The news came to Jacqueline Patterson as a shock.
Working as head of the Urban League chapter in Milwaukee, Patterson could not believe Vernon Jordan, president of the national Urban League, had been shot in Fort Wayne, her hometown.
Jacqueline Patterson, who was head of an Urban League chapter in Milwaukee, moved back to Fort Wayne in 1993. She sees the city as striving to resolve its racial issues.
"It knocked the wind out of me," she said. "I knew that everything was not great in Fort Wayne, but I had no thoughts that anything like that would happen."
If the 1980 shooting raised fears of a rising current of racism in the city, they were premature. A drifter with no ties to Fort Wayne and linked to white supremacist groups admitted later to a racially motivated cross-country shooting spree that included Jordan, who recovered.
To Patterson, Fort Wayne - where she was raised and had worked with the Urban League in the early 1960s - would remain a city that strived to resolve its racial issues. That was partly the reason she moved back in 1993 after 30 years. Compared with some other cities, Fort Wayne, she found, wasn't too bad.
"There's always been this kind of feeling that I had for Fort Wayne, it's that you're going to find somebody who's going to sit down and talk to you, and you all begin to figure out whatever it is you can do to improve the situation," she said. "And that's one of the things I liked about Fort Wayne. When I was retired and worried about coming back home, I said, 'Oh not to worry, they take their time, but if there's a problem they're going to go after it.' "
In the 50 years since Martin Luther King visited Fort Wayne at the height of the civil rights movement, the Jordan shooting casts a shadow in an era that otherwise saw great advances for the city's blacks: a push to further integrate schools, more black professionals, more black police officers, the first black fire chief and black school superintendent, the first local black politicians and an end to restrictive housing covenants that kept blacks from moving.
But along with those advances the fact remains that blacks still trail whites in key areas of employment, income and higher education. Blacks in particular took a hard hit during the Great Recession.
Although he notes the poverty and single-parent homes that characterize some Fort Wayne black neighborhoods, Jonathan Ray, Fort Wayne Urban League president, is positive about the past five decades.
"In terms of creating a black middle class, there wasn't one. Now there is," Ray said. "And there are African-Americans who are in charge of making decisions. That just was not the case in early Fort Wayne or even 50 years ago Fort Wayne. So, it's changed dramatically in terms of where it was and where it is."
Chief among the changes was enactment of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination. Affirmative action also played an important role in opening doors to jobs and education for blacks.
In 1990, 8 percent of blacks had a bachelor's degree or higher, according to the Community Research Institute at IPFW. By 2010 the rate was 12.5 percent, according to the most recent census data. The rate for whites was 27.6 percent.
Source: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette | Ron Shawgo