaters family, she knows the long, complex history of the Monroe County Black community. Despite the redlining, Black Bloomington residents created community in their new west-side neighborhood. Many men worked at the nearby Showers Brothers Furniture Factory, which relocated from the east side after a fire in 1884 to be near the Monon Railroad line. The Showers factory was one of the few businesses that employed Black residents at the time. They also worked in construction, at the Monon Railroad yards, and in service and retail jobs.
The West Side District was and remains highly racially integrated. However, it became known as the home of Bloomington’s Black community and the location of many of its most important landmarks including the Banneker School, now a community center, Second Baptist Church, and Bethel AME church. Bloomington’s Black churches — Bethel AME Church, founded in 1870, and Second Baptist Church, founded in 1872 — were the anchors of the Black community. The Second Baptist Church, designed by Black architect Samuel Plato, was built in its current location at 8th and Rogers streets in 1913. It was the first stone church built by Black people in Indiana. In the 1920s, Bethel AME moved from its original church on East 6th Street to its new Art Deco–style limestone church at 7th and Rogers streets.