By Giavonni Nickson
The Gary Common Council held a Citation Presentation for the honorary street naming of John Grigsby at 11th Avenue and Taney Street, recognizing his extensive contribution to the City of Gary.
Grigsby was a longtime political ally of former Mayor Richard Hatcher and one of the first proponents of the idea that Gary could elect an African American mayor to elevate business equity, improve housing, and create employment growth opportunities for residents.
Grigsby was born January 8, 1924 in Athens, Alabama, but developed a heart for Gary after moving to the city at a young age to complete his education. Grigsby went to work in the Youngstown Steel Mill at a time when racial segregation, and inequality in Gary mirrored that of the nation.
Grigsby, conscious of the Black community’s struggle in Gary, saw an increasing need for Black political representation after years of migration brought Blacks to Gary from the South, spurring the growth of the city’s Black population.
While Richard Hatcher worked as a lawyer and City Council member Grigsby introduced the idea that Hatcher should run for mayor.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in 1966, Hatcher said, “John Grigsby was one of the first people to talk to me about running for mayor. He walked door to door to get thousands of signatures.”
Grigsby knocked on doors and gathered signatures to affirm his proposal that Hatcher run. In 1966, Civil Rights activist John Grigsby presented Hatcher with a petition signed by five thousand people urging him to run for mayor.
“As the story goes, as told to me on several occasions by Mayor Hatcher, my dad would go out door to door in the winter months after working in the steel mill to gather signatures from the people of Gary. Dad took the notebooks to Hatcher and convinced him to run and the rest is history,” said Grigsby’s daughter Kym Mazelle.
Grigsby lit the spark that ignited Hatcher’s successful campaign and election as the first Black mayor of the City of Gary. The city was buzzing with historic change as a wave of Black political leadership began to stretch across the United States.
Grigsby’s impact on Hatcher’s election to change the landscape of politics is outlined in Jeffery S. Adler’s book “African American Mayors: Race, Politics, and The American City.”
Grigsby loved his family and served his community. After leaving the mill Grigsby worked tirelessly for 20 years. He served as the first Black Precinct Committeeman in Gary from 1968-1988 serving Indiana G3-8. He also headed the city’s General Services Department, ran voter’s registration campaigns, and election campaigns for Katie Hall.
Grigsby’s daughter Kym Mazelle, vividly recounts his commitment to service.
“We would receive calls in the middle of the night for roads to be cleared during the cold winter. I would hear him take the call and say, “I’m on my way.” He answered calls to help someone’s child get out of jail, and calls to help feed those in need. He was always available and willing to do all that he could for the City of Gary, day or night. I remember driving around with my dad in the car, he’d always observe what needed repair or attention around the city and take notes.”
On January 22, 1988 as Grigsby inched toward retirement, he was shot and killed in his office parking lot, leaving Gary in shock and sorrow. Hundreds of family members, friends, co-workers and politicians attended Grigsby’s Celebration of Life service at the Genesis Convention Center.
The street naming is a way for Grigsby’s family, political officials, activists, and longtime Gary residents to honor his legacy.
“The citation presentation and honorary street naming for my father is very important to me, our family, and the City of Gary. For me and if I can also speak for my family members, it means that Dad will receive the recognition and honor that he deserves, but would have never pursued for himself. My father was a very humble, kind, and loving man who spoke often of the need for equal treatment and access for African Americans,” said Grigsby’s daughter Carla McVea.
“It also means that historically, my Dad will be included among others who are known nationally and historically for their contributions to the progress of African Americans, in gaining access to positions of influence in politics.”
The second phase in the street naming process will take place November 24 at Gary’s City Hall to be followed by an announced street reveal in honor of the late John Grigsby.
Giavonni is a passionate freelance writer native of Gary IN. She covers business, politics, and community schools for the Chicago/Gary Crusader.