Taking a Stand for Civil Rights

In this photo, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis (left) enjoys a round of golf at Gary’s North Gleason Park. One of Louis’s motives for golfing in Gary was to draw attention to, and protest, the disparity between the nine-hole North Gleason course and the whites-only, 18-hole South Gleason course.

Joe Louis golfing with the Par-Makers
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

Broadly speaking, Gary was much like the rest of the country on civil rights progress after World War II. African Americans and progressive allies made new pushes for equality with only limited success until larger change came in the 1960’s. Garites made efforts both locally and nationally, and some national figures came to Gary offering support for local efforts.

Members of this wedding party were also part of Gary’s NAACP, which welcomed Jewish residents along with African Americans. The bride and groom’s siblings (far left) rode through the segregated South with 1960s Civil Rights Movement Freedom Riders.

Davidson and Biblo Wedding
C. 1965
Cassandra Cannon

White and African American youth shared the floor at a Frank Sinatra concert at the Gary Civic Auditorium in November 1945. Sinatra came to Gary to help dampen white objections to desegregation efforts at Froebel High. While initially unmoved, white students’ opposition to desegregation cooled in subsequent years. The Gary School Board, in response to the Froebel students’ complaints of being singled out for desegregation, ordered all schools to accept neighbor children, independent of race. De facto segregation nonetheless continued because the majority of Gary neighborhoods were segregated.

Froebel School students at Sinatra concert
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

George Kimbley, Bill Young, John Howard, Curtis Strong and Jonathan Comer worked in the mills of NW Indiana, and fought to achieve more racially equitable representation in union leadership, provide equal access to facilities in the mills, and ensure equality in workplace promotions. Like Caldwell before them, they were leaders across labor and wider civil rights issue, working through organizations that include the NAACP and the A, Philip Randolph Institute.

Legends 2005: Black Freedom Fighters
The South Shore Legends project in partnership with the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority 

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