New Digital Collection Brings Life to Historic South Bend Newspaper

The-Reformer-South-Bend

College students, historians and researchers have a powerful new tool to search South Bend civil rights history from the late 1960s and 70s.

The St. Joseph County Public Library, in partnership with the Indiana University South Bend Archives and Civil Rights Heritage Center, has just launched a new historical newspaper collection on their Michiana Memory website.

The Reformer, an African American newspaper that was published from 1967 until 1971, is featured on the website. The weekly newspaper had 115 issues throughout its run. All but one of the issues will be in the collection.

The collection is a digitized time capsule, bringing unique perspectives from a turbulent but historically significant era where vast changes occurred both locally and nationally.

“Before the Internet helped give a voice to many, alternative newspapers like The Reformer was one of the only ways people could read a view different than the one presented by mass media,” George Garner, Tours and Collections Coordinator with the Civil Rights Heritage Center, told the South Bend Voice.

The collection – which was made possible through the funds of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant – is fully searchable by name and keyword, a huge benefit for social researchers. Full transcripts and page images are also available.

“As an historian, online access for free to thousands of articles about South Bend’s civil rights struggles and the African American community is an invaluable tool not only for me professionally, but for the thousands who can now search and read any time of day,” Garner adds.

The collection is not just a tool for researchers, though. Anyone interested in learning more about the history of South Bend will find it to be a compelling source.

Stories of racial disparity powerfully document the difficulties of African Americans in South Bend during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

An article from September 1968 documents how two hundred African-American students staged a walk-out at Washington High School due to a lack of representation in student activities, including a white-only cheerleader squad.

Other articles proudly recall “firsts” within the African American community and highlight social progress, such as actor Lloyd Haynes’ selection for a role on the Emmy-winning ABC sitcom Room 222. Haynes, who also appeared in episodes of the 1960s era Batman and Star Trek television series, was a South Bend native.

“You can learn a lot about South Bend during the 60s and 70s by reading The Reformer. You’ll recognize people you know and respect… the true heroes of the civil rights movement,” says King R. Giloth-David, a former editor of The Reformer.

In addition to the now-defunct newspaper, the Michiana Memory website hosts a treasure trove of primary sources ranging from historic photos and postcards to yearbooks and maps of St. Joseph County.

But of all of the collections on the website, The Reformer is considered the “crown jewel” for Joe Sipocz, the manager of Local & Family History Services at St. Joseph County Public Library.

“It’s the headlines and protests, but also the kids’ ball teams, church picnics and neighborhood dances. By making it fully available we are truly enabling our city to tell the history of that era,” Sipocz concludes.

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