Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Black and White Balls

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

Back in the late 1960s, the idea of getting both black and white citizens of the area together for a social event was deemed a rather radical—if you’ll pardon the use of what was at that time an inflammatory word—idea. But this “radical” idea became a resounding success and showed people of all races that they had far more in common than they realized while providing funds for programs that needed some extra dollars to continue providing services.

My friend Barb Fries—then Barbara Hawley—was actively involved in this group and this past week donated some of her files to the History Center for our archives. Barb has worked with social issues in Fort Wayne for most of her adult life. She’s a two-time nominee for the Peggy Hobbs Award, an honor bestowed by the YWCA on women who have had a positive influence on our community via the volunteer sector. When I worked at the “YW”, Barb was my “go to” person when I needed to know about services in the community and their history.

(the photo of Mrs. Williams is a scan from a yellowed newspaper clipping)
The Black and White Ball was the idea of Evelyn Williams, who founded The Civics, Inc. in 1968. The group sponsored the Black and White Ball until 1977. In 1978 the ball was cancelled due to snow. Attendance at the 1977 ball was approximately 900 and had outgrown Southtown Mall, one of the locations for the event. But in 1985, when the Grand Wayne Center opened, the Civics brought the event back because there was now space again that was large enough to accommodate the crowd. The twelfth and final ball was held in 1987.
 In documentation from early files:

“The purpose of this organization is to assist in meeting the health and welfare needs of the community, particularly in the Inner-City. The funds for this purpose are to be acquired by the annual planning and execution of a ‘Black and White Charity Ball’.

“It is hoped that “The Civics”, Inc., will be able to provide:

  • “Funds to establish expanded programs where needed (where such expansion is not covered by a regular funding agency)
  • “Funds to establish pilot programs to determine and dramatize gaps in services that do exist
  •  “The catalyst to stimulate the development of services that are needed but presently do not exist

  •  “Seed money to other groups for initial funding

  •   “An opportunity for blacks and whites to come together on a social basis, dispel myths on both sides, and aid in reversing the trend towards two societies, both separate and unequal.”

Membership in The Civics, Inc. was interracial “in keeping with the purpose of the Ball. Membership is limited to 50% Black, 50% White and no more than 15 members. At the beginning of each Ball year, members will donate seed money, if enough money is not available from the year before. This amount will be a minimum of $5.00 and a maximum of $25.00. When members resign from the active group, new persons will be accepted by a quorum vote.”

The members of Civics, Inc. were racially diverse and from different fields of work. They realized that this diversity could be an asset in bringing about positive changes in Fort Wayne. “If we pool our resources we can accomplish difficult feats. We are in a world of change and we move with it, back, or out. There is need for leadership in our community in various areas. We may be able to close the gap. We can serve as a group that various segments of our community can identify with. Maybe we can serve in our small way to ward off some of the hostilities that identify with the hot summer, that is suppose (sic) to be approaching.” (from a Civics, Inc. document dated 3-12-68)

The first two balls were held at the former Van Orman Hotel. Attendance in 1968 was 150—this doubled to 300 in 1969 and doubled again in 1970 to 600. The 1970 ball was held at The Lantern. By 1975, 800 guests attended the ball. Income obviously increased, with disbursements totaling $21,645.91 between 1968-1985.

In Volume I of the "History of Fort Wayne and Allen County IN" (copyright 2006, edited by John Beatty) Barb is quoted as saying, “The idea of its being an integrated ball doesn’t have the impact it did in the first couple of years we had it. But eight years ago it was a revolutionary idea.” 
Barb Fries is pictured on the far right with Mrs. Wallace Fosnight and Mrs. Charles Phillips in a clipping from the Feb. 21, 1978 edition of the News-Sentinel. They are standing in the Martin Luther King Center. Mrs. Fosnight was the chair of the Black and White Ball that year.
You can read more about race relations in Fort Wayne in this first volume of the city and county history in articles by Hana Stith and Will Clark.

In an article from the News Sentinel, March 15, 1985, by Alan Derringer:

“The idea is not as radical now as it was in 1968, when Williams was warned that Fort Wayne was not ready for such an experiment. In the time since that first ball, there have been changes in the community, big and small.

“‘I think there’s a more relaxed climate now, and there’s just not the problem there was at the beginning,’ Williams believes. ‘Everybody might have a hang up here and yon, but not to the extent that they don’t want to have a nice time with their friends. You have white friends and black friends, everybody does unless they really set themselves apart. You’re going to get involved with all the races if you take part in civic work or the arts or schools or anything.’

“She believes the Black and White Balls have played a small part in bringing about that change: 

"'There were white people that had never been in a social setting with blacks, and vice versa. And it gave a mutual respect, because we had from the very wealthy to the very poor. Everybody was dressed in black and white, and for one night, everybody looked the same, except if I looked at you, you were white, and if you looked at me, I was black. It gave a different enlightenment, and the music was good and broke down a whole lot of barriers, and we all talked to people we never thought we would talk to.’”

An “Historical Analysis of Civics, Inc. 1968-1975” showed the extent of many of the  organizations receiving monetary gifts at least one time and possibly several.

Hot lunches for St. Mary’s children

East Wayne Street Center

Neighbors Inc.

Midtown Day Care Center

Well Baby Clinic

Martin Luther King School

Head Start

Chamber of Commerce “Help a Kid”



West Central Neighborhood

Harmar School

Urban League

Allen County Peoples Credit Union

Fine Arts Festival Foundation

East Central Improvement Corp.

Shepherd of the City Child Care Center

Federal Peoples Credit Union

Benito Juarez Center

Reading Clinic

Civic Theater for Sr. Citizens

University Center for Women

Chamber Camp Program

The Learning Center


Inner City Day Care Center

Purdue’s Scholarship Coordinating Council for Handicapped

Parkview Hospital Scholarship

Child Care of Allen County Peabody Language Kit

McCulloch School PTA

Allen County Cancer Society

Lavengro Foundation

Franke Park Zoo

Martin Luther King Center

Matthew 25

Mental Health Center

Miami Senior Citizens

The Old Fort

Embassy Theater

Miss Virginia Schantz Mission House

Fort Wayne Philharmonic

Women’s Bureau

Three Rivers Neighborhood Health Service

CANI—St. Paul Head Start

A scan of two covers of invitations to the Black and White ball.

No comments:

Post a Comment