Richard Hatcher, one of the first African Americans elected as mayor of a major U.S. city, died on Friday, Dec. 13, at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, according to his family. Hatcher, who governed Gary, Indiana for twenty years, assumed office on the same day as Carl Stokes in Cleveland, and remained in office the same number of years as Detroit’s first Black mayor Coleman Young. He was 86.
In an extensive interview with the online site, The HistoryMakers, Hatcher recounted his early beginnings and his rise to the pinnacle of political prominence. He was born Richard Gordon Hatcher on July 10, 1933 in Michigan City, Indiana. “I earned my B.S. degree in business and government from Indiana University in 1956,” he said, “and a bachelor of law with honors in criminal law and a J.D. from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1959.”
Hatcher began practicing law in East Chicago, Indiana and by 1961 he was serving as a deputy prosecutor for Lake County, Indiana. Two years later, he was elected to Gary’s city council. In fact, he set a precedent in becoming the first freshman elected president of the council.
From these successful steps, his next stop was practically inevitable, becoming the mayor in 1967. He would hold this office for the next score of years, finally losing a bid to a sixth term in 1987. His twenty years in office was of great benefit to the city where several of his civic innovations reduced urban problems as well as provided him with a platform to address some the nation’s pressing issues pertaining to the poor.
One hallmark of his years in office occurred in March 1972 when he hosted the National Black Political Convention with more than 10,000 in attendance, including such notables as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rep. Charles Diggs, and writer/activist Amiri Baraka. Out of the convention came the Gary Declaration, which highlighted the urban crisis facing Black Americans and that a prime remedy for the problem was a shift to independent Black politics. There was also a demand for reparations, sounded by Ron Daniels, one of the event’s key organizers.
After leaving office, Hatcher launched his own consulting firm, at the same time working as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University. He also entered the classroom, teaching at Roosevelt University and at Valparaiso University. There were also stints at Cambridge University in England and as an adjunct professor at Indiana University.
In the 1980s, when Rev. Jackson sought the presidency, Hatcher was among the loyal supporters, hosting events and raising funds for a candidate he viewed as a close friend. Rev. Jackson, who officiated at Hatcher’s wedding, is scheduled to eulogize him. “He was a transformative figure…our foundation,” Jackson said.
Hatcher authored numerous articles about urban affairs, civil rights, politics and law and was working on a book. Hatcher has many affiliations and memberships with various civic, urban, political and civil rights organizations and has received a myriad of awards and honors for his lifetime of dedication to his community.
Hatcher married Ruthellyn in 1976 and they had three daughters; Ragen, Rachelle, and Renee. According to his daughter, Ragen, funeral services are slated for Saturday, Dec. 21, at the Genesis Center in Gary.