A Mayor Who Was Actually About Us

Gary, Indiana (November 2012) / Marc Tarlock /Wikimedia/ CC BY-SA 2.0

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Described as a “pioneering urban mayor,” Richard Hatcher led the city of Gary, Indiana during the rise of the Black Power Movement.

As Gary’s first Black mayor  - and the first Black mayor in the state of Indiana and among the first of any major U.S. city, Hatcher would also serve as the executive director of the NAACP and was known for infusing Black power principles into his politics. In 2017, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of his historic election.

Hatcher served as mayor of Gary, Indiana from 1967-1987 for an unprecedented five terms.  While both positive and negative attributes are referenced in remembering his mayoral tenure, Hatcher is still heralded as a #PushBlackHero since achieving a political feat that most American cities have yet to witness.

As a civic leader, Hatcher was committed to building the Black dollar. He used his power and influence to award the majority of contracts to Black business owners and promote investment in city infrastructure.

While in office, “much of urban America was undergoing painful and profound change: disappearing factory jobs, fewer Federal dollars, rising crime and disease, dying steel mills and middle-class flight.”

However, under the “Hatcher era,” Gary experienced progress on issues of unemployment and civil rights. His encouragement and support of Black-owned businesses helped to attract both outside government and private capital for investment.

As a graduate of Indiana University and Valparaiso University, obtaining a Bachelor of Science and law degree respectively, Hatcher first practiced law before becoming involved in city politics.

He served as deputy prosecutor for Lake County, Indiana from 1961 to 1963, helped to found a civic and social club, Muigwithanian (or “the Movement”), and served as both a city council member and, eventually, city council president.

Outside of formal political office, he served as Jesse Jackson’s campaign chairman during the 1964 presidential race, and later as an advisor during the 1988 race.

Without surprise, Hatcher’s pro-Black focus did not come without critique. Some asserted that his agenda was biased against non-Blacks and used “Gary-Genesis” as a theme to counteract suburban migration of middle-class Black families.

However, his legacies through a commitment to the underserved Black community of Gary, Indiana continue in present times.

In 2016, though without holding a formal political title, Hatcher continued to advocate for a Civil Rights Hall of Fame and Museum to pay tribute to the struggle and heroes of the 1950s and 1960s.

In true Hatcher fashion, this museum would be housed in none other than Gary, Indiana.

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