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African American Landmark Tour brings South Bend history to life

An historical photo of civil rights activists marching in South Bend for equality. Photo via/Civil Rights Heritage Center website

An historical photo of civil rights activists marching in South Bend for equality.
Photo via/Civil Rights Heritage Center website

By: BRIDGET JOHNSON
Staff Writer

The Civil Rights Heritage Center offers a tour of local African American landmarks in South Bend. Tour stops include eighteen locations that are important to South Bend’s civil rights history. Beginning at the Natatorium, guests can pick up a pamphlet and tour map.

The Natatorium itself is a civil rights landmark, segregated from 1920 to 1950, according to the Civil Rights Heritage Center website. Civil rights activists worked diligently to gain the right to use the pool and eventually won the fight. Currently, the Natatorium serves as South Bend’s IU Civil Rights Heritage Center.

Other landmarks include Hank’s Pool Hall, a gathering place for civil rights activists. The building housed Zilford Carter’s law office, a barbershop and the pool hall downstairs.
Marc Rodriguez, director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center, said during e-mail correspondence, “The tour is a great way for Michiana residents to learn about the history and contributions of African Americans to local community life.”

On the tour, people will also see the old Robertson’s Department Store which allowed African Americans to try on clothing when that was forbidden in most clothing stores. The store was built in 1925 and is now the site of affordable senior housing.

Tour stops were established based on their importance to South Bend civil rights history.

“A committee of community members and IUSB faculty evaluated the sites based on a variety of metrics, and decided that the tour would highlight civil, social, religious, and commercial locations important to African American history,” Rodriguez explained.

Those criteria create a tour that is meant to remind people of the struggle for civil rights and the strides that activists made in the search for equality.

Though the tour includes stops throughout the city, it can be done reasonably by walking, cycling or driving. Only one tour stop is out of walking distance.

Porter-Rea Cemetery is located in Potato Creek State Park. The significance of this site is that the cemetery is integrated and has been since its creation in 1884. As with the South Bend City Cemetery, another tour stop, Porter-Rea allowing the integration of resident plots was unique.

According to the Civil Rights Heritage Center website, African American settlers were from the rural Huggart settlement of northern Indiana. They lived in a community with white farmers and landowners. The cemetery was an extension of the integrated community’s lifestyle and beliefs.

Unlike in the rural community, it was difficult for African Americans to find adequate housing in South Bend. Across the country, it was legal to deny housing to African Americans. William Morris, African American realtor, created Chalfant Heights to give African American residents the opportunity to have acceptable housing. The neighborhood and its eleven remaining original houses are now commemorated by the tour.

Rodriguez said, “The hard work of local resident and CRHC interim director Alma Powell helped bring this tour to the people of South Bend. This effort brought the City of South Bend, IUSB, and other groups together in the name of public and community history and will now be a permanent part of the local landscape.”

To go on the tour, visit the IU Civil Rights Heritage Center for a map and pamphlet or the CRHC office located at 3210 Weikamp Hall. To make arrangements for a group tour, call the Civil Rights Heritage Center at 520-4420.

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