By David Denson, Gary Crusader
A press conference was held Tuesday, June 5th at City Hall to announce plans to mark the 50th anniversary of Richard G. Hatcher’s election as mayor of Gary, IN.
Hatcher, who was elected Gary’s first Black mayor in November 1967, was sworn into office January 1, 1968. Hatcher’s election held national significance; he became the first African American elected to lead a major city.
The theme for the anniversary event is “A Day to Remember,” and is scheduled for Nov. 4 at the Genesis Convention Center. Tickets for the event are $100. Proceeds will go to the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Lamar Taylor, chairman of the Executive Committee Civil Rights Hall of Fame, expressed gratitude for Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson’s support for the Civil Rights Hall of Fame initiative and her willingness to spearhead the anniversary. He also noted that the election of Hatcher five decades ago helped launch the careers of other African-American mayors in other cities.
“Because of what we did in Gary, several years later, the people in Newark, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago were able to do the same.” Taylor said it was that same spirit that helped paved the way for Barak Obama to become the nation’s first Black president.
During Tuesday’s press conference where members of the host committee joined Freeman-Wilson, several people talked about Hatcher’s commitment to the city of Gary and to Black America.
Hatcher, a five-term mayor, is recognized not only for his contributions locally, but has been equally recognized for the role he played in national politics.
Freeman-Wilson remembers when she was seven years old listening to the returns on election night and how elated her parents were that Hatcher won. She recalled that in later years, when trying to decide what college to attend, Hatcher offered her advice that helped her choose Harvard over the GM Institute (now Kettering University) in Flint, MI.
“Clearly, he has not only been a major figure on the national stage, but has also played a pivotal role in the lives of the citizens of Gary,” said Freeman-Wilson.
Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher was born toward the end of her father’s third term as mayor. As she grew up, Ragen was not of aware of her father’s stature on the local and national scene.
“He was just dad to my sister and I. It wasn’t until around the time I was in middle school that I became aware of what he did and the importance of his job.”
Ragen said that many of the political and national African-American leaders have indicated that they will be attending the 50th anniversary celebration.
A close associate of Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Hatcher is a founding member of Operation PUSH and served as campaign manager for Jackson’s first presidential run in 1984.
Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson, senior advisor to Jackson, applauded Hatcher for “his unbroken record in the struggle for human rights.”
In addition to the November celebration, Hatcher will be honored on Saturday, July 15 at the weekly meeting of Rainbow PUSH.