Students may be surprised to find that a significant piece of history lies right in the city of South Bend.
The IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center, located at 1040 W. Washington Street, is dedicated to the modern day fight for Civil Rights among all cultures.
The building that now holds the Civil Rights Heritage Center was built in South Bend in 1922. At the time, it was known as the Engman Natatorium and held the largest public swimming pool in the state of Indiana.
Although the building was built in part with taxpayer money, African Americans were fully excluded.
In 1936, with community efforts and help from the NAACP, the pool became partially integrated, and African Americans were allowed one day a week to use the pool, which was known as “Color Day.”
It wasn’t until 1950 that the pool became fully integrated. The natatorium eventually shut down in 1978.
The building sat abandoned in South Bend from 1978 to the early 2000s until a group of IU South Bend students went on a Freedom Summer Tour, a historical class trip which visits many southern cities that were majorly affected by the civil rights movement in the 1900s.
After the trip, the students came back really curious about what the history of civil rights looked like in the north, particularly in South Bend.
The students found a way to reopen the abandoned building and turn it into what is now the IUSB Civil Rights Heritage Center, which aims to continue the fight for civil rights and social justice.
Dr. Darryl Heller is the director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center as well as an IU South Bend professor and historian. Heller says that the building is meant to be a tie between the school and the community for service learning, community engagement and much more.
“The traditional civil rights movement that we think of and learn in school came to an end by the end of the 60’s and it was successful, however, the issue of racism, discrimination and exclusion continues. This is a dedicated facility that is deeply concerned about civil rights and social justice,” said Heller.
Not only does the facility fight to promote social justice and preserve history for African Americans but also other groups that are still being oppressed, such as Latinos, women and members of the LGBTQ community.
“A lot of the time, these groups work in isolation from each other, and one of the roles the Civil Rights Heritage Center can play locally is really helping to build bridges, alliances and collaborations between these various groups which is really important for the overall success for everyone,” said Heller.
Heller organizes most of the events that take place at the Civil Rights Heritage Center. The facility can also be used for events hosted as long as coincide with the broad mission and purpose of the building.
Students and faculty are highly encouraged to take trips to the facility to get off campus but still be engaged in a historical and stimulating environment. The center allows people to come in for tours and use their library for research or reading.
Several events take place at the Civil Rights Heritage Center throughout the year. Many events were organized throughout the month of February to celebrate Black History Month, and there will soon be events planned in March for Women’s History Month.
Heller also intends to organize events for October which is Latino History Month and June which will celebrate gay pride. During the summer, the facility also holds a block party in collaboration with the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture. Heller hopes to incorporate an ongoing film series and book discussion into the facility sometime in the near future.
The center is open for the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays.