Experiencing Northwest Indiana in all its richness for the first time in 1970 as a newly hired professor of History at Indiana University Northwest, I was struck by the Region’s blue-collar flavor and impressed by its ethnic and racial diversity.
I soon learned about the city of Gary’s rich, albeit, brief history since its founding by U.S. Steel Corporation in 1906: its progressive schools under Superintendent William A. Wirt; its labor union struggles and triumphs; its racial progress under black leadership, beginning with the election of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher.
On the flip side, I have lamented its travails as a Hoosier stepchild in an age of de-industrialization, neglected and disrespected by downstate officials.
Though a tough environment, especially for those struggling to find work and raise families, Gary in the past has afforded opportunities for a host of athletes (i.e., George Taliaferro, Alex Karras), actors (Karl Malden, Avery Brooks), musicians (Pookie Hudson, Michael Jackson), entrepreneurs (Vivian Carter, Andrew Means), and other notables (including astronaut Frank Borman and Nobel laureates Paul Samuelson and Joseph Stiglitz) who have achieved success elsewhere.
Even more impressive are those who stayed and became community pillars, such as the recently deceased historian Dharathula “Dolly” Millender and coach Claude Taliaferro.
While some lament what the city has lost, I see a ray of hope for development of Gary’s lakefront, airport and academic corridor, and even possibilities for its commercial rebirth.
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