(May 30, 1909-August 5, 1988). Mattie Rice Coney was an Indianapolis schoolteacher and Black civic leader who cofounded the Citizens Forum in July 1964. A Black self-help neighborhood association, the Forum sought to improve the health, safety, and beauty of Indianapolis’s inner-city communities by promoting the values of individual responsibility, good conduct, and citizenship. Under Coney’s leadership, the Forum expanded into a nationally recognized organization.

A man and a woman sit at a table that is covered with pamphlets and flyers. Behind them is a "Nixon For President" sign with a picture of Richard Nixon on it.
Mattie Rice Coney at the 1960 Republican National Convention in Chicago. Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

Mattie Rice Coney was born in Gallatin, Tennessee, to Salon and Delia House. The family moved to Indianapolis six weeks later. When her parents divorced, Coney lived with her mother and stepfather, Oscar Weathers, in a house off Indiana Avenue. In 1927, she graduated from Shortridge High School and then studied education at Butler University. Later, Coney completed postgraduate studies at Indiana State University, Western Reserve University, and Columbia University. She married Elmo Coney, a salesman, in 1961. Mattie Rice Coney taught for over 30 years in Indianapolis Public Schools, before retiring in 1965 to head the Citizens Forum.

Founded as a grassroots “Better Neighborhood Program,” the Forum touted a philosophy of civic engagement. In addition to serving as a liaison between local government officials and Black residents, the Forum implemented community education and beautification programs. Coney believed that such efforts would demonstrate evidence of Black self-improvement and foster racial harmony in the city.

Coney’s no-nonsense philosophies, known as “Mattieisms,” won praise from national newspapers, as well as from Dwight Eisenhower and Ladybird Johnson. Mattie Rice Coney retired from the Citizens Forum in 1981.

Revised February 2021

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