“It was hysteria…and fear.”
This story is part of our Flight Paths initiative.
Hold a Conversation
In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.
- How has the speaker experienced issues of race across her life? What are some of the key moments or chapters in the story she tells?
- How does she make sense of her political experience?
- Why does she say, “It feels like – I don’t know, we just haven’t made the progress we thought we made.”
- Do you agree that we need to talk about race?
- Do you agree with her that “we [cannot] get anywhere, unless we can address the race issue nationally?” What would that mean?
- What would it take to make greater progress on race relations?
- What role does politics play in making that progress?
Transcript for A Long Way to Go
I think it’s so critical that we start talking about race. I think we just have to be honest, and I do this with some of my black friends. You know, there’s one woman that, she’s an architect, and she and I have coffee and we are like, “Okay, Roz, what are we gonna do this week to bridge this gap and make things better?”
But when I was growing up it was all white. We had no African Americans in the school. I remember when I was maybe in middle school that there was a whole area of, um, Hispanics – Puerto Ricans and Mexicans that had a little small part of the west side of Lake Station.
But I do remember being out on the playground, and then all of a sudden there were these Puerto Rican or Mexican kids and it was scary. And I think it was because, all of my life, up till that point, everybody was the same. And I know I must have heard, although I cannot pinpoint, that they were different and we had to be careful. We were told as children to stay away from them.
I can remember when Martin Luther King was killed. I put a picture on my front door with a black drape over it. I was a young mother, and we lived in the little neighborhood, all-white neighborhood. And it was sort of, um, very controversial in the neighborhood, and we lost some friends over it. You know, people came over and they were very upset that we would feel the loss and could do something so outrageous, but if felt right because it’s like anything: you have to take a stand, you have to be who you are, and I think it’s required.
My husband and I, when Richard Gordon Hatcher ran for mayor, we worked on his campaign. We worked with what they call the Miller Mafia, which was a group of Jewish people that were lawyers and business people, and very liberal. Richard Gordon Hatcher was a brilliant man; we were all happy that he won. I think, as the years went on, as the twenty years of his reign, we all felt disappointment, but I think that we were proud to be one of the cities that elected a black mayor at that time. It was sort of a badge of honor.
When Hatcher won it was a very, very exciting time because we were breaking new ground. And there was, um, there was the excitement that new people were coming in from all over to be part of his administration. I mean, people felt that not just here, but throughout the country. So he was getting very qualified and and very well known people to help him in his administration. And that honeymoon period went on for a while.
But there were a lot of issues with the rest of Lake County and Porter County. I mean, people didn’t like that there was a black mayor here and that’s how Merrillville and Munster were born. So many people left all parts of Gary to go south. And that meant that then there were homes that some were just abandoned or that were sold so cheaply that it brought the level of poverty up because people who couldn’t afford it otherwise were moving in.
I don’t think he did enough to alleviate the fear. Instead of this feeling that we’re a team and we’re working together it became a very black and white thing from the administration and, you know, that exacerbated the situation of people leaving. But like I said, there were also major economic things. I mean, the suburban malls did so much damage, the steel industry collapsing. You know, there were just not the middle class jobs here, anymore.
I think that the term “white flight” describes it. You know, unfortunately, that’s exactly what it was. It was hysteria, and fear, and it’s – you know, I understand that people will do anything to protect their families. And we always have to have somebody to hate, it seems. So, the more different you are, the easier it is to hate you.
The race issue is huge. And I don’t think we can really…Gary can get anywhere, unless we can address the race issue nationally. People don’t want black people living next to them. I think we’ve got a long way to go. It feels like the sixties again. It feels like – I don’t know, we just haven’t made the progress we thought we made.