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Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher: A trailblazer for justice

By Starla Muhammad -Managing Editor- | Last updated: Dec 25, 2019 - 1:05:30 PM

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yor Hatcher was elected Mayor of Gary, Ind. in 1967.
GARY, Ind.—A selfless and humble public servant and committed family man. Those were just a few of the many qualities describing this city’s beloved former Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher at his recent homegoing ceremony and memorial service. Mr. Hatcher made history by becoming the country’s first Black mayor elected to a major U.S. city, but he was so much more, said family members, friends and mourners who filled the arena named in his honor at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary, Ind. located just 25 miles from downtown Chicago.

Small in stature and soft-spoken, Mr. Hatcher was tenacious in his pursuit of freedom, justice and equality for Black people. He did not back down from opposition by those who were satisfied with the status quo and “good old boys” political and economic climate that saw his people constantly at the bottom of society.

Mourners filed in, some pausing in front of the casket to bow their heads, others offering salutes or placing hands over their hearts prior to the Gary Police Honor Guard escorting the family solemnly down the aisle in a fitting display of honor for a man that meant so much to the city.

Mayor Hatcher loved being a servant, said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of his brother and friend during the Dec. 21 service. The Nation of Islam minister, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, former Tuskegee, Ala. Mayor Johnny Ford, Rev. Jesse Jackson and his son Jonathan Jackson were among those who spoke. Mr. Hatcher died Dec. 13 at age 86.

(L-R) Vocalist performs at service., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Moving vocal tribute by vocalist, Former Tuskegee, Ala. Mayor Johnny Ford

(L-R) Dr. Vanessa Allen-McCloud, president and CEO of Urban League of Northwest Indiana sang a song, Rev. Rameen Jackson, Jackie Wise and Candice Wise, nieces of Mr. Hatcher

(L-R) The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke on the life and legacy of his friend and brother Mr. Hatcher. “The wholeness of his life was spiritual excellence,” said Min. Farrakhan.. Ragan Hatcher, Rene Hatcher, Jonathan Jackson delivered the eulogy

“Richard Gordon Hatcher, what a man was he. I want to talk about my brother not from the political side of his life, but the fullness of his life was spiritual excellence,” said Minister Farrakhan, who pointed out the guiding principles of “family values” instilled in the Hatcher household that were printed in the funeral program. Some of the “Hatcher Family Values,” included: Believing in God, attending church, studying the Bible, always being truthful, sharing with the poor and needy, and additional guidance and directions for life. The Minister implored the audience to read the information and work on incorporating the principles in their own lives.

“Those are the family values of a spiritual giant. So you want to know what to do after Richard Gordon Hatcher is gone? Well some might have asked that after Jesus left the earthly scene. ‘What do we do? How can we make it?’ ” the Minister asked rhetorically. “When great ones leave, those who depended on them for guidance and strength momentarily are lost. But Jesus told his disciples and I’m going to say it to you. He said you can communicate with me. Did you hear me? He didn’t go somewhere where you can’t communicate with him,” Minister Farrakhan stated. His brief message was interrupted several times with clapping, standing ovations and shouts of “amen” and “yes” from the audience.

He spoke of the significance of communion taken during the first Sunday in churches around the world which symbolizes the body and blood of Jesus. That really means absorbing his word, what Jesus taught and trying to live life in the footsteps and example of Christ, said Minister Farrakhan. He implored politicians to use Mr. Hatcher’s life of service as a demonstration of how to work for the people.


“Here’s a man (Mr. Hatcher) that walked among us for a long, long time in public service. He made a heck of a record in his many years of public service, church service, human service. He loved being a servant. What about the proud, arrogant people today who want to be served but don’t wish to serve? Not our example,” said Minister Farrakhan. Everywhere Mr. Hatcher went, he served, the Minister added.

“Do you know this flesh that you put in the grave after time, that’s not what we follow. The beauty of this man, his hair, his speech and all these things. That’s nice. He was a beautiful man, he won the heart of his lovely wife. She saw those dimensions but after living with him for 52 years she saw the fullness of the dimension of a man whose dimensions are still making waves,” said Minister Farrakhan. “The best way to follow a man like Mr. Hatcher is to live and serve like he did. This man’s whole life was about God and Christ.”

The qualities and characteristics that made Mr. Hatcher who he was live on, explained Minister Farrakhan.

“Our brother is gone, but he’s not gone. Humility doesn’t die. Good character doesn’t die. Truthful life and righteous life does not die. The characteristic of goodness and righteousness lives. You don’t bury characteristics of the righteous. You bury the flesh that was dictated to by something bigger.”

Though Mayor Hatcher is most noted for his 1967 improbable election in Gary, his list of accomplishments and achievements were numerous. He developed and hosted the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary; worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); served as national chair of the 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns of Rev. Jackson; played a significant role in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and served as mayor of Gary for 20 years.

Current Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson read aloud an executive order authorizing the city of Gary to rename a large portion of Grant Street—a main thoroughfare—Richard Gordon Hatcher St. Executive Order No. 2019-01 will also rename all city of Gary departments, the Lake County Circuit Court Clerk’s office, Lake County Voter Registration office, post office and other departments after the late mayor, she stated.

“I got up early this morning, caught plane and came to Gary just as I did in 1972 when Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher convened the National Black Political Convention,” said Mr. Ford. “We came because we were inspired by him and from that convention we went back across America and now I can stand here as the founder of the National Conference of Black Mayors, the World Conference of Mayors, the National Policy Alliance ... none of that would have been possible had it not been for Richard Gordon Hatcher,” he added. Mr. Ford said he is calling on Black mayors across the country to name streets, schools, bridges and host ceremonies honoring Mr. Hatcher.

Mayor Hatcher “made Gary the civil rights capital of the North,” said Rev. Jackson in brief remarks before turning over deliverance of the eulogy to his son Jonathan to deliver and the younger Jackson did not disappoint, delivering a passionate and heartfelt message.

Mayor Hatcher never gave up and never stopped fighting for Gary, said Jonathan Jackson. “What manner of man is this? He fought the good fight. He was unbowed, unbought, unbroken, long suffering. He was criticized. He took the heat in the middle of the day!” he continued. Jonathan Jackson laid out opposition Mayor Hatcher faced from local politicians and White residents who fled the city and formed the towns of Merrillville and Schererville rather than live in a city with a Black man calling the shots from city hall.

“Some people want to run for office and say they care about civil rights. You’re for civil rights in and out of season whether or not in office. This is a freedom fighter. So I bid farewell and adieu to a freedom fighter, a man who never lost confidence in his people. A man who did not want to get coopted, did not want to get bought. He made those in the Democratic Party uncomfortable because he was pulling the wagon for the dispossessed, the denied and those that were left behind,” said Jonathan Jackson. “This is our freedom fighter. He made us proud. He made America better and he never disgraced us! I love you Mayor Hatcher and the family, fight on!”

Mayor Hatcher touched many lives and influenced those that he mentored, advised and counseled over the years. But it was his role as a loving and doting husband and father that defined him, his daughters shared. Mr. Hatcher and his wife, Ruthellyn Marie Hatcher, met in 1967 and were married in 1976. The couple had three daughters, Ragan, Rachelle and Renee, who all became lawyers like their father. Ragan and Renee, the youngest daughter shared heartfelt and poignant memories of their father. Middle daughter Renee, did not speak, having just given birth three weeks ago.

Despite the public life their father lived and his busy schedule, he always made time for his family, shared oldest daughter Ragan, who is an Indiana state representative. She said their father never put limits on them and always told them they could accomplish anything. “He believed that we could do anything that we wanted to do,” said Ragan Hatcher.

“There are no words that can express how much I love dad. How I’ve been admiring him my whole life like so many of you here today. He left a legacy of love, of service for me, my family, my children and for many of you in this room. I always wanted to follow in his footsteps, not just because he was my dad but because he was the best man I ever knew.”