FOR three days beginning March 10, 1972, the Steel City (Gary, Ind.) hosted the National Black Political Convention. Some say this independent meeting forged a path forward for African-American politics, one that remains open to this day.
The event took place in the gym at Gary’s West Side High School, which is now called West Side Leadership Academy. These days the gym hosts high school basketball tournaments — sometimes packed with thousands of fans, parents and players. But Lonnie Randolph, a veteran state senator from neighboring East Chicago, remembers how the gym looked during the black political convention of 1972, and how excited he was to be part of the historic event . . .
The National Black Political Convention attracted approximately 8,000 people from across the United States. Their mission was to establish a unified political agenda that would address poverty, unemployment and blacks’ lack of clout within the Republican and Democratic parties.
“For the first time ever, really, in a political sense, this was a really major, somewhat unorthodox, political convention. People there from all over the country and the Caribbean. And even without Internet, Facebook and high technology, people came,” Jesse Jackson said (in a one-on-one interview with WBEZ) . “Getting the right to vote in ’65 was the beginning of a process, but the convention in Gary solidified the sense of focus. This convention was overwhelming. It could not be turned around . . .”
“We are grown. We ain’t taking it no more. No more yes boss. No more bowing or scrapping. We are 25 million strong. Cut us in or cut it out. It is a new ball game,” Jackson said in a passionate speech at the convention, as depicted on the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize.