The Froebel High School walkout of 1945 in Gary, Ind. is considered a watershed moment for race relations in the city. On this day, white students walked out of the institution in protest of racial integration, highlighting tensions in the city that still exist today.
Froebel, a school constructed in 1912, was said to be the first in the city to allow Black students. By 1944, 40 percent of the student body were Black and many of them were standout athletes. It isn’t clear when or why the tensions at the school began to mount but Indiana, like many states, was resistant to school integration. Even when the school was integrated, Black students were limited to certain areas.
Approximately 1,400 white students participated in the walkout. Protests raged on for weeks as the school’s principal remained under fire from strike leaders and white members of the community. The situation became so dire that Frank Sinatra and Joe Louis were invited to speak and urge students back to class. (They turned the school down.)
As a result of the strike, Black and white church leaders and other members of the community formed an anti-discrimination league composed of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the NAACP to defend the principal’s decision. By the end of the month, other schools joined the walkouts, fearing the arrival of Black families from the South looking for new opportunities eroded the value of their homes and community.
The strike ended in November but so-called “hate strike” threats loomed well into the following year after the Gary Board of Education ended segregation via a new policy in 1947. This didn’t change much as hidden measures to further segregate schools to skirt around the law were developed.
Today, Gary is over 80 percent Black and is the 11th poorest city in the nation. Some economists and observers say that race relations in Gary exacerbated the social and financial depression experienced by Black Gary residents.
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