“Grade school was good; y’know, everybody got along, and then they started to have fights in Tolleston park.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative.
Hold a Conversation
Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.
Transcript for Down the Block
My grandfather came from Czechoslovakia. He did not know who his mother and father were; he lived with an uncle and an aunt and from his description his uncle was very mean to him. If I understood his story, at the age of 14 or 15, he hired somebody to take him over the mountains to get him to whatever sea is there, and he actually paid freight to be in a hold in whatever ship it was. And when he came through Ellis Island, his name, they shortened it. It was Scherokman. And they said “This is your name.” And then I don’t know how he got to Indiana. And he went to work at a screw and bolt factory on 4th Avenue in Gary. And he saw a young lady that worked down on the floor at the screw and bolt factory, and they eventually got married. He met my grandmother when she was 12 years old.
You know, at that time, my grandparents would have lived on 25th and Grant street, which today – and even back when I was growing up – that was predominantly black. They had a house there on 25th, but he also had a scrap yard – like a junkyard – and he worked in the mill, came home, and whatever scrap could come into his yard he would resell it and what have you. He had a second-grade education, so.
My folks didn’t own a first home until 1959. They couldn’t afford a home. The first neighborhood, Buchanan street, was when my brother and I were very young; and then we moved over to 10th & Garfield in Gary, and that would have been considered Tolleston, and the neighborhood was comprised of Irish, German, Polish, Italian, Hispanic, Slav and Czech. It was a blend. Across the street was when I first became aware of deaf people. The two boys – Fred and Jim – were, y’know, they could hear, but mom and dad, it was all sign language, and that was the first time I was ever familiar with that. We lived above my grandparents when we moved over into Tolleston. And it was either Slovak or Polish or Czechoslovakian, and you pick up on some phrases, but then across the street they spoke Italian, down the block there was German.
Grade school was good; y’know, everybody got along, and then they started to have fights in Tolleston park. And it was a mix; it was black and white. Some of the people would come back to the neighborhood and they said, “Well, y’know, there were knives,” and quite naturally folks started to become concerned, and then my mom and dad looked for a way to move over to the Horace Mann district.
As I grew older and I got involved with sports, my dad, I noticed – not that it was unusual, but he had black friends. Half the basketball team – my dad had one of the basketball teams – it was black. And my last year that I was in Little League, we had an All-Star team. They had the draft, every spring, they had a draft for the kids, and my dad drafted a black boy. Jimmy Scott was his name. He was a lefty. And he deserved to be there by all rights; he was just a terrific, young baseball player. And that’s when I had people call up and I heard on the phone, “You’re a black-lover…,” “What’re you doing that for…,” “What’s wrong with you…,” and stuff like that, and that came mostly from people lived down in the Tolleston… which lived down by the high school. So then I started, y’know, at that point I’m thinking, “Wow, y’know, what’s going on here?” And then like I said as we grew up, and we were living on Garfield they started having these fights in Tolleston park, which was a beautiful park by the high school there. They had a swimming pool. They had a track; they had a baseball field. They had events that they would hold there every year, and that just kinda, as soon as there started to be friction, that just went away; it dissipated. Nobody was… they were afraid to go, let’s put it that way.