Rev. Jesse Jackson talks to newsmen at the opening of the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind., March 11, 1972. Gary’s Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, left, and poet-activist Imamu Amear Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones) look on.
Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher is at the lectern during the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is to his left. A resolution recently adopted by the Indiana House commemorates the 50th anniversary of the convention.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson talks to newsmen at the opening of the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, March 11, 1972. Gary’s Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, left, and Amiri Baraka, the former LeRoi Jones, look on.
Bobby Seale, left, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson talk, Saturday night, March 12, 1972, at the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. Seale called for black unification around concrete programs for survival, and Jackson is director of PUSH, People United to Save Humanity.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, executive director of Operation: PUSH, speaks from the floor of the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, March 13, 1972. Jackson had said on Sunday, “If we do nothing else today, we ill have made a revolutionary step toward a black political nation in this country and in the world.”
As the National Black Political Convention ended in Gary, Ind., March 13, 1972, poet Imamu Amear Baraka, chairman of the convention, speaks to the delegations. The convention, which ran for three days, ended on a note of discord as the delegation from Michigan left the floor in protest.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson gestures for silence after chants from the crowd stopped the opening speech at the Black National Convention in Gary, Indiana, March 11, 1972. The crowd complained that view of the speakers platform was blocked by television crews. The proceedings resumed when the crews moved. Rep. Charles Diggs (D-Mich.), presiding chairman of the convention is at left.
State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary
A historic gathering of black leaders and up-and-comers held 50 years ago in Gary recently was commemorated in the Indiana House by one of the thousands of men and women whose lives were forever changed by the event.
State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said his participation at the National Black Political Convention was one of the greatest highlights of his life.
“The energy and unity at the convention sparked a turning point that encouraged black Americans to take a seat at the table and affect change in their local communities,” Smith said.
The convention ran from March 10 to March 12, 1972, and drew some 10,000 people from across to the country to the Steel City, led at the time by Mayor Richard Hatcher, one of the first big-city black mayors and the father of current state Rep. Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary.
Convention participants discussed the need for political activism, identified ways of encouraging more black Americans to run for public office, and issued a manifesto demanding fundamental changes to the nation’s politics, economics and culture.
The impact of the convention was immediately felt in Indiana where a record number of black lawmakers were elected to the General Assembly in 1972, among them state Sen. Rudy Clay; and state Reps. Robert Freeland Jr. and Jewell Harris, all Democrats from Gary.
Altogether, records show 39 black legislators from nine Indiana counties have served in the Statehouse in the half-century since the convention, including the 14 current members of the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus.
In addition to Smith and Ragen Hatcher, the black caucus members hailing from Northwest Indiana are: State Sens. Eddie Melton, D-Gary; and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; and state Reps. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago; and Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond.
“There is no doubt that organizations like the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus formed as a result of our predecessors advocating for change at the National Black Political Convention,” Smith said.
“I’m proud to co-author a resolution honoring an event that led to a significant shift in racial equity in the political process,” Smith said.
House Resolution 31, adopted unanimously on Feb. 28, recalls the history of the National Black Political Convention and celebrates its achievements, including the more than 10,000 black Americans that today hold elected office at all levels of government.
At the same time, Smith observed the work of the National Black Political Convention to generate meaningful societal change still goes on.
“The same issues we were fighting for 50 years ago — an end to police violence, equal voting rights, access to quality education and economic opportunities, continue to show us that progress must be made,” Smith said.
“It is important for the next generation to reflect on the success and obstacles of their predecessors as we continue to organize and address today’s political and social challenges.”
Meet the 2022 Northwest Indiana legislative delegation
State Sen. Michael Griffin, D-Highland
State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago
State Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary
State Sen. Rodney Pol Jr., D-Chesterton
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso
State Sen. Rick Niemeyer, R-Lowell
State Sen. Mike Bohacek, R-Michiana Shores
State Rep. Carolyn Jackson, D-Hammond
State Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago
State Rep. Ragen Hatcher, D-Gary
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso
State Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City
State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage
State Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron
State Rep. Mike Andrade, D-Munster
State Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville
State Rep. Douglas Gutwein, R-Francesville
State Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point
State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie
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