Born from the efforts of Indiana University South Bend students and professors, the Civil Rights Heritage Center transformed a once-segregated city swimming pool into an active learning center. It explores the civil rights struggles of the past so people can take action in the present and build a better future.
Civil Rights Heritage Center
Take an interactive virtual tour of the Civil Rights Heritage Center.
Use your computer or smartphone to explore the Civil Rights Heritage Center in 3-D. For an extra, completely immersive experience, use an Oculus, Google Cardboard, or other virtual reality system.
The Center is open without appointment 20-hours per week for an individual or non-organized group tours, to use our lending library, public computers, or for any related activity.
Join us during our open hours:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday: 10am to 2pm
Tuesday, Thursday: 3pm to 7pm
Masks are required for vaccinated and un-vaccinated guests until further notice.
For groups of ten or more, we will gladly offer free English language tours by appointment during or outside of our regular open hours. Tours share the story of the Engman Public Natatorium and the history of segregation against communities of color in South Bend. We will gladly work with your group to identify age appropriate activities to add to the experience. Start by contacting George Garner, CRHC Assistant Director and Curator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Engman Public Natatorium
In 1922, South Bend opened its first public swimming pool. Over the front door, its name was carved into the concrete: "Engman Public Natatorium."
Harry Engman was an executive with the South Bend Malleable Steel Range Company. Engman was able to get his name carved into the building because he donated the land upon which it was built.
We do not know how much he knew about the use of the word "public" in the pool's title.
However, in spite of that word being there, the people who ran this city owned pool banned African Americans from using it. That act rejected people of color as being part of the public the pool claimed to allow in.
A group of local African American leaders led actions to change it. They were lawyers and politicians who worked within the legal and political systems to try and make change. In 1936, these leaders filed a protest with the state. The state agreed that African Americans deserved access to this taxpayer funded pool. They did not agree that blacks and whites should swim together. As a result, in 1936, the pool opened to people of color only one day a week.
In 1950, after rejecting people for almost thirty years, a legal motion to fully open the pool finally passed.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1978, the pool was no longer the largest in the state. It was no longer the newest. The pool needed costly repairs. Now in a mostly minority neighborhood, rather than fix it, the city chose to close it.
After sitting vacant for another thirty years, a group of local residents and agencies worked with Indiana University South Bend to breathe life into the crumbling building. In 2010, they rebuilt it as the new home of the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center. Today, we use its story to share past and present issues of civil rights and social justice.
We encourage you to learn more about the history of racial injustice, the continuing fight for civil rights, and the issues people continue to face. Visit us for a tour to learn even more about the history of the Natatorium. Come to an event. Check out a book from our library, or view any of the thousands of local history documents, photographs, and oral histories we have available.