On May 2, 1967, the bid of the Democratic mayor of Gary, Indiana, for renomination was rejected by a majority of that city’s Democratic voters. In place of the progressive white incumbent, A. Martin Katz, Gary’s Democrats nominated a thirty-three-year-old Negro attorney and one-term councilman-at-large, Richard Gordon Hatcher. Gary thus became one of the first cities in the United States to vote nomination of a Negro as a major party candidate for mayor. The story of that campaign is instructive.
None of the published straw polls, newspaper columnists, or radio commentators in Indiana’s second largest city (population, 175,000) had predicted Hatcher’s victory. Against the affluence of a Goliath Democratic machine, its built-in campaign workers on city and county payrolls, its hundreds of paid part-time workers and years of hard-nosed experience in clubhouse and ward politics, all this black “Little David” had going for him was a mélange of untested volunteers encompassing all strata of Negro life, from raggedy unknown winos to immaculate wellknown physicians. But there was also something about the state of the civil rights movement which unseated Katz, in his own view.
“Charisma of blackness”
As a Negro who worked in the campaign of the white who lost — Katz — I too think there was a “something,” and I have conceptualized it as the “charisma of blackness.” For while none of the “experts” believed he could weld a victory out of the Steel City electorate, the ethnic devotion of Negro voters gave him 90 percent of his 20,222 votes and the winning margin of 2310 votes over Mayor Katz.
Hatcher’s surprising primary victory could have been attributed simply to Gary’s Negro population majority — an estimated 96,250 in 1967, or 55 percent of the city’s 175,000 residents. But that explanation does not suffice, since Gary’s white registered voters outnumbered Negro registered voters, 49,130 to 43,261. (Only four major cities of America’s 130 cities with 100,000 or more population have a Negro majority: Gary, Washington, D. C., Richmond, Virginia, and Newark, New Jersey.
Probably the biggest factor in Hatcher’s victory was the larger turnout of Negro voters than white voters, which constituted a reversal of form. To the despair of politicians, two dismal facts about Negro voters have been predictable in most elections: the first is that Negroes tend not to register in proportionate numbers to white voters, and the second is that when they do register, Negroes do not vote in a high proportion to their registrations.
But they did on May 2 in Gary, and further eroded the accuracy of political probabilities. This time apathy, for some mysterious reason, kept the white voters at home. While only 58 percent of Gary’s white registered voters voted that day, 67 percent of Gary’s Negro voters turned out.
Is it a foregone conclusion, then, that Negroes can be counted upon to vote for a Negro? Two recent experiences say no. In Chicago’s mayoralty election on April 14, Negro voters cast a total of 216,166 votes. Of those votes, 13,753, or an embarrassingly small 6 percent, were given to popular Negro comedian Dick Gregory, a write-in candidate. (While Chicago has never enjoyed an unsullied reputation for honesty in its elections, and while write-in votes there have a high casualty rate, Gregory’s pitifully small share of the Negro vote still precludes the possibility of a straight racial identification vote.) In Philadelphia’s Democratic primary for mayor in May, Negro real estate dealer Lenerte Roberts ran a pathetic third, with only 5593 votes out of a total of 203,724. Of the latter number, 50,931 votes were cast by Negroes, leaving Roberts with 10 percent of the Negro vote.
If anything, Negro voters have demonstrated an ironically typical American capacity to reject “one of their own” for the mainstream nomination of a “non-brother.” When a “non-brother” is an outstanding liberal and is regarded as a true friend of Negroes and can showcase a civil rights record on Negro appointments and equal rights laws, Negro voters reward him with reelection, even in the face of a strong challenge from an attractive Negro candidate.
Gary’s Mayor Katz could boast all three assets in his appeal to Negroes. Under his three-year administration, Negroes were appointed for the first time in Gary as building inspectors, plumbing inspectors, electrical inspectors, and health department sanitarians. Of eight new Battalion Fire Chiefs, three were Negroes chosen by Katz. For the first time in Gary’s history, the membership of every city commission and board was integrated.
The following key jobs in the city administration were all held by Katz-appointed Negroes: City Corporation Counsel, Deputy Controller, Superintendent of Sanitation, Assistant Director of General Services, Supervisor of Caseworkers in the Gary Youth Commission, Assistant City Attorney (a woman), and two Assistant Fire Chiefs. In Gary’s fifty-seven years prior to Mayor Katz’s election, a total of thirty-two Negroes had been appointed to the fire department. In the three years of his administration, Katz doubled this total by appointing thirty-two Negro firemen.
Negroes’ true friend?
These appointments were paralleled in the city’s lawbooks with the passage of a fair-housing ordinance and the establishment of the Gary Human Relations Commission. Finally, Katz was accepted as “a true friend of Negroes.” Most of Gary’s Negroes believed he was a man sincerely committed to civil rights. (During the campaign I rarely heard Negroes who supported Hatcher accuse Mayor Katz of not being a firm supporter of equal rights. Rather, they would say that withal, he was guilty of “not having done enough,” or of practicing “job tokenism” in City Hall.) While few big-city mayors can equal Katz’s record of Negro appointments, the political cynics retorted, “He had no choice.” It would have taken, they maintained, an enormously insensitive and politically callous politician to ignore or antagonize Gary’s Negro citizenry. But others mayors, such as Chicago’s Richard Daley and Cleveland’s Ralph S. Locher, have managed to do so. During Katz’s three years as mayor, Gary experienced none of the cataclysms of racial violence which have exploded in so many major cities during that same period.
Mayor Katz’s method of “keeping the peace” (a phrase he proudly used repeatedly during his campaign) was to hurry Negro progress under his administration. To all too many Gary whites, Katz’s timetable for “all deliberate speed” toward equality meant a one-way ticket to wholesale interracial marriages. By some, Katz was labeled a “nigger-loving Jew.” (Campaign literature from an unidentified source using this phrase was circulated at one point in the campaign.) To the majority of whites, he was simply a “white traitor” who was either unable or unwilling to preserve the white culture and its attendant “values.”
In most respects, Gary had become a sociological microcosm of all the cross strains of economic progress, social stalemate, and racial ills besetting most American cities. If there is such a thing as an “industrial revolution ethic,” Gary is its airpolluted symbol. Gary is known as “Steel City,” and the name “Gary” is synonymous with steel. United States Steel, Gary’s largest employer, has 16,000 workers. Outside the city limits, Bethlehem Steel has opened a factory, and nearby East Chicago has Inland Steel and oil refractory plants. Gary itself has become one of the ten most airpolluted cities in America. (On a clear day in Gary, you can see your hand in front of your face.) But with air and water pollution have also come jobs and a comparatively low unemployment rate, even for Negroes.
In 1960, Gary’s median family income was $6004 — $200 over the national average. Its 54 percent home ownership of all housing units was just slightly under the national average of 57 percent. Its 10.0 median completed school years nearly equals the national average of 10.6 years. The vast economic and educational gaps that separate Negroes and whites in most cities do not exist in Gary. The Negro median family income in 1960 was $4720; Negro home ownership was 45 percent; and the median school years completed, 9.1. Gary wasn’t the promised land for Negroes, but it was also not the ghetto of despair which Hatcher continually painted during his campaign.
One of Gary’s proudest characteristics invariably touted by its citizens is its multinational background. If there really is an ethnic melting pot in America, Gary is a prototype. A representative cross section of nationalities live in Gary —Poles, Irish, Greeks, Hungarians, Italians, Jews, Negroes, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans — and they are all constantly jockeying for political power, if not political supremacy.
My personal involvement with this fascinating metropolis came during a six-week stay in the course of the campaign. A small group of close Negro friends had asked me to consider going there to work in Mayor Katz’s campaign. After making a thorough investigation of the comparative backgrounds of the leading candidates, I agreed to go. Besides, the opportunity afforded me the advantage of an inside seat to study the changing dimensions of Negro political power and the extent to which such power is organized, effective, and influential.
I was impressed by the number and quality of Mayor Katz’s significant appointments for Negroes. Still, measured against the Negro percentage of the population, the number of top jobs held by Negroes did not in fact reflect Gary’s rapid social change.
Of the twenty-six department heads in city government, two were Negroes. Of Gary’s four state representatives, none was a Negro. In the nine-man City Council, there were three Negroes, including Hatcher, who was one of the three councilmen-at-large. Of the 2000 City Hall controlled jobs, 28 percent were held by Negroes, according to an Indiana Civil Rights Commission report, a statistic on which Hatcher hammered away as an example of Katz’s “tokenism.”
In America’s civil rights movement, primary emphasis has not been placed on Negroes’ acquiringpolitical potency. The reasons are obvious. Had Negroes organized their movements primarily to win greater political power, they would have antagonized the very sources from which they have received sympathetic assistance. The acquisition of political power by one group, by definition, requires a diminution of another group’s political power. Few white politicians, no matter how favorably predisposed to equal rights, are willing to extend that concern to the support of efforts resulting in their own displacement. Finally, few Negroes (there are obvious exceptions) have ever understood the raw dimensions of political power, its back-room machinations, its amoral quid pro quos, its manipulative possibilities for both personal and social gain, and its role as a fundamental lever for moving society forward.
In Gary, a Negro attorney did. His enemies maintained that Hatcher understood these things only too well. Arriving in Gary from his hometown of Michigan City, Indiana, seven years ago, Hatcher quietly proceeded to build for the future in what had been a sleepy Negro community. He moved from one Negro political camp to another, shrewdly playing off political enemies against one another. He organized a social club of Negro professionals which was eventually to become a major power base in his campaign against Mayor Katz.
Within five years of his arrival in Gary, Hatcher had become the city’s first Negro city councilmanat-large, rolling up one of the biggest votes of any candidate. It wasn’t until he announced his candidacy for mayor that Gary’s old-time Negro politicians realized they were being usurped. But their denunciations of Hatcher as a political Johnny-come-lately made little impact on the Negro voters. As far as they were concerned, he was properly credentialed because of a new militancy he had helped spawn in local civil rights activity. But not a single elected Negro official in Gary publicly endorsed Hatcher: he just wasn’t a member of the establishment. Not one of the city’s four Negro newspapers supported Hatcher; three openly backed Katz. Katz had all of the Negro generals, but Hatcher had the Negro troops, and the troops always have more votes than the generals.
A black majority
Gary’s Negro majority evolved suddenly. In 1960, Negroes were only 39 percent of the population. In seven quick years, they became a majority of 55 percent through the migration of Negroes to Gary and the emigration of whites to the suburbs. (For the first time in its history, Gary showed a population decrease — 175,000, down from 178,000 seven years ago.)
It was Gary’s new Negro majority which convinced Hatcher he could coalesce the Negro community behind him, label any other Negro who entered the race as an Uncle Tom for splitting the Negro vote, and then run successfully for mayor as the only major Negro candidate. He also counted on other major white candidates opposing Katz to split the white vote, if previous Gary elections were any guide. Subsej quent developments proved him accurate.
As far back as September, 1966, Hatcher had decided to run for mayor, and was rostrainedly identifying himself with black power sentiment. In an interview in the September 16, 1966, issue of the Black Muslim newspaper Muhammad Speaks, Hatcher declared he had not made up his mind to run for mayor, but according to the article, “modestly agrees that he would have an excellent chance of winning.”
The article on Hatcher, an indepth interview, was headlined: “Struggle for Black Power in Gary.” The story began as follows:
“ ‘There is a growing sense of disaster in the Gary community, ignited by the white power structure’s flagrant disregard for the largely-impoverished black population,’ said Gary Councilman-atlarge, Richard G. Hatcher, the man considered most likely to become the first Negro mayor of a large Northern city. ‘ The patience of the black community is wearing very thin,’ A tty. Hatcher continued.”
As it became increasingly evident that Hatcher had his eye on the mayor’s job, a rusty Democratic machine which had been malfunctioning as a result of several intraparty battles in the last couple of elections tried to reunify itself. For a while, some of the political leaders, aware that Katz was caught between white backlash and black power, seriously considered dumping him and rallying behind a new organization - backed candidate.
Further complicating Katz’s bid for renomination was the candidacy of a prominent white businessman, Bernard Konrady, a political conservative. (He was also a longtime political enemy of Katz’s, who had narrowly defeated Konrady’s brother for mayor in 1963.) Konrady quickly established himself as the “white hope” for Gary. By catering to backlash sentiment, Konrady developed his strongest appeal in the most rabidly anti-Negro sections of Gary. Actually, Gary had already been well fertilized by the backlash in the 1964 presidential primary, when Alabama’s George Wallace polled more votes than Lyndon Johnson.
With the twin strains of Konrady’s white backlash overtures and Hatcher’s black power nuances now polarizing the Gary electorate, Katz was caught in the ideological middle. In the Negro community, he stood on his civil rights record, and in the white community, he reminded them he had “kept the peace.” There were seven other Democratic mayoralty candidates, including two Negroes. Together, these seven were not expected to poll more than 2000 votes, and they didn’t.
Because Katz was counting heavily on the organization’s ability to turn out the vote for him, he did not formally launch his campaign until late March. Hatcher’s campaign had been in high gear since he filed his candidacy on February 27 — the date chosen, according to Hatcher, because it was the anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, giving the Negro the right to vote.
Katz campaigned between twelve and fourteen hours a day all over the city. The Democratic organization scheduled as many as thirty meetings a day for him, bouncing him from a Polish-American Home to the Greek Orthodox Church to the LatinAmerican Club to a Negro nightclub in a slum, all within one hour. His performance in each of them was the same: a speech imploring the crowd to “Keep Katz.” In the Negro community, he struck responsive chords when he ended his speeches: “I’ve kept the peace. And as a famous political figure whom I respect says, now you keep the faith, baby! Keep Katz!”
“One of us”
Hatcher confined his campaigning almost exclusively to the Negro neighborhoods, making last-minute token appearances at meetings in the white community. Strapped for campaign funds, Hatcher bypassed newspaper advertising and relied on a heavy radio advertising campaign during the last two weeks. What Hatcher lacked in campaign funds, however, was more than compensated for by the enthusiasm and the commitment of his volunteers to their dream. Whereas Katz’s supporters had to go into Negro homes and “sell” the mayor all over again by reminding the voters of his civil rights record, Hatcher’s workers used a very simple approach: “Don’t you think it’s time for ‘one of us’ to run this city?” That was a hard argument to counter, even among Katz supporters. His workers were increasingly confronted with polite silences, a wan smile, or just a courteous “we haven’t made up our minds yet.” Whatever limited success Katz workers had in presenting the case for a “good civil rights mayor” was offset by the Hatcher tactic of “Yes, but it’s all been tokenism.”
On Primary Day, May 2, true to political campaign tradition, the Katz, Hatcher, and Konrady camps all claimed victory. Thirty minutes after the polls closed at 7 P.M., reports from several Negro precincts revealed that Katz was in trouble in his renomination bid. In two Negro precincts where Katz had expected to garner a minimum of 30 percent because both precinct committeemen were closely allied with the Democratic organization, the mayor received a humiliating 14 percent. By 9:30 the rout was complete. The final figures:
Hatcher — 20,272 Katz — 17,910 Konrady — 13,133
The story can be summed up in the racial voting patterns. Hatcher racked up 75 percent of the Negro vote, Katz 24 percent, and Konrady one percent. Among the white voters, Konrady received 46 percent, Katz 45 percent, and Hatcher 7 percent. (The other candidates, 2 percent.) While Hatcher was amassing a huge majority of the Negro vote, Katz and Konrady were splitting the white vote almost in half.
The Negro voters turned out a man who many of them admitted had done more for Negroes than any other mayor in Gary’s history. An equally significant political development was the complete collapse of the Democratic organization in Gary’s three Negro districts.
Politically, Gary is divided into six districts. Three are predominantly Negro. Within each district there are precincts headed by an elected precinct committeeman and vicecommitteeman. The precinct organization musters the necessary electoral muscle on Primary Day to produce victory. Nevertheless, precinct committeemen who were also on the city payroll or held high positions in the Democratic organization were unable to deliver their precincts for the mayor.
None of the three Negro district captains in the Negro third, fourth, and fifth districts was able to deliver his own precinct for the mayor and the Democratic organization.
Peace or polarization?
The charisma of blackness was unquestionably a compelling influence in the Democratic nomination of Richard Gordon Hatcher for mayor of Gary. His nomination, and — if Gary maintains its traditional Democratic posture — his election in November, open up four possibilities for this city and other major cities: 1) a recognition of the new distribution of political power and a slow agonizing movement gingerly feeling its way toward interracial progress and understanding, 2) a hardening of hostile white attitudes and a bipolarization of resentments and suspicions between the white backlash and black power, 3) an undifferentiated social no-man’s land in the city’s race relations in which both groups periodically essay an open confrontation and test each other’s political power, 4) a continuation of the exodus of whites to the suburbs, driven there by a fear of being swallowed up by the black concentration in the cities.
But what happens if Gary does not maintain its traditional Democratic posture in the November election for mayor? What is the political significance for both major parties on the national level if Negro Democrat Hatcher is defeated by white Republican Joseph B. Radigan?
These two questions can be simultaneously answered by examining the possibilities of a Hatcher victory. Statistically, they are overwhelming in his favor. Politically, they are a mere fifty-fifty. The reason is Hatcher himself. In the excitement of his primary victory, he held out no olive branch to the defeated Democratic organization, opened no new causeways of communication to the disturbed white community, and extended no hand of friendship to his political enemies in the Negro community.
As a result, there has been an organized upsurge of voter registrations in white neighborhoods and secret meetings weekly between white Democratic and Republican precinct officials. The Democratic organization has withheld money from Hatcher, provoking him and his supporters to take big fundraising ads in the New York Times and other out-of-town newspapers. Many Gary Republicans are convinced that a significant percentage of Hatcher votes were the result of illegal registrations and election-day irregularities. An investigation has been launched, and stiffer registration procedures are being instituted to prevent recurrences in the fall.
Republicans are not bestirring themselves to cater to white backlash sentiment. They are simply lettingnature take its political course.
In a toe-to-toe vote, with all the Negroes voting for Hatcher and all the whites voting for Radigan, Hatcher would easily be defeated, because of the white registration plurality. Hatcher must convince part of Gary’s white electorate that his election as mayor means he will represent them too and that “black power” can also mean “shared power.”
One thing is certain: there is a new distribution of political power in Gary between whites and Negroes. This new ethnic balance of power, already testing itself in other communities, could alone shape the future of America’s ten largest cities. By 1980, all of them could conceivably have Negro majorities and together comprise more than half of all Negroes in America.
How the urban Big Ten cities deal with this new social development will do much to determine the ultimate quality and fate of American civilization. — Chuck Stone