Civil Rights Heritage Center 20|10 year anniversary
Civil Rights Heritage Center 20|10 year anniversary
IU South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center marks milestones
IN 2000, a group of IU South Bend students joined history professor Dr. Les Lamon (now emeritus) on a journey through the American South to study the civil rights movement. That journey, called Freedom Summer, ultimately inspired them to discover the events that shaped South Bend during the same time period.
Dr. Lamon spoke about this journey in a recent video reflecting on the last two decades of the CRHC's existence at IU South Bend. "I look at the CRHC as a 20-year symbol of history. Freedom Summer made the students think about what their involvement could be back here.”
IU South Bend alumna Candace Leuthold, one of those first students, says the group came back curious and focused, asking themselves “What happened here? Where do we fit into the civil rights movement?” Through historical research and first-hand oral histories of local African American residents, they learned how South Bend’s civil rights history was as painful as other parts of the nation. They worked with Dr. Lamon to establish a permanent center focused on the history of race relations and social justice in the South Bend regional community.
The Civil Rights Heritage Center has become one of IU South Bend's four Centers of Excellence. This year’s 20th anniversary of the CRHC coincides with the 10th anniversary of the 2010 grand reopening of the renovated Engman Natatorium, the community’s most visible symbol of struggle for racial justice, now CRHC's home in South Bend. On February 25, the campus hosted a special event to celebrate IU South Bend’s official acquisition of the Natatorium and permanently dedicate it as the home of the Civil Rights Heritage Center.
As a bridge between the campus and the community, the Center broadens student and faculty engagement beyond the classroom while providing the community with resources that further civil rights and social justice objectives.
“We join with our community in celebrating the original founders who had the vision to launch a community-centered space,” said Chancellor Susan Elrod. “The CRHC is the nation’s only such center physically located in the community that is linked to an academic institution and educational mission. This purchase will allow us to expand the programs we offer in support of advancing our educational mission in this region and it also solidifies our commitment to the community and to making progress on civil rights and social justice issues.”
At the event, IU President McRobbie said, “During our Bicentennial Year, it is particularly fitting to underscore the fact that the enduring success of a great university is predicated in large part on its commitment to embracing diversity in the broadest sense and its commitment to building a community where respect for the fundamental rights and dignity of all others is one of our cardinal values. In order to ensure that Indiana University is and remains such a community, it is vitally important that we have programs and institutions that encourage us to reflect upon our past, embolden us to act when these ideals are under threat, and inspire us to work to ensure that our communities continue to embrace these values.”
At that celebration, President McRobbie presented an honorary IU Bicentennial Medal to Dr. Alfred Guillaume, IU South Bend’s retired executive vice chancellor of Academic Affairs, and his wife, Melanie Smith-Guillaume. Dr. Guillaume passionately shepherded the acquisition of the Natatorium and the growth of the CRHC during his tenure. In his anniversary video interview, Guillaume said, "The civil rights movement was very central to my growing up, central as to who I am. I fight injustice everywhere I see it. The Nat is a symbol of that injustice."
The CRHC has inspired the campus and greater South Bend community in numerous ways through its presence at the Natatorium and its thriving programs. Retired teacher and IU alumna, Alma Powell, one of the leaders of the fundraising committee to save the Engman Natatorium as the CRHC's community home, and served as an interim director, says, “I have thought from the beginning that it would be great if every child in St. Joseph County could be educated for a day, or even an hour, to learn about the foundation of our community and the expansive role that African Americans have played in the development of the city, and even more broadly.”
One of the CRHC's recent events helped people process the tragic murder of George Floyd and the resulting protests around the world. Perspectives on the Current Uprising” was a facilitated conversation with a panel of multigenerational African American leaders. The virtual session attracted nearly 300 participants of all ages.
The Center has attracted strong support recently, evidenced by new grants from Indiana Humanities and the Arts Everywhere Fund at the Community Foundation of St. Joseph County. A $50,000 federal grant award from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences will fund a transformation of the Center’s existing South Bend African American Landmark Tour, adding a modern interactive technology component.
“As a bridge between the campus and the community, the Center broadens student and faculty engagement beyond the classroom while providing the community with resources that further civil rights and social justice objectives,” said Darryl Heller, director of CRHC and assistant professor of Women's and Gender Studies. “Over the past several years the CRHC has expanded its reach with an eye to developing a network of like-minded, university-based Centers from around the country to have a greater national impact.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges to planning a grand anniversary season, the CRHC’s leadership and its community continue to host events aligned with its mission to educate the public about race relations and struggles for social justice, locally and nationally. That commitment will advance its mission well beyond this “20 | 10” anniversary season.