Challenging the Myth of Midwestern Niceness

Have you heard of the idea of “Midwestern Nice”? It is the idea that Midwesterners are uniquely polite and gracious: greeting strangers on the street, overly apologizing for minor inconveniences, avoiding conflict. “Hoosier Hospitality” is a similar notion, specific to Indiana, and defined in 2020 by long-time late-night host and Indianapolis-native David Letterman as “the way people are supposed to be . . . a manifestation of the golden rule: Treat people the way you would like to be treated.”

Evidence of the existence of "Midwestern Niceness" is mostly anecdotal, but there has been some research into the concept. A 2013 Cambridge University study found that certain personality traits, such as friendliness and agreeableness, are more common in Midwestern states.

Yet the Golden Rule has all too often been disregarded throughout Indiana's history. As scholars including Sujey Vega (Arizona State University) have proposed, this niceness sometimes serves as a cloak for aggression, racism, and acts of violence.

The stops on this tour challenge the notion of "Midwestern Nice" by exploring the ways in which white Hoosiers, who have been the majority group in Indiana since the early nineteenth century, have sought to control Native peoples, Black citizens, lower-class workers of many races and ethnicities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community through expulsion, intimidation, segregation, arrest, violence, and murder.

Other Hoosiers have protested and resisted these injustices throughout the state's history and their stories can be learned about throughout Discover Indiana. On this tour, however, look closely for a little while at the ways in which the midwest can be anything but nice.

The 1871 Lynching of Three Black Men in Clark County

At Charlestown Cemetery in Clark County the mutilated bodies of three lynched men are buried. On a Saturday in November of 1871, the family of Cyrus Park, a white farmer who lived near Henryville, Indiana, was murdered. Using the Parks' own axe, the…

The Economic Panic of 1873 and Labor Relations in New Albany

By the early 1870s, New Albany became a bustling river town with extensive commercial activity and a large number of industrial facilities. Nationwide economic trends disrupted New Albany’s economic prosperity. The Great Panic of 1873 swept across…

The Steel Strike of 1919 in Gary

On September 22, 1919, workers employed by the US Steel Corporation laid down their tools and abandoned their jobs in the steel factories. Stretching from Chicago and St. Louis to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the strikers would ultimately include 350,000…

The Emerson School Strike of 1927 in Gary

School strikes by students for any reason are rare in the history of the United States. Gary is unique in that it has had two school strikes, both motivated by white racism, in its history. Gary had one of the highest percentages of African American…