African American Landmark Tour
From some familiar locations to buildings that only a few now remember, the African American Landmark Tour leaves a lasting impression. From a dental office to a pool hall, and schools to a cemetery, and attorney’s offices to a business district, the tour tells the stories of daily living, struggles and successes in South Bend
The tour, which has permanent signs outside the locations, takes visitors to 17 sites in South Bend where individuals and groups made local and national civil rights history.
The tour, which was organized by the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center can be accomplished by walking, bicycling or driving.
From the site of a landmark fugitive slave case that went before the U.S. Supreme Court and the burial place of the Speaker of the House who guided passage of the 13th Amendment banning slavery to the heart of a once-thriving African American business district as well as homes and churches that nurtured community leaders, the tour is a window into South Bend’s history.
“The African American Landmark Tour has been in development for more than two years as a way to honor the Civil Rights Heritage Center’s mission of recognizing the extraordinary achievements of citizens committed to social justice,” said Alma C. Powell, program specialist. “Decades before Rosa Parks gave up her bus seat or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organized his first protest in the South, civil rights pioneers in South Bend were challenging segregation and discrimination in the North, breaking barriers and advancing integration.”
Starting at the once-segregated Engman Public Natatorium (now the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center), 1040 W. Washington St., the tour begins in the heart of South Bend’s first historic neighborhood, the West Washington National Register Historic District.
“The African American Landmark Tour features many firsts – the first families and churches; the first places African Americans could buy land, own homes or try on clothing in stores; and the first teachers, principals and professionals,” Powell said. “The tour illustrates the story of progress despite adversity and the advancement of civil rights despite racial hatred, such as the church sanctuary that was built despite sabotage by the Ku Klux Klan.”
The African American Landmark Tour was organized in partnership with the Northern Regional Office of Indiana Landmarks. The tour is underwritten in part by grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit working to save America’s historic places, and Indiana Humanities, a nonpartisan, independent, not-for-profit corporation governed by a volunteer board of Indiana educators and community leaders.
The 17 sites are:
- Engman Natatorium, 1040 W. Washington St. – Formerly Indiana’s largest indoor pool, built in 1921-22. Denied access to African Americans until segregated admission was granted in 1937. The pool was desegregated and equal access granted to all in 1950.
- Dental Office of Dr. Bernard Streets Sr., 1125 W. Washington St. – Influential leader in the South Bend Chapter of the NAACP, who pushed for integration of the Natatorium and downtown movie theaters.
- South Bend City Cemetery, 214 Elm St. – Integrated since its founding, the cemetery is the last resting place of first African American family, the Powells, and Schuyler Colfax, former U.S. Vice President who, as Speaker of the House, guided passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.
- Hank’s Pool Hall, 1429 W. Washington St. – A center of local black political and social power for decades beginning in 1929 and home to the law office of Zilford Carter, a leading attorney in the fight to integrate the Natatorium.
- St. Augustine Catholic Church, 1501 W. Washington St. – Founded in 1928 as a mission to African Americans, the diverse congregation has a long-running commitment to civil rights.
- Pilgrim Baptist Church, 116 N. Birdsell St. – Site of the first African American Baptist church in South Bend and the founding in 1919 of the South Bend branch of the NAACP.
- African American Business District, Birdsell and Liston streets. – Beginning in the 1930s, the site of many African American businesses expanded with the Second Great Migration of the 1940s.
- Linden School, 1522 Linden Ave. – Opened in 1890, the school hired the first African American teachers beginning in 1950 and the first African American principal in 1959.
- “The Lake” – LaSalle Park, 3419 W. Washington St. – The only area in South Bend where African Americans could buy land during the First Great Migration around World War I. Home to the city’s first and only recreation center before 1960.
- Hering House, 745 W. Western Ave. – Opened in 1925, this “House of Hope” for the African American community provided a place of safety, culture and recreation for young people.
- Central High School, 330 W. Colfax Ave. – Dedicated in 1913 as South Bend High School, this integrated school graduated many of South Bend’s African American leaders from the 1930s onward.
- The Second St. Joseph County Courthouse, 112 S. Lafayette Blvd. – Two landmark cases here regarding fugitive slaves eventually made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Robertson’s Department Store, 211 S. Michigan St. – Once the premier shopping location in downtown South Bend and one of the few that allowed African Americans to try on clothing.
- Home of J. Chester and Elizabeth Fletcher Allen, 501 E. Howard St. – A family residence for two attorneys instrumental in the campaign to open the Natatorium to African Americans and a meeting place for civic engagement.
- Olivet African Methodist Episcopal Church, 719 N. Notre Dame Ave. – This congregation was the first African American church founded in South Bend.
- First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 801 N. Eddy St. – offshoot of Olivet AME, this was the first African American church on the predominantly white east side. Ku Klux Klan members tried to block its construction.
- Chalfant Heights Neighborhood, 700 Block of North Twyckenham Drive and Chalfant Street – Developed in the mid-1940s as a place of quality housing for African Americans.
The Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center was born out of the transformation of the former Engman Public Natatorium, a city-owned facility that was a landmark of segregation from 1922 through 1950. This unique rebirth of a formerly segregated pool, which was honored in South Bend’s designation as an All-America City in 2011, now pays tribute to the civil-rights contributions of local citizens.