“We’ve always been extremely close… because we know that here in Gary, we have to stick together.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative. Produced by Rebecca Werner 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 It Was Really Tough
When Dad won the primary in Gary in 1968, the white leadership of the Democratic Party in Lake County was so upset, that the Democratic Party actually supported the Republican candidate in the November general election. I don’t know of another candidate that’s ever had to face that. I know that was just kind of a knife in the back.
Right. When we celebrated the forty-year anniversary, Marion Tokarski was there with her family.
Yes. And she turned in election irregularities…
She went to the FBI, actually…
… They were actually trying to steal the election from Dad.
… They were trying to steal it. And she told me, ‘I just didn’t believe what they were saying about Richard Hatcher, and God told me to go to the FBI,’ and thank goodness she did.
Yes, thank goodness for Marion, huh?
Yes. So, I know that you grew up in an intense atmosphere. The situation, historically, was extremely important and profound.
I always felt very comfortable in Gary until Dad ran for reelection in 1988 for mayor. It wasn’t so bad after he lost in ’87, but where I really felt the pressure was when he ran again in 1991. At that time, I was twelve, fourteen, so I was kind of in that middle-school-to-high-school age, and he was out running for office, and I had teachers who liked him and teachers who didn’t like him. And it was very clear in school. If I had a extra credit or that kind of project, I never received their approval. Raising my hand, giving answers… I was always a very diligent student. Mom was a teacher and Dad was the mayor, so it was like, you know, I had to be great. And that’s when it became tough, and my grades slipped a bit. I remember Mom being really concerned.
What kind of effect did that have on the family, all of these attacks on him, the continual critiques, the continual blaming him for what U.S. Steel did, or what white banks did, or what white people did in general? How did that impact your family?
It was really tough. We’ve always been extremely close—all of us because we know that here in Gary, we have to stick together. As the oldest, I would travel with Dad the most, and I think I would see just how respected he was around the country. You know, Harvard called and asked for him to come teach there. At that time, we all wanted him to stay there. They offered it, and we wanted him to stay, and we wanted to go.
You wanted to leave Gary?
We wanted to leave. Yeah, we wanted to leave.
Wow, because Gary was so difficult for the family, and because there had been so much, you know…?
It had. It had. My advice was always, “Let’s go to one of these places. You can continue to teach as long as you’d like, and you know, we can have a different kind of life there.”
I really did not grasp the importance of his election and him being the first African American mayor of a major U.S. city until much later. He was in such demand around the country. Here in Gary, he was never appreciated for what he had achieved. I mean, he did so many things around the city of Gary. I mean, he did the airport, he did the bus system, he built the Genesis Center. All I know is that he gave African Americans an opportunity to be in positions of power and leadership. So many African American leaders have come after him that his legacy is not only to Gary, but to the country.