GARY, Ind. (CBS/AP) — A crowd turned out on Saturday to remember former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher, one of the first African American mayors of a large U.S. city.
The funeral was held at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary.
In the late 1960s, Hatcher and Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes were the first black men to win the mayor’s office in a city with a population of over 100,000.
Elected in November 1967, Hatcher first took office in 1968 and served as mayor of the City of Gary for 20 years.
Hatcher attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money to Gary in his 20 years in office, some of which was used to build low-cost housing and the first public housing units in the city in nearly two decades. He also got federal funds to pay for jobs training, repaved deteriorating streets and put many inner-city neighborhoods on regular garbage collection for the first time.
Hatcher couldn’t stop Gary’s decline, which coincided with that of the U.S. steel industry. The company town, founded in 1906 by U.S. Steel Chairman Elbert H. Gary, had flourished as the industry did. While Hatcher was in office, U.S. Steel cut its workforce from 35,000 in the early 1970s to 25,000 by the early 1980s.
Businesses were shuttered as banks and shops moved to the suburbs. Crime increased, and by 1984, Gary had the nation’s highest per-capita homicide rate.
Hatcher was born on July 10, 1933 in Michigan City, Ind. He was one of 13 children whose father molded railroad car wheels and whose mother was a factory worker.
He graduated from Indiana University and obtained a law degree from Valparaiso University.
He moved to Gary and opened a law practice in East Chicago. In the early 1960s, he was a deputy prosecutor for the Lake County state’s attorney and was elected to the Gary city council in 1963.
He also was a player on the national political scene, running the presidential campaign for Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1984. He served as vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1981 to 1985.
Mayor Hatcher served as advisor to Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter on civil rights and urban policy and convened the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary.
In a statement, current Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said: “Our entire community mourns the loss of a great man and we will be forever touched by his selfless service to this city. I am humbled to be a recipient of his wisdom and guidance and will always be grateful for his influence on my life.”
The city of Gary unveiled a statue of Hatcher this past October outside Gary City Hall.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)