Gary, Indiana first came on my radar last summer when I was driving with my family from Chicago to Indianapolis. Gary is not technically in the state of Illinois, but it is still considered part of the Chicago metropolitan area and is often referred to as a satellite city of Chicago. It is located just 25 miles from downtown Chicago, but it feels closer because the smoke from the steel mills can be seen from miles away. I only saw the outskirts of the city from the highway, but it was pretty clear that the city was suffering. From the highway I saw what looked like blocks filled with abandoned and foreclosed homes. The image of that desolate city stuck with me for a long time. When I read about Gary’s roll in the Great Migration I decided to do more research on the city in the hopes of understanding how Chicago has influenced it, how the Great Migration affected it and how it came to look the way it does today.
In 1906, Gary was founded by the United States Steel Corporation as the home for its new plant. They thought Gary was a perfect location because of its proximity to Chicago and the railway lines. It was also created to deal with the growing steel needs of the region. Gary provides a perfect example to illustrate the influence of the Chicago Metropolis. The economy of the city has always been tied to the success of the steel industry. Though a lot of people migrated to Gary during the first Great Migration, many more came during the second Great Migration because of the spike in steel production that took place during World War II. African Americans made up 18 percent of the population in 1930, 29 percent in 1950, and 53 percent by 1970 and today they make up 80 percent. The change in racial makeup of the city was also due to the “white flight” that took place in the 1960s through 1980s. During this time the city was facing economic distress because of the growing competitiveness of steel companies overseas, high crime rates, and government corruption. These problems caused the majority of middle class and affluent residents to leave Gary for Chicago. Gary hasn’t been able to recover from the huge migration out of the city and the economic effects of loss of business to steel companies overseas.
Today the city is a shadow of what it once was. The old buildings are being demolished leaving large, vacant lots; and it has one of the countries highest crime and foreclosure rates. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses the city lost 22% of its population. The steel company recently announced plans to invest 2 million dollars in the steel plants in Gary; so many residents have hopes that life in Gary will improve. I hope they’re right.
-Video shows what Gary looks like today and talks about some of the problems they’re facing