It’s not every day you hear of a film series being held in a former natatorium.
But with the help of an Action Grant from Indiana Humanities, the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center (CRHC) presented five films in the fall of 2019. The screenings took place in the CRHC’s home, which used to house a segregated swimming pool.
Ranging from a documentary on African American funerals to a film exploring the historic alliance between the Jewish and African American communities during the 1960s civil rights movement, the CRHC film series sought to engage the South Bend community in discussions surrounding the local impacts of social-justice issues.
“We tried to find the balance between films that are compelling visually and in the story they tell, issues that are directly affecting our community, and that have people in our community who can speak knowingly to the impact they have here,” said CRHC assistant director George Garner. “Grant support from Indiana Humanities meant we could open the door to pay for documentaries that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise and bring more compelling and contemporary films to this community.”
Each nationally acclaimed documentary film’s screening was followed by a discussion between a local panel of humanities scholars who spoke to the film’s topic and impact on the South Bend community.
The screening of the films in the former natatorium was symbolic—the natatorium denied entry to African Americans from 1922 to 1950. The historical significance of the building gave the film series an added layer of importance.
“One of my favorite stories was from ‘Blacks and Jews,’ which showed the historic alliance between the African American and Jewish communities, especially during the 1960s.” Garner refects. “Those alliances were in South Bend too, but like many communities, they faded in the second half of the twentieth century. Our presentation brought leaders of the South Bend Jewish community together with the NAACP to share how they were reigniting their allyship here. We also welcomed Dr. Monica Tetzlaff, an IU South Bend history professor who had studied the lives of Ruth and Maurice Tulchinsky. The Tulchinsky’s were white allies in the fight to desegregate South Bend’s Engman Public Natatorium—the very space where our documentary screening took place. Also serving on the panel was Terry Tulchinsky—Ruth and Maurice’s son. It was an amazingly powerful experience having a panel of Black and Jewish community leaders and a professor of African American history share space with the family member of activists whose allyship helped desegregate the space we were in.”
“We’re housed in a former swimming pool building that, for almost 30 years after it opened, deliberately excluded African American people from swimming. Telling solid truths about that exclusion is the only way we can build a world without injustice,” said Garner. “Only by remembering the truth about the past, solidly researched and rigorously reviewed, can we move toward a just and equitable future.”
Indiana Humanities Action Grants offer up to $3,000 to support nonprofit organizations that sponsor public humanities programs such as exhibitions, workshops, lectures and reading and discussion programs. For more information, visit www.indianahumanities.org/grants.
Indiana Humanities communications intern Marissa Weiner wrote this blog post. Marissa graduated from Butler University in 2020 with a degree in critical communication and media studies.