“I don’t know any other way to operate. I can’t just sit around and say, ‘Oh, well. That’s the way it is.'”
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
Felt a Lot of Pride
I was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. My mother was a third-generation Hoosier. I’m a fourth-generation, which is somewhat unusual for African Americans because many came from somewhere else for better opportunities up North, and our family went way back, you know, into Indiana. My grandfather’s father was very well-known near the Indianapolis neighborhood. He had a brickyard there and that was a really big deal. Unfortunately, he died because he couldn’t—they wouldn’t let him use the local hospital.
My father got out of the Service, went back to Washington, D.C. where he and my mother had met. My mother was working at the Library of Congress, and my father worked at the GPO, Government Printing Office.
I went to a school—my first school that I can remember was Lucy Diggs Slowe Elementary School. When it was time for me to go to the intermediate grades, I didn’t get along with this teacher too well. In fact, she had me sitting right in front of her desk to kind of watch me. And I knew she didn’t like us coming to her school. But I was taught very early on how to deal with the racism without thinking that there’s something wrong with me. The teacher that didn’t want us there was giving out the words and was making us learn “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” I was writing on my piece of paper, “I’m dreaming of a black teacher.” And I did use the word “black.” I’ve never been ashamed of the word “black.” Even today, some African Americans don’t like to say that word.
I felt a lot of pride. I was thinking black power was a good thing. I was involved in Mayor Hatcher’s ascendancy and in the Mayor Hatcher legacy. Some say he was not the first black mayor of a major city. Some say it was Carl Stokes. Some say it was because of the time zone. But Mayor Hatcher basically has been the one to be called the first mayor of a major city. Now that’s only two years after the Voting Rights Act. And that was just a natural progression of things. It wasn’t just in Gary; it was in Cleveland, eventually down South it started to happen. In other words, the ceiling had opened up.
But what surprised me was the anger that was felt by so many African Americans when the whites left. And even that picture of downtown Gary that’s the famous picture, everybody walking, all the white people… Black people couldn’t even use those stores. They couldn’t try on clothes. And I’m thinking, “What kind of legacy are they crying about?” My father, and them, and his brothers would laugh about, “Well, let ‘em leave. Let ‘em leave. We’ll get some houses now.” But over here, when I came this way, people were actually, “Mayor Hatcher, if it hadn’t been for Mayor Hatcher the white folks never would’ve left here. We would’ve been equal. We would’ve been this, we—” That’s what I remember: actually kind of a split among Gary. You had those who wanted him to be successful and supported him, and then there was a group that began to splinter off and became an anti.
I did have problems with this anti-Hatcher group which, to me, was an anti-black group by black people, many of whom, I don’t think, got it—could get it straight within themselves. “How did he get there and not me?” Maybe that was part of it, I don’t know. And now that Merrillville—people that ran from here to go to Merrillville… Every now and then I’ll say something, and it’s not the most popular thing to say, but I’ll say, “Now, Mayor Hatcher’s not in Merrillville. How come Merrillville’s whites are leaving Merrillville? Can’t blame Mayor Hatcher, now can you?” They never answer that question, you know?
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