Divorce Themselves from Gary

“We had this huge exodus and the population went from majority white to majority black.”

Edited by Rebecca Warner.

Transcript for Divorce Themselves from Gary

Well when I first started out, I was covering mostly high school stuff for the Post-Tribune. There were some great rivalries in Gary when I first got there. Most of the Gary teams played their home games at Memorial Auditorium. Because the Post-Tribune was so close—it was only a couple of blocks away—I would walk to the games. It was never a problem with me. I never had any problems walking to Memorial Auditorium. Never had any problems at Gary Roosevelt, which was an all-black school. Although many times I covered basketball games there and the only white people in the gym were probably the coaches, myself, and the referees, you know? And, in fact, a lot of teams were not real keen on coming to Gary to play games because they were, you know, fearful. But I would come out of Gary Roosevelt late at night after interviewing the coaches and most everybody’d be gone from the parking lot. I never had a bit of trouble there, never did. No. It was fine. Roosevelt was just a fine place.

After Mayor Hatcher was elected, the first African American mayor in Gary, there was a white flight to the suburbs, you know? So Gary’s reputation was slowly deteriorating. But it’d never been all that good to start with. Well, there was a lot of backlash—white backlash—against Hatcher, you know? I don’t know how much of it was his fault or… And he was a polarizing influence, you know, among the white people. Like I said, we had this huge exodus and the population went from majority white to majority black. And of course back then you had the Post-Tribune drop the “Gary” part. They wanted to sort of divorce themselves from Gary as much as possible even though they were parked in downtown Gary. So they just called it the Northwest Indiana Tribune, you know? Post-Tribune. I mean, this was all part of everybody distancing themselves from Gary. For instance, East Gary used to be—it’s now Lake Station. They changed their name because they did not want to be associated with Gary. The only place in Gary right now that is still primarily white is Miller, especially along the lake.

We lived in Miller from 1966 to 1975. Nice little brick home about two blocks away from Wirt High School. And we lived there for about nine years and the first family that moved into our neighborhood was black: the Kirksey family. My kids and their kids played together. But Mrs. Kirksey and the woman next door—the white woman next door to her—got into a fight out in the front one day and somebody pulled a knife. And I thought, you know, “This is not a good place to bring up the kids.” So we had outgrown the house, we had four kids, and part of it was the fact that the neighborhood that we were in was going to get worse.
For instance not us, but our next-door neighbor, they had an alarm system set up. And so anytime they’d leave they’d turn on the alarm system. But apparently one time they forgot to do that. And then at night somebody broke in. And we had, of course, had no idea that this was going on. That same evening somebody had reported suspicious activity in the area. And so the cops were going door-to-door and they knocked on our door and asked us if we had detected anything unusual about things. I said, “No, not really.” Because, you know, it was nighttime. The blinds were drawn. We’re watching TV. We wake up the next morning and in the backyard was this huge rug. And it had all this stuff that they had taken out of the house piled up on this rug. And apparently the cops, in checking out our house, had scared them off because they were flashing our light around and so forth. So that sort of was also added incentive to be leaving Gary.

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