By The Associated Press
The city of Gary, Ind., has replaced Columbus Day with a holiday honoring its late Mayor Richard Hatcher, who became one of the first Black mayors of a big U.S. city when he was elected in 1967.
The Gary Common Council voted 8-1 on Feb. 2 in favor of a resolution making Richard Gordon Hatcher Day the second Monday of October for city employees, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
Gary becomes the latest U.S. city to rename Columbus Day, which is now called Indigenous Peoples’ Day in some states. Native American tribes and others say celebrating Christopher Columbus, the 15th century explorer, ignores the effect the European arrival in the Americas had on the native peoples, who suffered violence, disease, enslavement, racism and exploitation at the hands of settlers.
Gary Councilman Michael Brown said the move sets aside a day to honor Hatcher while also replacing Columbus Day “in alliance with what a lot of communities have done.”
Hatcher, who died in 2019 at age 86, was just 34 when he overcame opposition from the local Democratic machine to become mayor of Gary, which was then Indiana’s second-largest city.
He and Cleveland’s Carl Stokes together became the first Black mayors of major American cities when they both took office on Jan. 1, 1968.
Hatcher went on to serve five terms, leading the Steel City until 1987 and becoming the political face of Gary and a political force for Black people.
Brown noted that Hatcher paved the way for other Black men and women, including himself, to follow him into public office in the northwest Indiana city.
“Hatcher was a great man, and he did great things. … I wouldn’t be the first African-American clerk in the state without Hatcher,” he said.
Democrat Ron Brewer was the sole council member to vote against the resolution after withdrawing his own proposal to instead celebrate Hatcher on July 10 — the late mayor’s birthday. He said Hatcher’s three daughters had preferred his birthday over a Columbus Day replacement, too.
But state Rep. Ragen Hatcher, a Gary Democrat who’s one of Hatcher’s daughters, thanked the council.
“I think we all are very happy that the city and the council will be recognizing him on a yearly basis for all his achievements,” she said.