Interview with Richard Hatcher
QUESTION 8
SHEILA C. BERNARD:

I want to ask you about the city of the Gary. Once the decision was made to meet in Gary, and then how did your city at first, and then as things evolved?

RICHARD HATCHER:

The decision was made, ah, I believe in a meeting in Washington, and there were I suppose lots of reasons. Ah, it, it, it came as a great surprise to me when, when someone said, "Well, we should do this in Gary." Ah, I think the reason given was that we should do it where we have a Black mayor, and Gary was one of the few cities in the country at that point that had a Black mayor. And, ah, we should do it, ah, at a place where Blacks from all over the country could come and feel comfortable. Wouldn't have to worry about the police, ah, beating them. Ah, wouldn't have to worry, ah, about getting cooperation from city officials. And, ah, so the judgement, and also the fact that Gary was located geographically pretty much in the center of the country, so that people coming from the West Coast as well as from the East Coast, ah, and from the South, ah, had roughly the same, same distance to travel. So all of those things were factors. Now there were some real negatives about doing it, ah, in the city of Gary. You were talking about a convention of thousands of people, and Gary, ah, had one viable hotel, ah, with 300 rooms. Ah, and that, ah, that was a real problem. There were, ah, a number of small motels, but there, there was nothing approaching the capacity, the hotel capacity to accommodate the thousands of people who were invited or anticipated coming to this convention. But the decision was made that the positives outweighed the negatives, and then of course, ah, once we knew that there was interest in coming to Gary, ah, city officials and civic leaders in Gary, ah, assured the leadership of the planning, ah, committee that they would do what ever was necessary to accommodate this meeting.

SHEILA C. BERNARD:

You'd said that--



SHEILA C. BERNARD:

That's great.


RICHARD HATCHER:

Once it became clear that the leadership wanted to have the meeting in Gary, another problem developed, and that was basically that the White business community in Gary, ah, had these extreme fears about this large number of Blacks coming to town. They thought in terms of crime, and, ah, all kinds of horrible things. It was almost as if the- someone had just announced that the Vietcong was coming to Gary. And, ah, their initial reaction, ah, was very apprehensive, and there were a number of meetings held, and, ah, discussions about this. And, ah, ah, eventually, ah, they, ah, said, "Well, we'll see what happens." Ah, the fascinating thing is that it ultimately turned out that the White business community as well as the, ah, leadership of the Black community in Gary, ah, opened their arms and welcomed, ah, the delegates to town. Ah, the Chamber of Commerce prepared a wonderful, ah, pouch or folder for people to keep their papers in. Ah, it was a leather, ah, pouch, that had the names, the thousands of names of delegates of the convention on that, on that pouch, and gave one to every delegate coming to the convention. So, ah, first of all, their attitude did in fact, ah, change in that regard. And secondly, ah, the marvelous thing was that during the course of the four or five days that the thousands of people, ah, were in town, the crime rate in the city of Gary actually went down. So, ah, ah, the fears, ah, that, ah, were expressed, ah, initially simply were not realized. The other, ah, truly marvelous thing that occurred was that this problem of no hotel, ah, capacity, ah, ah, required that, ah, we call upon the citizens of Gary to open their homes, ah, to the delegates who were coming to the convention. And they did it with relish. It was, ah, there were just hundreds of wonderful stories that were told, as, as the delegates lived with Gary families, and, ah, over the period of the time of the convention got to be friends, and friendships were established that continue even to this day, ah, as a result, ah, of the people of Gary opening their arms, ah, and, and their homes, ah, to the convention delegates. So, um, overall it turned out to be a very positive experience, ah, for our city, and, ah, hopefully for the people, ah, who visited.

SHEILA C. BERNARD:

I want you just stop now and think about--