Richard Hatcher, former mayor of Gary, Indiana who also became one of the first black mayors of a big U.S. city, has died, according to the Associated Press. He was 86.
Hatcher’s daughter, Indiana state Rep. Ragen Hatcher, confirmed that her father passed away Friday night at a Chicago. The cause of death, however, has not been revealed.
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The former mayor’s family released a statement, which said that “in the last days of his life, he was surrounded by his family and loved ones.”
The family continued, “While deeply saddened by his passing, his family is very proud of the life he lived, including his many contributions to the cause of racial and economic justice and the more than 20 years of service he devoted to the city of Gary.”
Hatcher was born on July 10, 1933 in Michigan City, Indiana. He was one of 13 children, who went on to attend Indiana University and earned a law degree from Valparaiso University. After moving to Gary, he became a deputy prosecutor.
Hatcher became mayor of what was then Indiana’s second-largest city in 1967. He then served five terms.
Following his revolutionary election win, Hatcher placed himself at the political forefront in Gary. Hatcher is responsible for organizing the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, and he also served as chairman of Jesse Jackson’s Democratic presidential campaign in 1984. He became vice chairman four years later.
Jackson spoke of Hatcher and told the AP on Saturday that the former mayor was a “transformational figure.” “Mayor Richard Hatcher was not just a historical figure, he was a transformational figure. We thank him, and we miss him,” he said. Jackson added that he was asked to speak at Hatcher’s memorial services next Saturday.
Hatcher was first elected into office when he was 34. Then, he was an activist, lawyer and City Council president. His election was an emotional rollercoaster as he defeated incumbent A. Martin Katz in the primary by more than 2,300 votes. A celebration ensued, which forced police officials to shut down a six-block section of Broadway for four hours.
Prior to Hatcher holding a position in office, he was a member of the City Council and helped to pass an open housing law to end restrictive contracts that forced black people to live in the midtown section of Gary.
The city continuously declined, as did the U.S. steel industry. U.S. Steel decreased its workforce from 35,000 in the early 1970s to 25,000 by the early 1980s. As a result, businesses closed, banks relocated and crime increased. Actually, Gary had the nation’s highest per-capita homicide rate in 1984.
Hatcher did not allow the city’s struggles to diminish his efforts and the accomplishments he made while in office. “Maybe for some people in Gary it may not be better. But for others it may seem very much better,” he told the AP in 2011.
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