History of the Engman Public Natatorium

About the Engman Public Natatorium – now the IUSB Natatorium

When it opened July 3, 1922, the Engman Public Natatorium in South Bend was the largest public swimming pool in the state used by Notre Dame and many citizens of South Bend who remember it fondly as the place where they learned to swim. For African Americans the story was a different one. The “Public” Natatorium (swimming pool) denied full access to South Bend’s growing African American population based on race.

From 1922 to 1936, blacks were completely prohibited from swimming at The Natatorium. As a result of many black residents’ persistence, limited admission to the facility was granted, on a segregated basis only, from 1936 to 1950.  After 28 years of exclusion and unrest, The Natatorium was fully desegregated in 1950.  The pool operated on a non-exclusionary basis until it was officially closed in 1978.

The Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center was born out of the transformation of the former Engman Public Natatorium. This unique rebirth of the public pool, which was honored in South Bend’s designation as an All-America City in 2011 and a 2014 Freedom Award presented at the Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Indiana Statehouse Celebration, now pays tribute to the civil-rights contributions of local citizens.

IUSB Students Make History

On May 14, 2000, sixteen IU South Bend students, faculty, and staff from the South Bend Tribune boarded a tour bus for 15 days of studying the Civil Rights Movement in the South.  Their goal was to experience history as a living presence, to feel its power and vitality in a way which goes far beyond even the best books and classroom lectures.  These students walked where civil rights participants walked, ate where they ate, and talked with more than twenty veterans of this critical period in our nation’s history.

These students returned from Freedom Summer 2000 and founded the Civil Rights Heritage Center. The Civil Rights Heritage Center was formed to record, preserve, and highlight the struggles and achievements of citizens committed to social justice. 

In May of 2010, the Engman Natatorium was dedicated as the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center with support from generous contributions from local residents and philanthropists and the College of Liberal Arts and Science at IU South Bend. It represents a legacy of determination and triumph and stands as a symbol of justice won, in a community committed to healing its past.


The Pool and the Fight for Equality

African Americans fought over the decades for equal access to this taxpayer funded facility like others in cities and towns from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles and from Atlanta to Dallas. African Americans in South Bend fought for equality like their peers did from coast to coast. Our logo honors Barbara Vance Brandy (pictured), who wanted to swim in her red suit, but was turned away. Her efforts and those of many local residents stand as a testament today to the personal aspect in all big civil rights movements: that a little girl wanted to swim in a pool her taxpaying parents helped to pay for.

“Making Waves: Civil Rights and the South Bend Natatorium,” opened on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend in 2013 at the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center at the former Engman Public Natatorium as the IUSB Natatorium Building. The exhibit provides a glimpse into the history of African Americans in South Bend including the 28 years it took African Americans to gain full access to the indoor pool.

Why the CRHC at the Natatorium Matters Today

Civil rights is a moving target. The history of discrimination, transformation, and change is an important one in the United States and Michiana region today where the struggle for social justice continues. Immigrant groups, GLBT, and Gender Studies groups routinely visit and host events at the Natatorium to explore the ongoing issues of equality, liberty, and justice in our society. The long history of African Americans in South Bend and the Michiana region and their heroic struggles for justice help new and lifelong residents look to the future with an understanding of the past.


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