Before the Floodgates Opened

“I will call some agents out there and see what’s available, but I want to let you know what times we’re living in.”

Transcript for Before the Floodgates Opened

Open housing just opened the floodgates and made it possible for anybody and everybody to live in any parts of the city.

My father was a realtor. In fact, my father, Charles Hughes, Sr., was one of the first, prominent African American realtors in Gary. He started out working for this company, Devaney, and he trained a lot of the African American realtors, powers, and others that are around now. He was really a pioneer in that business. And so my father took it upon himself to do what he had always aspired to do and that was to be a businessman. So, he quit US Steel and he went and worked for Devaney Reality.

He was the only black sales person there. This was a white-owned company at that particular time. My father was engaging, his personality was engaging. I guess I can say this and not feel jealous, but he was an awfully good-looking guy, too. All of those things worked in his favor and he was able to cross that bridge. Talk to people, get clients, and meet folks and all that.

And after a while, he ventured out on his own and started Hughes reality. And he was very successful. He was a salesman, he was a businessman, and he was a personality. I think that helped as much as anything else. And so we were able then to move to the more affluent, at the time, Tolleston area of the City of Gary.

That was an area for black professionals. If you lived in Tolleston, particularly if you were on Taft Street where I was and in that area, it was black professionals. So that was early on part of the migration out of the Midtown area of Gary into other areas.

I learned the real estate business from my dad. The thing that prepared me was his efforts. In terms of real estate at that particular time, you had to battle with others who were in real estate sales who were African American with selling the homes primarily of African Americans. That’s who your customer base was primarily. Now if you had relationships with people, and my father had established many relationships where they would call him or they would call the office, then certainly we would have the opportunity to deal with real estate deals no matter wherever they were in the City of Gary.

You weren’t selling them in Miller near the beach, wasn’t selling in Glen Park. It’s amazing that Glen Park is so heavily African American now. There’s some people, young folks now, they can’t envision the fact that, if you’re familiar with Gary at all where the interstate 80/94 is, you did not cross that bridge from Midtown. I mean, you just didn’t cross it. There’s no reason to cross it. You weren’t getting a job, you wasn’t going to school, you had no relatives or friends.

So you were sort of condensed to where you could sell. It didn’t affect the white companies as much because even black people had the mindset that “if I’m going to get the best deal, if I’m going to get the most professional expertise, then I’m going to get it from the white folks.” Or have the wider range of choices, too. Yeah, yeah. Let me put it this way, it was more of an inclination for blacks to go to a white realtor than whites to come to a black realtor.

But, again, I’m a say this now. They could go but they weren’t going to Miller, places like that. I’m not just putting it on the realtor. It was the realtor, but the person selling the property too, had a right to sell to who they wanted to sell to, as well.

If you were a black person coming to me and say, “Look, I’ve got money, I want to live in Miller, I want to live anywhere I want to live.” I tell them, “Look, I will call some agents out there and see what’s available, but I’m just going to let you know now that you know what times we’re living in. It’ll be difficult, but I’ll do my due diligence and call them, see what’s going on.” I wouldn’t categorically tell a person, “No it’s impossible, no you can’t do it.”

But in those changing areas, where maybe homeowners were seeing that the area was changing anyway, then they may have been more inclined to sell to a black person, which would open up that market up a little more. But, after the open housing activities that took place, then every area including Miller, Glen Park, and those areas heretofore that had been totally, exclusively white and exclusive of blacks, then it opened up open housing throughout the community.

If you go into the Miller area right now, and you traverse the lakefront, you see those beautiful homes right on the lake – I mean million-dollar homes, home worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – there are people who fled those homes, literally gave them away just so they couldn’t be around black folks when open housing and all that occurred. And they moved to some of our suburban areas. And they moved into the bungalows and frame buildings and it’s like, wow. So, I think there’s a realization now that Gary has to evolve, Gary has to change, Gary has to come back. Because I think people want to come back. I think people think it was a reflex action, that, after a while, “Oh my God, did I give away my beautiful home on the lakefront?” And so I think that that was the far-reaching effect of racism at that point.

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