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New book traces history of African American experience in South Bend

News Release Oct 25, 2023

Book cover for Placing History: An African American Landmark Tour of South Bend, Indiana IU South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center offers a self-guided African American Landmark Tour, in which participants can visit 17 local sites that have been locations of particular significance in the lives of the Black community. George Garner, the CRHC’s assistant director and curator, sought to bolster the informative nature of the tour by compiling a booklet with a few pages devoted to details about each of the sites.

“Then I started writing,” Garner says. “Five pages per site was not going to be enough. There are so many stories, and such a rich and wide tapestry behind them. The project began to lead me; I was no longer leading it.”

Garner ended up with a 213-page book, titled “Placing History: An African American Landmark Tour of South Bend, Indiana.”

Thanks to a grant and the invaluable assistance of the student staff and faculty at the Pub Hub, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ publishing center, the book is available to all readers, free of charge.

Garner’s book had important predecessors. The Black theologian and sociologist Rev. Buford F. Gordon wrote “The Negro in South Bend: A Social Study,” in 1922. More recently came Lisa Swedarsky’s “A Place with Purpose: Hering House 1925-1963″ and Katherine O’Dell’s “Our Day: Race Relations and Public Accommodations in South Bend, Indiana.” All three are available as the On Their Shoulders series from IU South Bend’s Wolfson Press.

“Those three books helped lay the groundwork for this book and for our work here at the Center,” Garner says.

Garner also delved deep into the newspaper accounts of years past, drawing from over 2,500 articles from publications such as the South Bend Tribune and the now-defunct South Bend News-Times. He also consulted a resource that revealed sides of the stories that the newspapers frequently overlooked: oral history. The CRHC’s Oral History Collection has preserved over 170 interviews with community leaders and everyday citizens of the African American population, and those accounts helped Garner flesh out details of everyday life that the media did not cover.

One chapter is devoted to trying to envision what the African American business district might have been like. The newspapers only gave minimal attention to that kind of commerce, so Garner pieced together a history of Black-owned businesses largely through those verbal accounts.

Chapters are devoted to institutions such as the Olivet A.M.E. Church, Linden School, and Central High School. There is also a history of the neighborhood known as The Lake, which outlines a disturbing history of social and environmental injustice. In the concluding chapter, Garner makes it clear that our community still has a long way to go in working towards a more just society.

“A lot of this history is an instruction manual for what not to do. Our goal is to get us on a path where we understand this history more clearly and more fully,” Garner says. “We need to make better decisions in the future, and have more meaningful and impactful conversations.”

“Placing History: An African American Landmark Tour of South Bend, Indiana” is available as an e-book which can be downloaded via aalt.iusb.edu. Free physical copies can be obtained at the Civil Rights Heritage Center, 1040 W. Washington St., South Bend.

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