Just Got the Impression

“All they saw was the violence. They did not see the peace. They did not see the change.”

Transcript for Just Got the Impression

I grew up in the Tolleston area of Gary which was, at the time, very Germanic and some Polish. I went to St. John’s Lutheran Church which was the first church north of the Calumet River and spent much of my lifetime there. At one point, we had about five hundred fifty, six hundred members. It was quite a large church. My family, pretty much surrounded the church on all sides. My mother came from a family of eleven siblings and we kind of dominated the map in Tolleston area.

In addition to the church activities, we had the school activities: the sports programs, the social programs, and all of these made a significant difference in our sense of community. Friends were made and became solidified as a result of the closeness of everything in that area.

Back in the mid and late ‘60s we had a pastor called Norman Brandt. And he was quite a social city activist. The neighborhood was changing because of the steel mill and other economic activity. And so he went pretty much door-to-door of the area and started inviting all kinds of interesting people to attend church and eventually become members. He was probably one of the first city activists in that area, speaking before the city council and sharing thoughts about how we should be a unified society regardless of our race.

But as the situation, economically and socially, changed in that area over time, the church became more and more African American. And so as the population or the membership of the church grew in the black culture, the white culture began to leave.

Realtors would come into a neighborhood, say to the whiteys that, “Better move now while your property is still worth something because when this neighborhood starts changing, it’s going to—property values will decrease and you’ll lose out on a lot of money.” And that eventually became illegal, but for quite awhile these white folks just felt, “Well, I’d better do as they say and turn my house over to the realtor and get rid of it while I move elsewhere.”

So many people just heard about these problems or these issues; they didn’t really experience them. They were watching television, they were seeing all kinds of marches and rebellions across the country, and they just got the impression that the black culture was one that was antisocial, and they were a people that just didn’t understand the need of the white person.

I know when we watched, on television, the funeral of Martin Luther King, you know, my uncles in particular would, “Oh, man, we can’t have this.” You know, “What is going on here? What’s happening to our society?” All they saw was the violence. They did not see the peace. They did not see the change. And the violence, they thought, was going to be widespread. It was going to come into Gary, it was going to interrupt every social mechanism or fabric that there is.

And I guess the whole idea of being in the same neighborhood, in the same church, in the same organization with black people was just something that they could not understand or tolerate.

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