Company towns, racial tension, stereotypes, natural beauty, and resilience

5 things Gary, Indiana and Costa Rica have in common

A view of the block where Andrew Means had a contractor company that built quality real estate for a growing black middle class in Gary in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.


The Resilient Midtown Gary Walking Tour, April 23, 2022


I had the opportunity to walk the Gary tour in September of 2021, and now again in April of 2022. It was a different tour each time, but each one highlighted the strength of Gary individuals and the entire community, in the past and in the present.


The tour was covered by local papers – you can read more about it here. Some highlights included hearing from Korry Shepard about Andrew Means, a real estate developer that counteracted the disastrous policies of redlining and other exclusion and restrictive covenants by building quality housing for the growing black middle class.


We also got to see the home of the Jackson family, where Michael Jackson and his siblings grew up practicing music day and night in the shadow of Roosevelt High School, Gary’s all-black school that was also known as the “music factory.” We also got to stand in front of that school and hear stories from proud alumni.

Top left to bottom right: Washington St. Church of God, Korry Shepard presenting, Campbell Friendship House, Israel AME garden, inside the Washington St. Church of God (2 photos), the Jackson house, Roosevelt High School (note the sign that says Roosevelt received an "A" grade from the Department of Education).


I also provided a small snack for the last stop of the tour. I shared 2 recipes from my website: heart of palm ceviche, and corn bread. You can find the recipes here, for free. Why did I share Costa Rican recipes at a walking tour in Gary? Here is the information from a flier I printed up about the parallels I see between Gary, Indiana, and Costa Rica:


Company towns: Both Gary (US Steel) and Costa Rica (United Fruit Company) have histories of company towns that manufactured globalized goods for export (steel and bananas). Company towns bring jobs, but also many other social problems.


Racial tensions: One problem company towns create is racial tension. It is in the interest of companies to divide workers to prevent them from organizing, and both US Steel and United Fruit did that along racial lines.


Stereotypes: Costa Rica is stereotyped as a tropical paradise perfect for tourism, but there is a lot of struggle that goes on there too. Gary is stereotyped as a dangerous city associated with “failure,” but there is a lot of beauty and strength there, too. What can we gain by not believing the stereotypes about either place?


Natural beauty: Both Gary and Costa Rica are situated in areas of great natural beauty, and are home to shared migratory bird species and other biodiversity unique to each place. The Dunes and waterways of Gary, and the unique biodiversity of Costa Rica are known worldwide.


Resilience: That’s what the Resilient Midtown Gary Walking Tour is all about. Both Gary and Costa Rica have people working on the cutting edge of the most pressing issues of social justice and environmental sustainability. You are meeting and learning about some of them today.



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Thank you for reading the New Backwater blog! I hope that you find ideas and perspectives here for making connections between the US and Latin America, for finding balance by leveraging tools of the past with lessons of the present, and for achieving transformation to make the world a better place. I'm trying to work on these things every day, and I'm grateful you're sharing that journey with me.


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