South Bend, Indiana: [self-published], . 7 1/8” x 5 1/8”. Printed wrappers. pp. 103. Good: textblock wavy, front wrapper heavily chipped and reinforced with tape at an early date; internally bright and clean throughout.
This rare book documents the early history and contemporary living and social conditions of African Americans in South Bend, Indiana. It was written by the Reverend B.F. Gordon who graduated from Fisk University with a degree in chemistry. After Fisk, Gordon began a masters program at Yale Divinity School but stopped in 1917 to serve in World War I, completing his degree at the University of Chicago after the war. He arrived in South Bend around 1920 to lead Taylor's A.M.E. Zion Church (now known as South Bend's First A.M.E. Zion Church) where he served until around 1925. He went on to become a bishop in the A.M.E. Zion church as well as a member of the executive board of the NAACP.
A 2016 online article by Kevin Tidmarsh in Belt Magazine (https://beltmag.com/the-forgotten-legacy-of-buford-gordon/) summed this book up well stating it “leaves behind a legacy of documentation and advocacy, functioning as a work of journalism, social science, and advocacy all in one.” After Gordon's introduction which lays out a number of goals for the book, he spent a few pages on the early history of South Bend including ten pages devoted to the slaveholder John Norris and what came to be known as the “South Bend Fugitive Slave Case.” Gordon also traced the migration of African Americans northward, while documenting the earliest black settlers in South Bend and sharing the history of the city's black churches and masonic organizations.
The rest of the book dealt with the plight and opportunity for African Americans as of the time of publication. In addressing race issues and uplift, Gordon wrote that,
“[with] only 604 Negroes in South Bend [as of World War I] . . . there was no racial problem as there were so few Negroes . . . as we remember our growth of population we also remember the growth of race consciousness among the Negroes here. Businesses sprang up here and there. Many organizations sprang up here and there . . . With all this activity and lack of activity there is pleasant remembrance there has been in no instance an expressed bitterness among the different races, hatred is only ignorance any way. It is the hope of this writer that there will grow out of this study a desire on the part of both races to know the needs of the Negro and to use all efforts to meet these needs. Not because the Negro is peaceful [if] he is satisfied, he is peaceful by nature . . . the great need is for the Negro to come together and combine his interests, and his earnings and lift himself so high that the world will seek him. This has been done by others and can be done by the Negroes. And on the other hand let the white people do nothing to stop him from rising. Then the race problems will vanish into or be reduced to a shadow.”
Gordon's work had a nearly immediate impact on the African American community of South Bend: Tidmarsh's article points out that the book's publication led directly to two white philanthropists, Frank and Claribel Hering, donating money for a community center for African Americans. The donation from the Herings led to the dedication of The Hering House in 1925. It was modeled after Chicago's Hull House and served as an exceptionally important gathering place for African Americans in South Bend for nearly 40 years.
Tidmarsh's article also pointed out Gordon's courage in helping to build a new church for his flock:
“Gordon stayed on as reverend at the First A.M.E. Zion Church until 1925, overseeing the construction of a new, bigger building to accommodate a growing congregation — the old church had been housed in a small, simple building made of cement. The very existence of the new church building was threatened, however, when the most infamous organization from Gordon’s hometown caught wind of the plans. The Indiana Klan threatened to do everything in their power to intimidate Gordon, threatening to tear down the building at night and challenge the construction of the church in court. It was only after Gordon started carrying a pistol, hired a lawyer, and had his congregation watch the construction site every night that the church was able to be completed.”
OCLC finds four institutions with copies. One of them, the St. Joseph County Public Library in South Bend, appears to have two copies of this printing and either a variant or manuscript of the title which is taller and has fewer pages.
A rare and important book documenting the history, hopes and contemporary concerns of African Americans in a small Midwest city.
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