“Even though we’ve had change in homeownership, the neighborhood is still viable in 2016.”
Produced by Sydney Jarol with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the stories of our lives. www.storycorps.org
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Transcript for Strong Block Club
I was born in 1961, here, in the city of Gary, Indiana. My parents had come up from the deep, deep South. My father had heard so many wonderful things about the city of Gary, Indiana, and opportunities especially that were afforded to African Americans unlike other American cities at that time.
In 1964, my parents purchased their home in what is known as Means Manor, and this area in Gary was built by an African American contractor, Mr. Andrew Means, and this was one of the first neighborhoods featuring African American professionals. The neighborhood was very peaceful. You would hear children playing and laughing. The women, even though they worked, such as my mother, who was a teacher, they always cooked those down home Southern meals. It would be the smell of good food and the feel of warmth, love, laughter, and this was the feel of the neighborhoods in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Well, that’s a very good overview because the other unique thing, I believe, about your Means Manor community is the fact that it’s still vibrant today. This is one of the neighborhoods where people didn’t flee. I find that very, very unique for this city.
Yes, it is very unique, Naomi, and the neighborhood has, of course, changed because of younger people moving into the neighborhood, but fortunately for us, we have a strong block club that’s named in honor of Mr. Andrew Means, formed I would say more than forty years ago to address the specific needs of the Means Manor neighbors, and we have a strong neighborhood watch and so forth. But if we view the city of Gary, as a whole, there has been tremendous change, and as a student, as I like to say, of former Gary mayor Richard Hatcher, I have experienced and witnessed the white flight which I think was strictly based on racism. The majority of the whites at that time in the ‘60s, they did not want to be under the political leadership of a brilliant attorney who was highly qualified to lead this city, and, of course, they did flee from this area.
I think it would be very, very hard to find some of the professionals that helped to create a better Gary for African Americans, find them still living here in Gary—would you say that?
Yes, I think that’s because they have been conditioned to believe that the other communities are better in some ways, but thank God for people, such as the Honorable Mayor Hatcher, who encouraged African Americans to develop more self pride, your mother, who fought for years to have a Gary Historical and Cultural Society to show people their rich history because you have good people here—good, hardworking people—who continually reside in the city of Gary, professional, educated people who are trying to provide jobs, who are trying to instill self confidence. Even though we’ve had change in homeownership, the neighborhood is still viable even today in 2016.