One of the most powerful voices in the 20th century on Black power and supporting urban cities, Richard G. Hatcher, died on Dec. 13 with political leaders praising his efforts and tenacity.
Hatcher, who served as the first Black mayor of Gary., Ind., from 1968-1988, died at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in Chicago at the age of 86. The cause of his death has not been publicized.
Funeral services are scheduled to take place on Dec. 19 at the Genesis Center in Chicago.
“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,” the Hatcher family said in a statement. “Mayor Hatcher will be mourned but remembered by the people of the city of Gary who were inspired by his leadership, his ability to bring about positive change and to never give up despite the challenges presented to him.”
Gary Mayor Karen Wilson-Freeman lamented Hatcher’s passing.
“Our entire community mourns the loss of a great man and we will forever be touched by his selfless service to the city of Gary,” Wilson-Freeman said. “I am humbled to be a recipient of his wisdom and guidance and will always be grateful for his influence on my life. We should be proud as a community that we gave him his flowers in the form of a statue placed at City Hall while he could smell them.”
In 1967, Hatcher won his election as mayor of Gary on the same day Carl Stokes won his race for mayor of Cleveland, making them the first African Americans to be elected mayor of cities with 100,000 or more citizens. Hatcher had earlier served on the Gary City Council from 1963 until his historic election.
He took over a city caught up White flight and a declining steel industry. Throughout his tenure, Hatcher sought and garnered hundreds of millions of federal dollars to save his economically declining city. At the same time, he spoke out against racial injustice and embraced Black political leaders and activists.
An example of his influence: the hosting of the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary.
He also led mayors nationally when he served as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 1980-1981.
Another example of national clout occurred when Hatcher served as the campaign chairman of the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign. Jackson called Hatcher “a transformative figure in so many ways.”
“The year 1965 was when it all started, and Hatcher brought all these people who didn’t know each other and made Gary the centerpiece of our movement,” Jackson said. “Truth be told, he was our foundation. He changed the culture.”
Indiana political leaders of both parties such as Peter Visclosky, a Democrat who represents Gary in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) praised Hatcher.
“Mayor Richard Hatcher was a historic and exemplary leader for civil rights and racial equality in our nation and he was always a true public servant for the City of Gary and the Northwest Indiana region,” Visclosky said.
“Hatcher was a state and national trailblazer who committed his life to serving and helping his community,” Holcomb said. “Our sympathies go out to the Hatcher family and the long list of citizens he impacted and inspired. I ask Hoosiers around the state to join me in honoring this servant leader and his service to the proud city of Gary, Ind.”