By Chinta Strausberg, Gary Crusader
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. will join scores of Civil Rights leaders and elected officials Saturday to celebrate former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher—an attorney and one of America’s first African-American mayors—credited with energizing the Black electorate which subsequently voted for a number of Black elected officials over the years.
Gary’s Mayor Karen M. Freeman-Wilson and Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher are leading a group to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Mayor Hatcher’s historic election. Freeman-Wilson credited Hatcher with making “international contributions and leadership in the arena of civil and human rights.”
On Saturday, Hatcher will be honored on the 50th anniversary of his election beginning at 6 p.m. at the West Side High School Theatre, 900 Gerry St in Gary. The theme is: “A Day to Remember.”
Jackson is among a number of special guests scheduled to attend this historic event, including Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan; Marc Morial, president & CEO of the National Urban League; singer Deniece Williams, and other celebrities.
In reflecting on January 1, 1968 when Hatcher became the first African-American mayor of Gary on the same day, Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, OH. Jackson said it was an historic event. They were the first Black mayors elected. “They were young and dynamic.”
Jackson recalls the celebration of the now 84-year-old Hatcher and the day he was elected. The nation’s Who’s Who was there, including the Jackson 5 who performed. Other notables, like Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte and Nancy Wilson went to Gary, according to Jackson.
Hatcher, Jackson said, “has always been on the right side of history. He was our national reference for an urban mayor, and he became the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee…”
Jackson went on to say that Gary “was a national model. All of those who ran for office had to stop by Gary because Hatcher laid the foundation for all of those” who were elected later.
After Hatcher was elected, Jackson reflected, “Many whites left Gary overnight. It was white flight, and it was irrational. At the same time, the steel mills were closing. They went through an economic transformation. The tax base dwindled.”
Jackson praised Hatcher for his humble beginning and his humility and said his victory inspired other African Americans to run and win.
“He built a generation of leaders. He deserves the stature,” said Jackson, who is looking forward to the celebration of Hatcher’s legacy.
Despite the setbacks, Hatcher remained in office until 1987, but his victory gave hope and energy to a slew of African Americans who ran for mayor and won across the nation.
When Hatcher left office, Freeman-Wilson said Hatcher “…committed his life’s work to his family and the pursuit of human rights and the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame,” which she said the realization of this dream is “imminent.” The proceeds of this tribute to Hatcher will go towards the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame.
Tickets for the Hatcher celebration can be purchased online at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-day-to-remember-tickets-370770-22372 or call 219.887.9621.