“The potential in Gary was and still is tremendous.”
Edited by Welcome Project Intern Ella Speckhard
Transcript for Where Is Everyone Running Away To?
Everything was changing so fast. It was changing too fast. Everybody can adjust to change, but it just seemed like it happened overnight. But the physical town changed. And then, when the businesses started moving out of Gary? Broadway used to be such a dynamic place. People everywhere. Buses, cars tooting and, you now, stores. Just great. But then, you saw stores closing up. There would be vacant buildings which was unheard of at that time. When I was in Gary, it was like, ‘That’s prime location.’ Palace Theater—that was just, to us, and not just me as a kid, but the adults thought the Palace Theater was fantastic. And it was. It was ornate inside. It was very well done. It was beautiful. And it went into disrepair. Everything just kind of slid down and I don’t know what the reason is for that. Maybe lack of faith. I think people have to have faith in where you live. And once you lose that, you don’t care. And just let it go.
My mother and father got a house in 1948, and they stayed there, I mean, I went away to college and I came back, they stayed there to 1976, ’77, I think. So, they left then. They sold their house for four thousand dollars. At that time in Gary, with the flight of people leaving town, they did not allow any ‘for sale’ signs. Everything you had in your house, if it wasn’t up to code, you had to get it up to code, which cost a lot of money, but that was a way of slowing down the exodus. And it was pretty effective. So, they came out with four thousand dollars out of their house, and that was after they spent several thousand bringing it up to code.
My parents were never really adventurous folks even though their parents were, you know, coming over from Europe. My parents weren’t. So, they were scared. They didn’t know what to do. Most of their relatives had moved away, so they were, like, one of the few people there. Maybe there was a handful of, shall we say, white people there and that’s not necessarily an issue because my parents got along with Latinos, and blacks, and that sort of thing. There was just some folks there that they thought, ‘The world is falling apart. Look at what’s happening. These crazy people are running up and down our street doing stuff, throwing stuff at our house.’ It was just unsettling.
My parents, and even I, listening and participating in these conversations, they would always say, ‘Where is everybody running away to? So what, a black person moves on the block? It’s not the end of the world.’ But because everybody fled, because they panicked, for whatever racial prejudice they had, that’s why the property values went down. Because nobody wanted it. All of a sudden—you have a nice, little neighborhood—all of a sudden, there’s twenty houses for sale. Who in heck wants to a buy a house in a neighborhood with twenty houses for sale? Must be something wrong with that neighborhood. What is it? Well, it was nothing more than people panicking and saying, ‘We can’t live here. The neighborhood is shot because a black person moved in two blocks away.’ Which was stupid. Stupid. And I think that’s really a—the basic thing.
There was that paranoia, whether it was good or not. ‘No. You—that’s your neighborhood. This is my neighborhood.’ Whether they could put reasonable excuses for that, probably not, but it’s just the way it was. I mean, they didn’t carry it to, ‘Let’s analyze this and see why can’t we live together.’ No. ‘You stay there. I’ll stay here.’ And that was it. Wasn’t a lot of thought about it—not a lot of analytical going on. And there should’ve been, but there wasn’t.
The potential in Gary was and still is tremendous, if you ask me. Beautiful lakefront. They still have an industrial base. They have a lot of open spaces. They have this fantastic airport nestled between railroads and interstate highways. Let’s use that. Let’s lure businesses back. That’s not dependent on U.S. Steel. We have potential in Gary, and I would love to see them figure something out. ‘Forget about you owing me nothing. I want to do it on my own, and I’m going to do it.’ And I think that’s the attitude that you got to have.
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