Hold the Line

“These were good people who honestly believed that there was a real problem in terms of the difference between the races.”

Edited by Rebecca Werner.

Transcript for Title of Story

Well, at the time of Richard Hatcher’s election as Mayor of Gary, we didn’t know how that election was going to go, but we knew it would be close. And so it was decided to hold the line at the interstate highway, that is I-94. There were state police who were housed here in Valparaiso the day of the election and obviously overnight. There was a real fear that something would happen. Riots would occur. That never developed. That never happened, but it was a time of tension in the area. 

In those days, in the ’60s, when integration was starting to occur in Valparaiso, there were people who were very worried about the fact that the black men wanted to marry our white girls. There were other fears, too. There were people who believed that they just weren’t up to “our community standards,” if I can put it that way, and these were good people who honestly believed that there was a real problem in terms of the difference between the races. 

There were also people in Valparaiso at that same time working hard to have the community understand that this was the future. The university was in the forefront of bringing people of color to Valparaiso. I’m sure you’ve heard the stories of the Cotton family and all that. I happened to be the attorney for the Plan Commission when the Cotton house was built, and there was a regulation that required homes to be built on paved streets, and there was no street in front of this lot. And so the city required them to build a paved street. Well, of course, there was nothing at either end. There was this lot with a street going no place except in front of their home. I was asked, “What is the law?” And I said, “This is the law.” And so, but I think many of us understood that it was kind of a thing that was designed to make it uncomfortable for the Cotton family to come. There were people in town who thought that, you know, that the university was just pushing something they shouldn’t push. They should just go there and teach students and not get so involved with the community. But at the same time, there was a lot of cooperation between the community and the university. And Bob Cotton is now a member of the city council.

Hold a Conversation

Can you imagine leading a conversation about this story? Where? With whom? What kinds of questions would you pose? (See How to use the questions for reflection for one approach.) Please email your questions to us or post them in the comment box for our consideration. If you use them in an actual discussion, let us know how the conversation went.