Better Homes of South Bend – An American Story of Courage
Early in 1950, a group of Studebaker workers got together to create an organization they called Better Homes of South Bend, the first building cooperation in Indiana. Their mission was to build homes away from the factories where they were forced to live. Most of them had come from the South in the 1940's to escape Jim Crow, but then, as one of them said, "I met Jim Crow in the North." They knew they were facing almost insurmountable obstacles and kept their mission a secret for fear of being stopped as had so many others. Racism and housing discrimination reigned not only locally but nationally and were supported by agencies such as the FHA.
It took almost four years to fulfill their dream, but in the end, the group triumphed against the entrenched racism of the times. They not only managed to build 22 homes where no African American had been able to live before, but they created a vibrant community and built a legacy that still lives today. As one of the next generation, now a retired school principal, told me: "We are forever grateful to our parents that they made this move. It has made a difference to all-out futures."
The Better Homes story shows the group not merely as victims of white oppression but as courageous actors in their own right. They can be seen as the true defenders of American values, of freedom, democracy, and engaged citizenship. As we move forward in efforts to create a more just society, the Better Homes initiative also demonstrates in striking detail how organization, courage, and perseverance are essential in accomplishing social change.
About Gabrielle Robinson (South Bend, Indiana Author)
Gabrielle Robinson was born in Berlin in 1942. After living in cities such as Vienna, London and New York, she has happily settled in South Bend, Indiana, with her husband Mike and their cat Max. She has been inducted into the South Bend Community Hall of Fame and been awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash, Indiana's highest honor. Gabrielle received her PhD in Modern Drama from the University of London and after many years of university teaching is now Professor Emerita of English.
After writing academic books and articles, Gabrielle has turned to popular culture and local history. She has written about the coffee houses and open air wine bars of Vienna. "German Settlers of South Bend" deals with German immigration in the 1850's which helped build the city. "Better Homes of South Bend: An American Story of Courage" describes how the new arrivals from the South in the 1940's won out over the discrimination they encountered, "Jim Crow in the North," to build homes in a white district and create a vibrant neighborhood.
Gabrielle's most challenging book is the memoir/biography "The Reluctant Nazi." Through diaries she discovered Gabrielle found out that her beloved grandfather had been a member of the Nazi Party. His diaries give a day by day account of the bombing, the fall of Berlin, and the Russian occupation. That story is juxtaposed with Gabrielle trying to come to terms with German guilt, and all our political responsibility.