Woman who inspired Civil Rights Heritage symbol passes away

The woman who became a symbol of the civil rights struggle in South Bend passed away Tuesday.

Barbara Vance Brandy, who inspired the logo at the Civil Rights Heritage Center is immortalized as, “the girl in the red bathing suit.”

Her family and the center are remembering Barbara.

Her daughter, Karen Brandy-Comer will now become the matriarch of the family.

Barbara died at 84-years-old, but people will always remember her as a child.

“Each one of us were told by her at a certain time when she felt the need to tell us,” Brandy-Comer said of Barbara’s story.

It was 1947, at the natatorium in South Bend.

Nine-year-old Barbara showed up to swim, in a red bathing suit her grandma had made her,

“They went on the wrong day. They went on the white day, and they sent them away,” Vance-Brady said.

Little Barbara was turned away because of her race.                            

“Every African-American can tell you at what point in their life they were made to feel different,” Darryl Heller, director of the IUSB Civil Rights Heritage Center said.

Now, the old natatorium is transformed into the Civil Right Heritage Center.

Barbara, who was once kept out of the building, is the face of it, a logo that the museum director says still resonates.

“The work that we’re doing and the importance of places like the Civil Rights Heritage Center is to continue on the struggle, and make sure that no little kid and no person in general has to experience that,” Heller said.

Brandy-Comer is continuing that work too, with a seat on the Human Rights Commission.  

For now, she’s taking time to mourn Barbara, a symbol to so many, but a great mom to just a few.

“I know the strength that I have comes from her,” Brandy-Comer said.

A celebration of Barbara’s life will be held Friday at 4:30 at the Civil Rights Heritage Center.

Visitors are asked to wear red.

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