Indiana University South Bend has the unique distinction of being home to the Civil Rights Heritage Center. Located off campus in what was once the Engman Public Natatorium, the building housed Indiana’s largest indoor pool when constructed in 1922. However, during the first 28 years of operation, it excluded or segregated South Bend’s African American community. Although formally integrated in 1950, the pool continued to be a site of bitter memories until it was closed in 1978. Through the combined efforts of IU South Bend students, faculty and administrators, the city of South Bend, the South Bend Heritage Foundation, and local stakeholders, the building was rededicated as the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center in May 2010. The center now serves as a space that promotes education, culture, and activism.
“The CRHC is many things,” Darryl Heller, director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center, said. “The center is a living museum where guests can explore the history of civil rights in Northwest Indiana. It is classroom space utilized by area universities as well as K-12 educators. It is a meeting space for grassroots organizations interested in issues relating to social justice, a rotating art exhibition space featuring artists of color, and a circulating library containing books and information on African American history.”
Heller has worked as director of the CRHC for four and a half years, starting in 2015. According to him, his path to the Civil Rights Heritage Center was “non-traditional.” Heller received a B.A. in philosophy from the College of Charleston, where he developed an interest in social justice after observing the oppression of migrant workers. He later moved to DC, where he worked with an organization to combat homelessness through creative nonviolence. After eighteen years, Heller went on to receive his M.A. in American Studies from Colombia University and his doctorate in history from the University of Chicago.
The community-minded Heller saw this position, and the CRHC itself, as a chance to connect the university community with the city of South Bend as the Civil Rights Heritage Center—quite literally—sits in a unique intersection between the two. While officially a part of IU, because of the CRHC’s location off campus, the center can easily bridge the gap between the university and the surrounding South Bend community.
During his time as director, Heller has worked to build the CHRC as a resource for all members of the community by taking part in community meetings and creating a space dedicated to inclusivity. “The center has become a vibrant hub where people can build collaborative relationships and have open and honest conversations,” he said. However, community outreach does not just include providing meeting spaces. The center is also actively involved in community efforts supporting public education, fighting for economic justice, and ensuring police accountability. Looking ahead, Heller envisions the center becoming home to the Clemente Course in the Humanities, a credit-bearing community education program that offers college-level courses in the humanities, and expanding as a place that brings diverse people together to engage in difficult conversations.
Additionally, Heller would like to develop a national network of university-affiliated centers similar to the CRHC. Heller hopes that by connecting and networking with the different centers, they will be able to share information and learn from one another.
“IU South Bend and the Civil Rights Heritage Center has a strong place in Indiana University,” Heller said. “Our goal is to live out IU’s mission to serve and educate the public. I am so proud to be a part of it.”