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Engman Public Natatorium

Engman Public Natatorium

1040 W. Washington St.

In 1921-22, the city of South Bend built its first public swimming pool. At that time, it was the state’s largest indoor swimming facility. Yet, Jim Crow laws of exclusion prohibited blacks from entering, denying access to the entire public. Beginning in 1931, the Natatorium was the focus of a quiet civil rights campaign, first against exclusion and then against segregation. The NAACP and African American attorney J. Chester Allen organized a petition drive and presented repeated, yet unsuccessful, requests to the Board of Park Commissioners. In 1936, after the City of South Bend had appropriated $25,000 in tax revenues for repairs, black residents filed a protest petition with the state tax commissioner. In response, in 1937, the pool was opened one day a week for African Americans. In 1950, the NAACP once again came before the park board and presented the case for integrated, equal access to the Natatorium. A motion to open the Natatorium on an equal basis finally passed in 1950, granting African Americans full access to the public facility as white residents had experienced for 28 years. Another 28 years later, in 1978, Engman Natatorium closed, having fallen into disrepair. By 2006, a new vision began to emerge to turn the Natatorium, once a symbol of segregation, into a landmark focusing on the civil-rights struggle in the northern United States. Work began among a coalition of residents, students and faculty from Indiana University South Bend, the City of South Bend and South Bend Heritage Foundation (a nonprofit community development corporation). Their work reached its completion on May 23, 2010, when Engman Natatorium was rededicated as home to the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center. The community’s work gained national recognition in 2012 when the effort to transform the Natatorium was part of South Bend’s designation as an All-America City.