In My Blood

“They put a spirit of justice in me.”

Editing by Welcome Project intern Brandi Casada.

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Transcript for In My Blood

My mom worked, at Mid-State Auto Parts on 19th and Massachusetts, there was a little place next door called The Gary Castle, and everybody came in there to eat at lunchtime, so my mom would go next door, but my dad would meet her—he’d leave Roosevelt High School where he taught, and he’d come and have lunch, and people were coming that were well-known all over Gary to this little, greasy hotdog/hamburger stand. But that’s how he met Mayor Hatcher. Both he and my mother really put that in me. They put a spirit of justice in me.

And one of the things that I remember that has stuck with me today, but I kind of processed it differently as a child, but I remember one day, and I was probably about seven years old, and we were out at what was then Tri-City Shopping Center on 5th Avenue, and we left out of a store, and we got in the car, and when we got in the car, my mother said to my dad, “Did you see that that little boy didn’t have any shoes on?” And he said, “Yeah, I did.” And so, she said, “Well, why didn’t we take them—take him in there to get shoes?” And he said, “I don’t know.” So, they turned the car around to go back to find the little boy, and he was gone, and they agonized over that. “Why did we do that? Why didn’t we stop? We could’ve taken him in the store.” So, in my mind, I processed, “Anytime you see someone who doesn’t have shoes, it’s your responsibility to try to get the shoes for them.” And that’s what I processed in a seven-year-old mind, and that kind of stuck with me, that you’re supposed to help people that are unable to help themselves, and that’s the kind of mindset that went on in my family.

I think part of it came from his background, because he grew up in Rock Island, Illinois, one of the Quad Cities. My mother grew up in Evanston. And when he was in high school, and he said this was really a mess for him, but he was—he lettered in all sports. He was really good in track, but he played basketball, football. And he was very strong academically, to the point where they gave him a standardized test with everyone, and he scored so high, they made him come back and take the test in front of the superintendent, the principal, the teachers—they all sat there and watched him retake the test. And he scored higher.

So, he was actually named his class president his senior year, which he got a little letter congratulating the colored boy, you know? And so, he said whenever someone black came into town, that was like, an entertainer or whatever, they would literally come get him out of class and take him to welcome the person to town and he said, “That was so embarrassing for me. I felt like there’s some adult that could do this.” But they did that, and then he left as soon as he graduated from high school, he was drafted and became a Tuskegee airman. And then from there, he went on, and he had several college scholarships, but he chose to go to Northwestern. So, when he finished at Northwestern, he came back to Rock Island to teach, and they wouldn’t let him. And they said, “Well,” one of the guys said, “Well, Jim, look, let us give you another job so they can kind of get used to looking at you, and then maybe we can move you into a teaching position.” And so, he sued them, but of course, he didn’t win. This was 1950, and he didn’t win, but in the meantime, another teacher there that had taught him said, “Look, I have a friend in Gary, Indiana, and they’re hiring teachers. I’m sure I can help you get on there.” And he did.

And in retrospect, he said it’s the best thing that happened to him because he taught at Roosevelt for many years and then, when Mayor Hatcher won, he got—first got a job with their Model Cities program, and he left for a time and got a job with a company, the Jacobs Company, that set up Model Cities programs for cities that got the grants. And so, he traveled and set them up. Then he came back and became Mayor Hatcher’s special assistant, and then they created the deputy mayor in the state legislature. They made that position, and he became the deputy mayor. And after leaving there, he went and became the general manager for the bus company. And all this time, he was teaching at IUN, too. His passion was always—number one, it was teaching, but also that justice part was in him. And he passed that on to me. And on the other side—well, he met my mom because she lived in Evanston and he went to Northwestern. But her family had been involved in desegregating the educational system in Evanston, as well. So, it’s just in my blood…