ImageLiving in the “Land of Lincoln”, how often do we cross paths with people like the man himself?  Most centenarians have yet to meet, I imagine, someone approaching Lincoln’s simple greatness or deep melancholy.  Yet Lincoln was also a native born Kentuckian transplanted to backwoods Indiana (only later to move to Illinois as an adult).  He was what we would call an old stock American of white Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Over the weekend I stumbled on a community of such people.  in the 2010 census, Jonesboro, Indiana shows 1756 souls with only a single African-American and no Asians.  In the local paper, obituaries from adjacent areas showed these family names: Walker, (Turner) York, Manning, Porter, Kenworthy, and Nichols.  Of the six individuals, two were born in Kentucky, one in Tennessee.  A baby boomer drinking at Jonesboro’s  Tobby’s Bar told me his mother had come to the area from Kentucky.

So the  migration of Kentucky families into backwoods Indiana seems to have long outlasted Lincoln’s time.  The experience of Jonesboro and its neighbors shows this migration continuing well into the twentieth century.

Nearby is the larger town of Marion, a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.  It’s possible that no town in America was hotter for the Klan than Marion.  And even in 1930, after the Klan’s heyday had passed, there was a well-known lynching of black men there.  Today, by contrast, Marion seems to have an easy multicultural vibe,  a college town where 15 percent of the population is African-American and everyone holds her head up high..

Aside from Tobby’s, someone said there was another bar in Jonesboro but I didn’t notice it.  There’s also a  gas station with convenience store but no other storefont businesses.  Next to Tobby’s on the main block, on the only other storefront which appears maybe to be occupied, a sign bears the words “JONESBORO DEMOCRATS WE CARE ABOUT YOU”.  It seems that not every family cut from Lincoln’s cloth went in for that new Republican party after all.

Charles Orlowek

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