Mourners gather to remember legacy of Gary's first African American mayor Richard Hatcher

GARY, Ind. (WLS) -- Mourners lined up in Gary to pay respects to the northwest Indiana city's first African American mayor, who died last week.

Former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher died last Friday at age 86.

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Those who attended Thursday's public visitation said Hatcher's passing marks the end of an era and the loss of a legend.

"It's nobody that's my age, close to it, that cannot point out and talk about the kinds of things he brought to the city and the impact," said Gary resident Donna Wesson.

Mayor Richard Hatcher won reelection over his Republican opponent by a vote margin of almost 3 to 1. Gary, Indiana, Nov. 2, 1971.

Some visitors lingered while others filed past Hatcher's body as he lay in repose.

"It's amazing. By the end of the day, most of Gary would have come through here," said Hatcher's daughter Ragen Hatcher.

RELATED: Statue of historic former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher unveiled

Elected in 1967 at the age of 34, Hatcher made history as one of the nation's first black mayors elected in a big city.

During his five terms in office, Hatcher fought for unity and equality in a post-civil rights era. But the steel town still lost jobs and saw escalating crime.

He's credited with paving the way for other black elected officials, like former President Barack Obama and Gary's first African American female mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

"He was a spokesperson and an advocate for black electeds before they were in office," Freeman-Wilson said.

The funeral for the former mayor will be held Saturday at the Genesis Convention Center in Gary.
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