Crusader Staff Report
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, the Gary Common Council and the Hatcher Legacy Foundation will unveil a statue of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher on Wednesday, October 9, at 2:00 p.m. on the grounds of the Gary City Hall.
Mayor Freeman-Wilson, who was just seven years old when Hatcher was elected, noted during an earlier ceremony announcing the statue’s creation, “Mayor Hatcher, you deserve that and so much more.” Freeman-Wilson explained, “He literally opened the door to Black political empowerment.”
The proposed statue will feature a young, suave Hatcher in his prime. He is now 86.
For Gary residents it is a fitting tribute for Hatcher, who ushered in an era of Black political power in Gary, and throughout the nation.
In 1967, Richard Gordon Hatcher became the first African American elected mayor of a major U.S. city. That year, Hatcher at 34, stunned mayor Martin Katz, winning the primary. With both Republicans and white Democrats against him, there were doubts that Hatcher could defeat Joseph Radigan in the general election. Radigan was a Republican who was backed by Gary’s Democratic organization.
Despite Radigan’s vast political support from Democrats and Republicans, Hatcher defeated him by 1,389 votes and became Gary’s first Black mayor.
Not only did Hatcher become Gary’s first Black mayor and the first Black elected mayor of a large American city, he also became the first Black mayor in the conservative, Republican State of Indiana, where there were efforts to revive the Klu Klux Klan, which had deep ties in many towns.
On that same historic evening, Carl Stokes became the first Black mayor of Cleveland, some 317 miles away. To this day, Hatcher is considered the first Black elected mayor of a large city while Stokes was the first Black mayor of a major city.
As mayor of Gary, Hatcher ushered in an era of Black power that would eventually spread to other cities. Since his historic election, some 500 Black mayors have served in large and small American cities.
Many of these mayors were elected by large Black voting populations that moved to major cities. They threw their weight behind Black candidates who addressed issues that white city leaders had long ignored.
By 1976 there were a total of 91 Black mayors in America, according to the book “Profiles of Black Mayors in America,” published by Chicago’s iconic Johnson Publishing Company and the Joint Center for political studies in Washington, D.C.
In the 1980s bigger city Black mayors were elected in Memphis (1982), Chicago (1983), Philadelphia (1984), Baltimore (1987), New York City (1989) and Seattle. In the next decade Black mayors would also be elected in St. Louis (1993), Minneapolis (1994), Dallas (1995) and San Francisco (1996).
In the new millennium there are 500 Black mayors across the country according to the African American Mayors Association. In the last 50 years 82 Black mayors have served in 39 of the nation’s biggest cities according to a Gary Crusader analysis.
The road to this milestone began with Richard Hatcher.
A civil rights luminary, Mayor Hatcher served as advisor to Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter on issues of civil rights and urban policy, convened the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, served as the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and chaired Reverend Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns.
His fight for civil and economic rights reached beyond the United States as Mayor Hatcher served as the inaugural Chairman of the Board of TransAfrica, an organization that fought to end apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela from prison.
Nationally deemed the “Dean of Black Politics,” by the time he left office, more than 300 African American mayors held office in cities across the country, a feat attributed to Mayor Hatcher’s trailblazing vision and leadership. He served the city of Gary for 20 years.
Freeman-Wilson has been working on placement of the statue since she made the announcement at a ceremony at West Side High School in 2017 that marked the 50th anniversary of Hatcher’s historic election as mayor of Gary.
During that ceremony, prominent guests present included Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan. They praised Hatcher’s important role in American politics and the struggle for civil rights.
Hatcher attended the 2017 ceremony with his wife, Ruthellyn, and their three daughters: Attorneys Ragen, Rachelle and Renee Hatcher. They shared personal testimonies of their father as a family man, contrasting the charismatic political figure with the affectionate father.
The formal unveiling of the statue of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher on October 9 at the Gary City Hall marks the culmination of years of planning and advocacy on the part of local and national supporters.