Enslaved blacks seeking freedom crossed the Ohio River from Louisville to New Albany almost from the founding of the Indiana town. The Indiana Constitution of 1816 prohibited slavery. Because of the large number of blacks crossing the river, the proportion of African Americans in New Albany, located in a free state, rose to 7.5 percent by 1860, It was one of the highest in Indiana and the Ohio Valley.
Prior to the Civil War, free education was unavailable to African American students in Indiana. Public schools for blacks were permitted only in 1869, when Indiana passed a law permitting separate schools for them. Obviously, mot of these schools were segregated. Division Street School, which was built in 1884 and opened in 1885 at a cost of $1,752, provided education in grades one through six, for children in East New Albany. The school initially enrolled 60 - 70 students in two classrooms. Over the next 60 years, about 3,000 children attended, prior to its closure in 1946. School desegregation in Indiana began in 1949.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Division Street School was restored in 2005. It now serves as a living history center to instruct school children and the public about segregation and African-American history in New Albany.
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The City of New Albany dedicated a nearby street in honor of the late Kathryn Hickerson, a co-founder of the Friends of the Division Street School.