Freetown Village, Inc. is a living history museum without walls. The trials, triumphs, and daily life of African Americans are presented through theater, storytelling, folk crafts, heritage workshops, music, day camp, and special events. The town of Freetown Village is a symbolic community representing many of the predominantly African American settlements scattered throughout Indiana during the post-Civil War years. The residents of Freetown Village are composite characters of the approximately 3,000 men, women and children identified on the 1870 Indianapolis census.
The geographical focus is in the old Fourth Ward, the oldest African American settlement in Indianapolis and the oldest land development of the City of Indianapolis. In 1870, five years after the Civil War ended, towns grew and prospered. Many who were former slaves discovered a new-found freedom and control over their lives. African Americans could now be paid for their work, purchase land, attend school, be legally married and not be separated because of slavery.
Freetown Village was first conceptualized in 1982 by Ophelia Wellington out of her desire to teach African American history. With a small planning grant from the Indiana Humanities Council, this former educator organized a group of historians, educators, and arts/culture leaders to plan and implement a two-month pilot project at the Indiana State Museum in the fall of 1984. The pilot project consisted of two vignettes, a seamstress shop and a barbershop. The vignettes were comprised of actors/interpreters performing monologues at scheduled times. The success of the pilot project led to the development of the permanent exhibit in 1985. The opening was celebrated with local television and radio personalities portraying Freetown Village “residents”. Funds from the Indiana Arts Commission helped to staff the exhibit. That exhibit closed in 2001.
Since 1982, Freetown Village has presented programs throughout the state of Indiana and to the contiguous Midwestern states reaching well over 1,000,000 children and adults in small and large communities. Programs have been presented in schools, churches, libraries, museums, theaters, centers, parks, hotels, offices, gymnasiums, parades, homes, and for almost every time of event or occasion.