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Gary names street, memorial garden after city's first black precinct committeeman

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Gary names street, memorial garden after political pioneer, city's first Black precinct committeeman

Gary dedicated Taney Street Honorary John Grigsby Street in honor of the political pioneer who encouraged Richard Hatcher to run for mayor and become one of the country's first Black mayors.

Gary named a street and memorial garden after John W. Grigsby, a political pioneer and the Steel City's first black precinct committeeman.

The city designated Taney Street at 11th Avenue “Honorary John W. Grigsby Street” in honor of the one of the earliest supporters to encourage then-councilman Richard Hatcher to run for mayor, making history as one of the first black mayors in the country after winning the 1967 election. Grigsby, a late civil rights activist and longtime political organizer who gathered 5,000 signatures encouraging Hatcher to run for mayor, was fatally shot outside a city office in 1988.

"Mr. Grigsby made significant contributions to our local political history but also world history," community activist and historian Sam Love said.

He was long very close to Hatcher and very committed to the community, said his daughter Kym Mazelle, "the first lady of house music" who helped pioneer the house genre in the United Kingdom and Europe.

"I know because I had to go door to door to door to door with him," she said.

Grigsby was very loyal and shared Hatcher's vision for the city, his daughter State Rep. Ragen Hatcher said. Grigsby, an Alabama native who worked at the Youngstown Steel Mill before becoming a city employee, aspired to foster equality, create opportunity, improve housing, end segregation, and increase black political representation after African Americans migrated from the south to work at Gary's steel mills.

"Most of our street names in the city of Gary are named after past presidents from Broadway going west, and most of those presidents have a challenging history with African Americans," she said. "Even if we get past our presidents, it's concerning to have a population of people who look like us and have these names on our streets. It doesn't feel good and isn't a confidence booster for our community."

Mayor Jerome Prince said Grigsby and Hatcher paved the way for politicians like him.

"He had the foresight to know African Americans can and should hold office in the city of Gary," he said. "In many ways, his insight was probably greater than anyone would give credit today ... we need to share this history with our kids, our grandkids and anyone who doesn't know. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to solidify that history and put a stamp on it so we can stand here 20, 30, and 40 years from now and tell more stories."

The official recognition is long overdue, Gary Chamber of Commerce President Chuck Hughes said.

"It's important that we don't just recognize the people who are in the paper all the time and have notoriety," he said. "We need to recognize the people who actually do the work."

Gallery: Gary Then and Now


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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