GARY — The Rev. Al Sharpton, an outspoken preacher and civil rights activist who is famous for leading the fight against racial prejudice and injustice in the United States, recalled when he first came to Gary, a young man of 18 in 1972, and met former Mayor Richard Hatcher.
Sharpton now hosts his own radio talk show called, "Keepin' It Real," and he makes regular guest appearances on cable news television. In 2011, he was named the host of MSNBC's PoliticsNation, a nightly talk show. In 2015, the program was shifted to Sunday mornings.
He was the keynote speaker for the National Civil Rights Institute Hall of Fame which celebrated National Civil Rights Day with a dinner Sunday at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary. The late president Ronald Reagan in 1987 proclaimed Aug. 12 as National Civil Rights Day.
Sharpton told the crowd there are so many reasons why the city of Gary and the nation needs the National Civil Rights Museum and Hall of Fame that was first proposed many, many years ago.
Sharpton recalled the black civil rights movement and Hatcher's role as one of the first two black mayors elected in large cities in 1967.
He said the civil rights movement might not have continued had there not been the National Black Political Convention in 1972 in Gary, of which he took part.
"It was this coming together in Gary that empowered us," he said. "There was friction and some fighting (after King died), but by the end of the convention we all learned that we are on the same highway.
"One of the reasons why we need to have this museum in Gary is because our children need to have the landmarks, they need the understanding of our history and the black civil rights movement," Sharpton said.
He said a National Civil Rights Museum and Hall of Fame in Gary will reconnect black people and connect generations. "They (young people) need to understand what we have done so they know what we can do," Sharpton said.
In referring to the black-on-black shootings around the country, and in particularly in Chicago, Sharpton said, "Rahm (Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel) is acting like Trump and talking to people like he ain't got good sense. We need to develop a backbone like we had in 1972 when we were in Gary.
"First of all, Mr. Emmanuel and Mr. Trump, take the base out of your voice, you talking to grown folks. Don't be hollering at us," Sharpton said.
"When we had no money, when we had no positions, we didn't allow them to talk down to us. now they talk to us like we have no self-respect. That's because we've been beaten down into forgetting who we are and that's why we need a museum," he said.
Sharpton said it's important to tell the story of black people, who they are and where they came from. He said young black children need to be able to walk through a museum and see people who look like themselves and see the kinds of things those people have achieved.
The campaign to build a National Civil Rights Museum and Hall of Fame began many, many years ago. According to its website the cost to build the museum is now at $14 million.
During Sunday's dinner, Gary civil rights activist and retired educator Carolyn McCrady won the Burton Wechsler Equal Opportunity Award. Gary civil rights attorney Douglas Grimes won the Thurgood Marshall Legal Justice Award.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson won the Maxine Waters Government Freedom Award.