By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
Roosevelt’s graduating class of 1961 will host a celebration reception to honor H. Theo Tatum, their graduating principal for his many accomplishments as a renowned educator and citizen. The event will be held October 8 beginning at 11 a.m. at Indiana University Northwest Bergland Auditorium.
For many years, as principal of Roosevelt High School, Tatum not only raised the standard for academics, but also consistently maintained those standards for years. The program will include Tatum’s life highlights through reflections from family members, teachers and administrators.
The Committee in support of honoring H. Theo Tatum is comprised of Ronald Hanley, as Chairman, Bernard Watson, Richard Calloway, Ajac Triplett, Rev. Jerry Protho, Gerald and Myrna Irons, Chuck Hughes and Demetrius Harris.
The idea of honoring Principal Tatum came from the classes of 1966 and 1961. The two classes were concerned about the blight of education across the country and they knew Black America needed to do something. Classmate Steve McShane went to the archives on Principal Tatum at Indiana University Northwest and found that most of the photos and information on him was not identified. He tried to reach out to people, as well as Tatum’s family members who might have been able to identify people in most of his photographs. Tatum’s four children, all graduates of Roosevelt, are deceased.
Hanley said, “Recently during the class of 1966’s 50th reunion some of his family members were able to identify some of the people in his photographs, but the class wanted to identify more. We want his archives to shed light on how he was a respected man, along with his accomplishments because he was ahead of his time.”
Harbart Theodore Tatum was known as H. Theo Tatum throughout his life. Tatum was a Gary resident from 1925 and was an administrator in the Gary Public School System for 36 years. He retired in 1961, but did volunteer work in civic and educational affairs until his death June 16, 1983.
In addition to being the principal at Roosevelt, he was principal of Pulaski, Vice Principal and Director of Teacher Training at McDonogh High and Normal School in New Orleans, LA., Instructor in Principles of Education, In-Service Workshop for Teachers, School City of New Orleans.
He received degrees and postgraduate degrees from several institutions of higher learning throughout the country. He was valedictorian of his Charlton High School class, graduated Summa Cum Laude from Wiley College, graduate of Columbia University, earned a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration from Columbia University, as well as completed postgraduate studies at both Columbia University and the University of Chicago.
He performed general professional and civic services throughout the Gary community including being a member of the Gary Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Board of Directors for the United Fund of Gary, former president of the Lake County High School Principal’s Association, President of the Gary Redevelopment Commission, President of the Gary Goodwill Industries and Member of the Board of Directors of the Indiana Association of Mental Health.
There have been quite a few graduates of Roosevelt High School who went on in life to become very successful and highly recognized throughout the country and the world. Even members of the committee to honor Tatum have significant accomplishments. Dr. Bernard Watson was assistant principal of Roosevelt in 1947 and was appointed to three boards by Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Jerry Protho went on to become a minister in the Gary community, Chuck Hughes, who was a member of Roosevelt’s basketball and football team, is the executive director of the Gary Chamber of Commerce. Gerald Irons went on to play professional football for the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns and Demetrius Harris was the organizer of the first Miss Black Gary Pageant.
Hanley said the group is trying to bring light to how Tatum was respected as a man. He said, “He was a legend because of what he achieved as a man. We want to show what he has done in terms of education. We have been producing people like those who are members of the committee so we want to start a scholarship in his name. The theme of the celebration is The Man, The Principal, The Legend.”
Those confirmed to attend the celebration include Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, School Superintendent Dr. Cheryl L. Pruitt and the assistant to the School Superintendent, Dr. Cordia Moore. All three are graduates of Roosevelt High School. In addition, members of his family will be attending and former members of his staff, as well as teachers will also be remembering him as a legend.
Should anyone want to share personal reflections regarding H. Theo Tatum or need further information contact Ronald B. Hanley (301) 868-3344.