Troubled Waters: The Integration of the Riviera Club is a graduate creative project by Emily Reuben. This project serves to archive the Bates v. Rivera Club Inc. court case that occurred from the mid 70s to the early 80s surrounding the discriminatory membership policies of an Indianapolis swim club which barred Black and Jewish applicants. Troubled Waters is a two-part endeavor: a short-form documentary project filmed as the capstone for Ball State University’s two-year Digital Storytelling graduate program and a digital compilation of research, archival images, newspaper clippings, and expert testimony collected during the course of research. From a more personal perspective, this project also seeks to build a profile of Lawrence Reuben: the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs in the Bates vs. Riviera Inc. case, a Jew barred from the Riviera Club as a child, and the deceased father of the project’s creator, Emily Reuben.
This project seeks to explore the history of racial and religious injustice in Indianapolis and, in a broader sense, American society by using the Riviera Club’s history of racial and religious discrimination as a case study. Through the efforts of activists in the Butler-Tarkington and surrounding Indianapolis neighborhoods, plaintiffs suing the club on the basis of illegal racial discrimination, lawyers fighting on behalf of these plaintiffs, and minority or interracial families fighting for equality, the Riviera was forced to integrate. By looking at historical cases such as these and applying them to instances of bigotry today, we can learn how to better challenge hegemonic institutions and effective methods of combating these institutions as a society.
Troubled Waters is planned as an ongoing endeavor to expand as new materials, interviews, and testimonies are obtained through future research.
Lawrence (Larry) Reuben was born in Akron, Ohio, on April 5, 1948, to Albert and Sara Reuben, a Jewish couple. When Larry was a baby, the Reuben family relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana, where Larry and his elder brother and sister would remain until adulthood. The Reuben family moved into Indianapolis’ Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, known for its special attention to racial diversity during a period of intense redlining in Indiana.
Throughout the 50s and 60s, strides were made to integrate the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood, such as the creation of the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Committee, spearheaded by a group of multi-racial residents. This committee (later renamed the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood Association) addressed instances of racism in the neighborhood and took action to combat bigotry. This environment served as the perfect home for the Reuben family, who was sadly no stranger to bigotry.
In 1914, Lawrence’s mother, Sara Rifkin, was born in Bobruisk, Belarus. She was forced to immigrate to the United States when she was only nine. By that time, hostility against Jews had reached a breaking point. Recounting her youth, Sara told my mother horrific accounts of being hidden in cornfields to hide from Russian neighbors for fear of violence. To put it bluntly, it was no longer safe to stay in Bobruisk.
In fear of the rapidly growing tensions between the Jews and the Russians, Sara and her family traversed Russia on foot, sailed to Cuba, and eventually found their way to the United States. Sara’s uncle, who remained in Belarus was never heard from again, despite decades of searching.
Sara met Albert Reuben at the Omaha Jewish Community Center, got married, and then moved to Indianapolis in 1948. The couple eventually had three children: Elaine, David, and Lawrence. In spite of her rough beginnings, Sara Reuben remained an active participant in the Indianapolis community alongside her husband. She was largely involved with the local Hadassah chapter and served as its president twice. She also served as the president for Congregation Beth-El Zedeck’s Sisterhood. Sara awarded scholarships to those pursuing Jewish Studies at Indiana University. She assisted immigrants with their transition to Indianapolis and always offered a friendly face to those in need. Until her passing in 2010, Sara Reuben served as an inspiration for her family to stand strong in the face of antisemitism and to give back to the community.
Larry, the Reuben’s third child, was born in the wake of the Second World War in Akron, Ohio April 5, 1948. The world had remained largely apathetic as Jews and Romani were marked for genocide and swiftly massacred. People with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other racial minorities also fell victim to the Third Reich and the fascist uprisings in Italy and Japan. Racism, bigotry, antisemitism, and also apathy resulted in the mass genocide of millions.
It was in this context that Larry was raised, and for this reason the Butler-Tarkington neighborhood was important to the Reubens. The more accepting environment provided a relatively safe space for the Reuben children to play, learn, and be outwardly Jewish with minimal fear.
But no society is completely free of prejudice. The Riviera Club, a popular swim club located just a few lots away from the Reuben home, made no efforts to hide its disinterest in integration. It was common knowledge at the time that Black and Jewish applicants need not apply, meaning the Reubens were pre-emptively excluded from the social club. From Larry’s perspective, this rejection was devastating and left a lifelong wound he vowed to heal.
Larry always had a passion for social justice. In his mind, the best way to help people was through the legal system. And so, when he returned abroad from the London School of Economics and finishing his Bachelor’s degree from Indiana University in 1970, he decided to go to school for three more years to become a lawyer. In 1973, he graduated from the Indiana School of Law and was ready to take on the injustices of the world.
To summarize Larry Reuben in a mere paragraph is no small feat. Larry was Chief Deputy Attorney General of Indiana from 1993 -1994. He was chief counsel of the State Lottery Commission of Indiana from 1994-1997. He ran a private practice starting in 1997 until the time he died in 2015. Larry was heavily involved with the ACLU of Indiana and the Animal Legal Defense Fund. He was awarded the Sagamore of the Wabash, named a Kentucky Colonel, rated as one of Indiana’s 12 Best Lawyers in 2012, given the Animal Legal Defense Fund 2012 Pro Bono Achievement Award, and named a Jewish Hoosier Legend in 2018. He was a fierce advocate for those who found themselves without a voice. Larry notably spoke out against Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act targeting LGBTQ+ Hoosiers in 2015, and he was a staunch supporter of women’s rights and autonomy. To list the full scope of this avid Woodstock attendee’s accomplishments and interests would be a massive undertaking. And yet, while he was so many important things to so many important people, I always knew him as Dad.
A YOUNG EMILY REUBEN HOLDING HER CAT BESIDE HER FATHER, LARRY REUBEN.
After his death in 2015, the tidbit about him that was brought up most often to me was the importance of his work on the Riviera Club case. Many times over, I had been told it was his most personally satisfying case. As I began digging into case files and decades-old newspapers, what I came to learn is that the importance of the Riviera Case was not limited just to my father. While working on this project, I was surprised to learn how many strangers I encountered who were familiar with the case or had their own stories to relay.
Initially, I wanted to do justice to my father and his story. Now, knowing the importance of this story to Indianapolis, I hope that this project does justice not just to my father, but to the Indianapolis community as well.