port of harlem magazine
daley's destinations
Are You White Yet? The Black vs. Serbian American Experience

Sep 07 – Sep 20, 2023
Publisher's Point

unity baptist gary

serbian church - indiana

I read about the Jasenovac Croatian concentration camp after going to the Serbian Festival in Merrillville, a town south of Gary, Indiana. The Ustaše regime, Europe's only Nazi collaborationist, operated its own extermination camps, including this one, for Serbs, Romani, Jews, and political dissidents.

It was heart opening to learn about another people's suffering. It humbled me as I thought about my own people’s suffering - - from West Papua to West Memphis - - and provided a bridge of empathy and compassion to the Serbs.

It also further explained why, as a teenager, I heard two Serb or Croat women saying on our bus that they could not date a guy from the other group or their mother would “kill them.” It was funny to the Blacks on the bus, especially when Ronnie, who was Black, shouted, “What’s the problem? They are all White!”
They tell a good story of their oppression but fail to reconcile that they and other Slavic people have chased and caught up with being White. When they ask what happened to Gary, they have not reconciled that part of the Steel City’s problem is their economic behavior.
It was equally eye opening to follow the Serbian Church’s path from their humble beginnings in Midtown Gary, alongside that of the city’s Negro population. It was endearing how the Serbs have kept in contact with African American members who now worship in their old Midtown church as the Serbians moved further south within Gary and even further south out of Gary to Merrillvilee, a town created during the White flight era.

Historically, the immigrant Croats and Serbs competed with African Americans for jobs and inferior housing. However, they used their ability to dissolve into the American melting pot, whereas the masses of African Americans, who were born here, still struggle to get into the pot.

As Justice Thurgood Marshall once said in all his brilliance, "If the United States was indeed a melting pot, then Negroes either didn't get in the pot or didn't get melted down."

Our very popular history contributor CR Gibbs added, “In those days, only a century ago, not only were eastern Europeans not considered White, Italians weren't either but they were still considered preferable to Black people.” And, living up to my great expectation, Gibbs quicky suggested I read, "The History of White People," by Nell Irwin Painter and how Painter describes the process of how several European subgroups, including the Irish, chased and caught whiteness.

At an event hosted by the preservationist, multi-generational, multi-ethnic Decay Decals, in downtown Gary, Linda Jones, President of the Gary Historical Society, reminded listeners of something that conjured up the deceased. In front of a preserved Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway (EJ&E) No. 765 steam locomotive, she said that when United States Steel founded Gary in 1906, representatives went to more than 40 countries to recruit workers including Croats, Serbs, and other Eastern Europeans.

While she was speaking on that nice Gary day, the spirit of Tuskegee’s Booker T Washington ascended. The thoughts from his 1895 Atlanta Compromise Speech swirled in my head.

”To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I have said to my own race, "Cast down your bucket where you are. Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped to make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South."

So I remain a little perturb leaving the fun-filled Serb Festival and the magnificent church they have south of Gary. They tell a good story of their oppression but fail to reconcile that they and other Slavic people have chased and caught up with being White. When they ask what happened to Gary, they have not reconciled that part of the Steel City’s problem is their economic behavior.

Many of the Blacks friends “they left” in Gary have also abandoned Midtown and are finding that when they chase the Serbs and other now White people into Merrillville, the Whites keep running further south to much detriment to the region’s stability, the world’s climate, and mother Earth.
Coming Soon in Port of Harlem:  Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are:  Renovating IN Gary, IN

Nine Miles: Disciplinary Action Across Racial Lines in Northwest Indiana
Merrillville, located in a more urban district and praised for its diversity, (now) has a student body primarily consisting of students of color, with 66.2% Black students and 18% Hispanic/Latinx students; in contrast, Crown Point’s student body is 76.5% white.

Merrillville is just south of Gary. Crown Point is even further south, just south of Merrillville.

Note: The Slavic people immigrated from nations we know today as Ukraine, Croatia, Serbia, Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russi, Slovenia, and Slovakia.
Return to this issue's Main Page
sign up

follow us on
facebook instagram twitter youtube
Advertisers | Contact Us | Events | Links | Media Kit | Our Company | Payments Pier
Press Room | Print Cover Stories Archives | Electronic Issues and Talk Radio Archives | Writer's Guidelines