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A one-of-a-kind celebration for an extraordinary man

Contributed By:The 411 News

50th anniversary of Mayor Hatcher's election was a class act

NPR’s Michael Puente got it right: “Who else in Chicagoland could bring Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan together in the same room?”

In person and others through Skype video came to the West Side high school auditorium Saturday night for “A Day to Remember: 50th Anniversary Honoring Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, First Elected Black Mayor in the United States.” On November 7, 1967, Hatcher was elected mayor of Gary and at the same time in Cleveland, Carl Stokes was elected mayor. Both became the nation’s first black elected leaders of major U.S. cities.

They also came to help Mayor Hatcher reach his goal of building the National Civil Rights Hall of Fame in Gary. It was during his 20-year tenure as mayor that Hatcher also became a national and international spokesman for minorities, civil rights, the poor and America’s cities.

For Mayor Hatcher, the civil rights era was a watershed in U.S. history that was responsible for major court decisions, national, state, and local laws that mandated fair treatment and equal opportunity for all citizens. The National Civil Rights Hall of Fame is being created to preserve and promote the artifacts, documents, and memorabilia of the era that are in danger of being lost, destroyed or discarded.

Gary’s Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson recalled her first memory of Hatcher as a 7-year old. He was campaigning for mayor and came to a meeting in her parent’s home. “I knew then he was somebody I wanted to be like,” she said. Today, she’s helping to make the hall of fame a reality.

It was Jesse Jackson, Hatcher’s friend for all of those 50 years and before, who got the audience engaged in financially supporting the museum. “We need a statute of Hatcher for the museum. Matter of fact, we need two,” said Rev. Jackson, “the other can be put in Merrillville because Hatcher was its founder.” Some in the audience called out, “… and make them pay for it.” Dozens in the audience pledged donations to a statue for Hatcher in the museum.

Merrillville was the beneficiary of white flight from Gary after Hatcher’s election.

Minister Farrakhan spoke of Hatcher’s service to all people. “He is my role model, the master teacher. The mayor has laid down the example and pattern of work that has inspired many. He is an extraordinary human being. For all the years I’ve known him, he’s never been a self-centered egotistical human being. He is truly a public servant.”

To date, local fundraising efforts have brought in close to $500,000. Recently, through the City of Gary and Mayor Freeman-Wilson, the project received a $59,500 grant for a feasibility study from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Lamar Taylor, a hall of fame board member said the executive committee is now exploring using space at the Genesis Convention Center to house the museum instead of constructing a new building.

Gary Branch of NAACP members and supporters during intermission at Hatcher celebration

Story Posted:11/05/2017

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