McCord Park Sundial
Artist: Barbara Zech
Date created: 2005
The McCord Park sundial is dedicated to a local police officer, William Whitfield, 37, who was the first African American police officer killed in the line of duty in Indianapolis. There is speculation that the shooting was racially motivated and not a random act of violence, since Officer Whitfield had only recently been assigned to work the white neighborhood around College and Fairfield in plainclothes–the first-ever black officer to do so. His death remained virtually unpublished at the time, and he was buried in an unmarked grave at Crown Hill Cemetery. The case remains unsolved to this day.
The shooting took place shortly after 11:00 p.m. on June 18, 1922, in an alley just west of 3600 N. College Ave. Officer Whitfield said a man who was roughly dressed approached him. The officer called to the man and informed him that he was a policeman, pulling back his coat to display his badge. When ordered to stop, the man ran. Officer Whitfield pursued on foot. After running only a short distance, the man turned, pulled a revolver and fired. Officer Whitfield returned fire, but the suspect fled and disappeared, leaving the officer down, struck by a bullet in the abdomen. After calling for help, a passerby volunteered to take him to the hospital. He lingered for 21 weeks, finally succumbing to his injuries on November 27, 1922. The officer had been with the police department since 1910 and had an exceptionally good record, and prior to his transfer had patrolled the Indiana Avenue corridor.
In August 1998, a write-up of the circumstances of Officer Whitfield’s death and burial appeared in an IPD newsletter. Inspired by the article, members of the police department established a fund to buy a grave marker for the fallen officer. It took only three hours to raise the monies needed for the purchase. On November 30, 1998, full honors were given Officer Whitfield in a tribute at Crown Hill Cemetery where the gravestone was dedicated.
In 2002 Leon Bates, a longtime resident of the Watson-McCord neighborhood, launched an effort to memorialize Officer Whitfield at Watson-McCord Park, near the site of the shooting. Bates had dedicated years to researching the shooting. The sundial was designed by Expo Design, with its ceramic tiles made by Barbara Zech, a local clay artist, leading students from a nearby IPS school. The tiles have the theme of “home” and “community.” The park renovations were headed by Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.