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black and white photo of children holding signs of cultural identities


Crucible of Working Class

and Ethnic Cultures

Cultures came together as people moved to the Calumet region in large numbers. As they worked, played, and set down roots, they developed a significant popular culture. Strong advocates led struggles for equality, inclusion, and civil rights that achieved national prominence.

Cultural Communities

People came from around the world to work in the Calumet region and put their stamp on the landscape. By 1930, the region had an extraordinary diversity of ethnic origins, including Indigenous Myaamia and Potawatomi people. Within some Calumet communities, pocket enclaves developed especially strong attachments to local churches, schools, social halls, savings societies, and taverns. Communities developed distinctive identities strongly shaped by physical, economic, and social attachments to nearby industry. Taken as a whole, this complex of very locally centered communities is a significant element in the national story of immigration, assimilation, and group identity. Click on the images in the slideshow to enlarge and view more information.

Racial Tensions

Black and white photo of Richard Hatcher at beachfront protest

Mayor Richard Hatcher at beachfront protest of NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company) plant, circa 1971.

Steel and other industries were a major ground for recruitment of labor from the American South in the first part of the twentieth century. The Great Migration brought African American workers and their families to communities throughout the Calumet region. Racially-charged struggles of national resonance erupted over schooling, housing, and politics. Conflict in the steelmaking Trumbull Park neighborhood emerged in 1953, when Black families attempted to move into public housing there. Richard Hatcher’s 1967 election in Gary as the first African American mayor of a major American city sped the postwar processes of white flight, which continues to shape community life today.

Living Cultural Traditions

Traditions, festivals, food, music, art, and literature make the region and its heritage come alive. Local museums and heritage centers throughout the Calumet region steward its stories embodied in objects, photographs, and archives. Myaamia and Potawatomi people are working with the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center to create a cultural heritage trail that demonstrates their continuing engagement with the place they have long called home. Labor Day commemorations, ethnic showcases like Whiting’s Pierogi Fest, and church-oriented events like Southeast Chicago’s Annunciata Fest continue to strengthen social and cultural bonds. 

Croatian Stars performance

3 musicians with instruments playing in front of a crowd
Men and women standing with flags in front of crowd outside

Indiana Dunes Visitor Center Indigenous Cultural Trail Flag Raising Event of Potawatomi, Myaamia, and American flags.

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