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Black History Month panel shares 1968 in South Bend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- A group listened to a panel speak about what it was like in South Bend during 1968 on Tuesday.

The event is a part of a series the Civil Rights Heritage Center is putting on for Black History Month. The panel made up of four people who lived the Civil Rights movement shared stories with a room full of people.

“I live on the north side of Western Avenue,” said Lynn Coleman, one of the panelists. “And the only reason we went south of Western Avenue was to go to school.”

Rosemarie Harris, another panelist, said Western Avenue was like an invisible dividing line that no black person crossed in 1968.

“South Bend to me was, ‘Oh my gosh,’” said Charlotte Pfeifer, a panelists.

Pfeifer, originally from Niles, said she had never seen so many black people in one place. While panelist Lois Clark said she was from the country and didn’t know much about the racial tension in the city.

“I heard there was a swimming pool in South Bend,” Clark said.

Clark said she would take her children to the Engman Public Natatorium each week, so they could learn how to swim. She said she learned years later that the pool was segregated.

The natatorium is now a symbol for black heritage in South Bend, where the panelists shared the following stories from 1967-1968:

-        The riots on Washington Street that caused Sandock’s Funiture to burn down.

-        Melvin Phillips, who Coleman said, was shot by South Bend police and had to have his leg amputated.

-        The march on South Bend after, Harris said, a police officer drew his weapon on a black child.

The audience asked many questions, one about whether they were fearful of retaliation due to their activism.

“I didn’t care about going to jail,” Harris said. “Later, I became a police officer like Lynn said.”

While Pfeifer said her generation was not scared at all.

“Baby boomers, we didn’t play that” she said. “We weren’t going to let white people spit on us and slap us.”

Clark, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C., urged the audience to learn from the past’s mistakes.

“What we learn from history,” she said.  “If we don’t learn, we have to repeat the same mistakes over and over and over.”

 

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