By: TANNIA JOHNSON
A building once known for division has defined its role.
On Tuesday, Oct. 16, an event celebrating IU South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) becoming a historic landmark took place featuring remarks from major influences in the city including South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and IU South Bend Interim Chancellor Jann Joseph. The South Bend Common Council unanimously approved a bill denoting landmark status of the former Engman Public Natatorium on Aug. 17. By the end of that week in August, Mayor Buttigieg signed it into law.
Becoming a Local Landmark acknowledges discrimination that once took place at the Natatorium, while adding the legal protection of the building from major changes or deconstruction. This allows the building to remain as close to its original stance as possible. Future generations in South Bend gain a more promised chance to learn about the center’s history.
The former Engman Public Natatorium originally opened as a city owned public swimming pool in 1922, located on West Washington Street in South Bend. At one time, many in South Bend were denied access to the public pool.
In recognition to the past contributed by the former Natatorium, CRHC curator, George Garner stated, “The word ‘public’ was carved into the concrete above the entrance, and in spite of that, the city deliberately and purposefully denied entry to people of color.”
The historic building that once heavily impacted segregation in the city of South Bend has been a change for the present and future of the city. Garner continued to add, “It was a long and arduous fight that took almost thirty years before the Natatorium integrated […] Denial of entry to public places is certainly different now than it was in 1922, but it still happens. White people have called police on people of color for engaging in everyday activities like sitting in a coffee shop, attending a picnic, going home to their apartments, and also, still going to a swimming pool.”
“The Natatorium’s role has shifted accordingly from a place that actively discriminated against people of color into one that acknowledges its historic role in segregation and actively works to combat its effects today. In a place where that word ‘public’ was meant only for some, we demand that it be applied equally to all people,” said Garner.
The former Engman Public Natatorium, now known as IU South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center, helps explore the civil rights struggles in South Bend. The people of South Bend and IU South Bend have been provided a window to the history of the city’s struggles, so that a better present and future have been established.
Historic preservation of the building allows more time for research for individuals, and more knowledge to those who wish to uncover history that contributed to the city’s growth. The center now hosts various events and activities surrounding the locations history and future goals. For more information about the new historical landmark and operational hours, you can visit the Civil Rights Heritage Center’s page at crhc.iusb.edu.