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The Election of Richard G Hatcher

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Submitted By scc0o7
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The 1963 historic March on Washington and the subsequent passing of some sweeping civil rights laws spurred African-Americans who had grown angry and frustrated over the slow rate of their social and economic progress. They were now finally prepared to realize their potential force in order to exercise a decisive measure of political control over their own lives. Consequently, several African-American mayors of major cities, especially in the industrial North, were elected opening the floodgates of other African-American elected officials throughout the nation, including city council-members, aldermen, school board members, governors and presidents. After winning the primary and the general election with 95 percent of the African-American vote (At the same time, Carl Stokes was elected mayor of Cleveland, Ohio), Richard G. Hatcher became the first African-American mayor of Gary, Indiana, and the first in the state of Indiana. He was elected in November 1967 and inaugurated in January 1968. Hatcher served an unprecedented five terms and as one of the beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement, he set the tone and was used as the standard by which many African-American mayors, that came after him, throughout the nation, were evaluated or criticized. Hatcher broke the racial glass ceiling for a host of African-American mayors who followed him.

In the light of this watershed moment, it is the purpose of this paper to analyze how Richard Gordon Hatcher became the first African-American mayor of Gary, Indiana. For this critical examination, the 1967 Mayoral election has been selected. This historic fete will be first analyzed by learning about the background of Hatcher and Gary’s political landscape prior to the 1967 race. Second, Hatcher’s scramble to be mayor will also be examined via the Democratic primary held in May of that year. Third, the general election of 1967 will be reviewed and analyzed as well.
First, this paper will examine the background of the first African-American mayor of Gary, Indiana and the political landscape of Gary prior to the 1967 election. Richard Gordon Hatcher was born on July 10, 1933, in Michigan City, Indiana, the youngest of 13 children to Carlton and Catherine Hatcher. His father worked manufacturing railroad cars for the Pullman Company and his mother was a factory worker. Though born blind in one eye, he excelled in high school in track and on the football field. His talent as an athlete earned him an athletic scholarship to Indiana University where he received his bachelor’s degree in business and government in 1956. During his years at Indiana, Hatcher became involved with the NAACP picketing the segregated campus cafeteria.[1] His activism continued at Valparaiso University School of Law, Indiana, where he helped organize a sit-in at a luncheonette in Michigan City. After earning his law degree in 1959 and passing the Indiana Bar exam, he moved to Gary. Hatcher began practicing law in nearby East Chicago and also became deputy county prosecutor. However, he maintained a keen interest in politics. In the furtherance of his yearning for politics, he helped found a civic, social club in 1962 named Muigwithania (“the Move-ment” in Kenya) with a focus on political activism. The following year he became a city council member and then the city council president. In that capacity, he introduced legislation in housing and civil rights to aid the city’s poor. [2] Moreover, through his legislative successes, Hatcher gained a loyal constituency among African-American voters, while undermining entrenched White Democratic interests.
His entrance into local politics was a new, “threatening” phenomenon coming on the heels of the massive civil rights protests throughout the nation, civil unrests in urban cities and tremendous television coverage of the struggles African-American people were experiencing.[3]

Since Gary was incorporated as a city, African-American citizens were routinely treated as second class citizens when it came to employment, housing, and education. For example, African –Americans came to Gary for various reasons which included search for better paying jobs and to get away from the cotton fields of the South, as well as in hopes of less discriminatory working conditions. Sometimes they were hired to replace White workers who had gone to war or they were recruited to work as strike breakers Most were never able to advance out of their mediocre, at best, jobs. Furthermore, African Americans were restricted to living in the midtown area of Gary and were not allowed to live in neighborhoods such as Miller, Glen Park, or other predominately White districts. Finally, the Gary schools were segregated. For instance, thousands of White students went on strike at Emerson High School in 1927 when black students attempted to attend the school. Thus, Roosevelt High School was built specifically in the mid-town district of Gary for black students.[4] For that reason, by the 1960s, there was a call to action that reflected a growing sense of community among African-Americans, a fresh awareness of shared experience and a common heritage. African-Americans were now challenged to gain a measure of control over the institutions of their community and there was an appeal for black solidarity which led to resolute political action as an essential means to that end.[5]

In Gary, many African-Americans questioned whether “vice and graft” could be reformed. This question prompted several “black idealists” into action back in 1959 when Attorney Hatcher moved to Gary. After being elected to the city council by the largest number of votes (12,779) in Gary’s history in 1963, Hatcher became the catalyst for the passage of a fair housing law because he led a 1963 demonstration of almost fifteen thousand people. Therefore, the city council passed the nation’s strongest open occupancy bill. In addition, one year before the 1967 mayoral primary, Dozier T. Allen had come within seven hundred votes of winning the May 1966 Democratic primary race for Calumet Township Assessor “even through the democratic machine had slated five candidates, including four Negroes, to divide the vote.” Allen carried Gary with 10,011 votes. Consequently, many started to believe that Gary had a strong black voting base to implement change.[6]

II. Next, the second part of this historical analysis will focus on the Gary 1967 mayoral primary. The mayor of Gary in 1967 was A. Martin Katz and he wanted to continue as the mayor. Sensing that Gary voters could be mobilized, but still a long-shot candidate, Hatcher launched his "new freedom" Campaign for the Democratic nomination, pledging to rid Gary of the "shackles of graft, corruption, inefficiency, poverty, racism and stagnation." Also, another major candidate joined the primary race, Bernard Konrady. His candidacy would be an advantage to Hatcher because the White vote would be split between himself and Mayor Katz. “Konrady… kept up a barrage of criticism against Katz, whom he labeled a pawn of former Mayor George Chacharis.”[7]

Before Hatcher announced his candidacy for mayor of Gary, he knew he had to a very strong organization that would have several committees that would focus on the minutiae of the Campaign politics. The structure and function of the Hatcher Campaign was led by Jesse Bell, a Gary school teacher, who separated the Campaign into a variety of committees, each having their own duties and responsibilities (i.e., finance, research, speech writing, etc.). Furthermore, Hatcher designated executive committee coordinators who had worked on previous election Campaigns. The Hatcher Campaign’s strategy was to make sure that “Blacks” were registered to vote in huge numbers and that he would need a significant amount of White votes to win. In addition to mobilizing the support of the “Black” working class, Hatcher had to also win over the “Black Establishment” of middle class professionals.[8]

In order to mobilize the “Black” vote, Hatcher relied upon thousands of volunteers and the biggest percentage was African-American. Hatcher also sought help from African-American community leaders such as ministers, activists, educators, steelworkers, and “others without previous political experience.”[9] Moreover, the Campaign had to get out the White vote by soliciting the help of Jewish Miller residents such as Arthur Daronatsy, Fred Stern and Burton D. Wechsler. Finally, in order to penetrate the “Black Establishment,” Hatcher sought the help of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who “expressed hope Hatcher would win.” However, the Campaign believes that the turning point of the election was the Harry Belafonte concert held at the Municipal Auditorium that brought out thousands to see Belafonte sing and see surprise guests such as Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, Judy Pace, Oscar Brown Jr. and Georgia legislator, Julian Bond. As a result of this concert, Campaign finances were now solid and many “Blacks” who had never been involved in politics were now seeing in real terms, “a movement,” and the momentum of this event carried over into a swelling of confidence.[10]

. The Hatcher Campaign knew that the key to victory would be the voter turnout on Election Day. The task of turning out a heavy black vote would depend on canvassing door to door. Also, transportation networks were set up to get people to the polls who had difficulty getting there. More importantly, the Campaign sought to make sure there was no fraudulent voting or irregularities. To ensure there were no vote sabotaging, Hatcher enlisted the help of Mr. L.T. Allison who had an in-service training for poll watchers two months prior to the primary. The Campaign also spread rumors that the FBI would be observing “Black” precincts around the city. In order to feign this aspect of campaign theatre, the Hatcher camp rented several black cars, dressed volunteers in dark suits, and had them drive up to “Black” precincts to takes notes with hats on. Therefore, this clever political ploy prevented many from deceptive voting techniques or “ghost” voters.11
As a final thought to the 1967 Gary primary, the results proved to be illuminating because several factors were responsible for Hatcher’s victory over Mayor Katz and Konrady.
First, both White candidates underestimated each other because they literally split the White vote (Katz won a majority of the White vote in Miller and Konrady won the majority in Glen Park). Second, Mayor Katz could not motivate large portions of “Blacks” to vote for him. Katz was stuck in the middle of “Blacks” who were ready for “real” power and Whites who rejected “Black” empowerment. Third, even though White registered voters outnumbered “Black” voters by 3000 votes, the Hatcher Campaign managed to mobilize a record number of “Black” voters on Election Day (a record 61 percent).[11]
Finally, the third part of this historical inquiry will examine the Gary 1967 mayoral general election. After the primary victory, the Hatcher Campaign had reached a lull and had an aura of confidence because they believed all their hard work was over, due to Gary being a Democratic stronghold. Also, many on the Campaign thought that it was a foregone conclusion that Hatcher would win in the November election because the Republican candidate, Joseph Radigan, was a forty-seven-year-old political novice. Their chief Campaign focus over the summer was to make inroads with the White vote. First, the Whites who worked on the primary campaign were assigned to deliver a larger portion of the White vote in the fall. Second, Hatcher would focus more energy on “selling” himself to whites who might be fearful of a “Black” mayor. Third, Hatcher would call on the Democratic Party machine to bury any hostilities that resulted from the primary and he requested the the organization prevent Whites from “crossing over” to the Republican candidate.[12] However, the Democratic Party had other ideas. Two weeks after the primary, Democratic county Chairman John Krupa, who had risen in local politics to the position of county clerk through his leadership in the American Legion, referred to Hatcher as "Gary's Next Mayor."[13] Behind the scenes, however, Krupa is said to have told Hatcher that it was traditional for the county organization to select Gary's controller and police chief as the price for its support. After Krupa called on Hatcher to denounce the African-American power philosophy of Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and the anti-war positions of Martin Luther King Jr., folksinger Joan Baez and actor Marlon Brando, Hatcher replied that he would not because he did not know those people. The Democratic Party would support the “Black” candidate if he would keep the “status quo” in operation, but Hatcher was running as a reform candidate that would make changes to how city government was run.[14]

Even so, the Hatcher Campaign had to shift their general Campaign strategy with a larger scope and focus. The Campaign had to now re-double their efforts in mobilizing the “Black” vote and attempt to register even more voters and go after the “Black” voters who voted for Katz.
Moreover, Hatcher had to visit with Whites “face to face” in the Miller and Glen Park sections of Gary in order to relieve fear and anxiety about a “Black” Mayor. Also, the Campaign could not overlook the Latino community; volunteers would have to canvas Latino Americans door to door. More importantly, there was now friction between “Black” precinct committeemen and White precinct committeemen because many believed that the White committeemen were volunteering for Hatcher just to “spy” for the Republican Campaign.[15]

Nevertheless, Hatcher placed a very successful full-page ad in the New York Times which included a picture of a White policeman beating a Negro and a plea for concerned Americans to “help end bigotry, ignorance and violence in Gary.” Hatcher hoped that the Times article would attract support from national Democrats. As a result, many national figures were supporting Hatcher, such notables as Sens. Birch Bayh and Robert F. Kennedy. Even Vice President Hubert Humphrey called Hatcher a "man of merit" who deserved to be mayor at a Washington D.C. fundraiser. On the Home front, Hatcher got endorsements from key Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Ray J. Madden, United Steelworkers union District Director Joseph Germano and Mayor Katz. However, Hatcher had to file suit in federal court because Krupa had violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Consequently, Krupa was now forced to add 5,286 Midtown residents to the list of eligible voters, and “on election eve a panel of judges ordered 1,096 "ghost" names stricken.” Hatcher went on to win a very close race, but by 1,865 votes out of 77,759 cast.[16] In sum, there are many who believe that the election of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher spurred the elections of almost all “Black” elected officials throughout the United States and perhaps was the precursor to the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. For example, Obama used “grass-roots” strategies like door to door canvassing to mobilize his voters and had record Election Day turnouts all over America just like Hatcher did in 1967 Gary. Moreover, Obama had to communicate in a manner that relaxed White voters fears of a “Black” President just like Hatcher had to do when he ran for Mayor. In addition, Obama had people who accused him of being friends with radical and militants just like Hatcher had his distracters who accused him of being a radical. Finally, Obama has determined that running a primary and election campaign are easy compared to governing just like Hatcher found out after 20 years in office.


Hatcher, Richard G, interview by John Hmurovic, Video Recording. The Magic City of Steel: A History of Gary, Indiana Calumet Regional Archives, (1997).

Keiser, Richard A. Subordination or empowerment?: African-American leadership and the struggle for Urban Political Power. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Lane, James B. City of The Century: A History of Gary Indiana. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.)

Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977).

Poinsett, Alex. Black Power Gary Style: The Making of Mayor Ricahrd Gordon Hatcher. (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1970).

[1] Poinsett, Alex. African-American Power Gary Style: The Making of Mayor Ricahrd Gordon Hatcher. (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1970), 27-38.

[2] Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. Columbus: (Ohio State University Press, 1977),194-198.

[3] Keiser, Richard A. Subordination or empowerment?: Black leadership and the struggle for Urban Political Power. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 89.

[4] Lane, James B. City of The Century: A History of Gary Indiana. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 141-147, 270.

[5] Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. Columbus: (Ohio State University Press, 1977),194-198

[6] Poinsett, Alex. African-American Power Gary Style: The Making of Mayor Ricahrd Gordon Hatcher. (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1970), 68-70.

[7] Lane, James B. City of The Century: A History of Gary Indiana. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 286.

[8] Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977), 215 – 227.

[9] Lane, James B. City of The Century: A History of Gary Indiana. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 287.

[10] (Meranto and Nelson 1977), 245.

[11] Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. Columbus: (Ohio State University Press, 1977), 264-267.

[12] Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. Columbus: (Ohio State University Press, 1977), 272-273.

[13] Lane, James B. City of The Century: A History of Gary Indiana. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 288.

[14] Hatcher, Richard G, interview by John Hmurovic, Video Recording. The Magic City of Steel: A History of Gary, Indiana Calumet Regional Archives, (1997).

[15] Meranto, Phillip J., and William E Nelson. Electing Black Mayors. Columbus: (Ohio State University Press, 1977), 270-281.

[16] Lane, James B. City of The Century: A History of Gary Indiana. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), 289-290.…...

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