Built in 1912, Froebel High School was one of the first schools in Gary, Indiana to accept African American students, decades before most other schools were desegregated. By 1944, approximately 40% of the school’s students were African American. Despite being an integrated school, African American students were still expected to remain in certain areas of the building, could not participate fully in extracurricular activities, and were often disliked and mistreated by many of their white classmates. Tensions continued to rise, until September 18, 1945, when around 1,400 white students took part in a massive walkout to protest the integration policies of Froebel High School.
In their protest, white students pleaded that Froebel High School become a school designated for white students only, threatening to transfer schools if their demands were not met. As a result of the ongoing protest, Gary African American ministers of all faiths banded together to form the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) and defended the principal’s decision to maintain an integrated environment within the school.
Despite the support of the IMA in favor of the school’s integration decision, other schools joined the walkout. The Gary Post-Tribune reported that some members of the Froebel neighborhood supported the strike as they “feel their homes and churches have depreciated in value” with the influx of African American homeowners in the neighborhood. The hate strike lasted well into November, but threats to continue the strike lasted into the following year. On August 27, 1946, the Gary Board of Education issued a policy technically ending segregation. However, in all practicality segregation within Gary schools continued to exist, supported by discriminatory policies. Lower grades at Froebel School more quickly adjusted to integration, while in 1948, African American students in grades 8-12 at Froebel still faced persistent discrimination when it came to the swimming facilities, band, theater, class offices, and other extracurricular activities.
In 1951, Froebel School enrolled 56% African American students. After a transfer policy was enacted that allowed children to transfer to other schools for “better social adjustment”, Froebel School enrollment was 95% African American by 1961, while the district it served was 65% African American. The transfer policy in effect allowed segregation to continue. Other practices, such as offering fewer academic courses, hiring less qualified teachers, and overcrowding at predominately African American schools, coupled with school feeding patterns based on race, perpetuated de facto segregation.
Due to declining enrollment and after several reductions of grade levels served, Froebel School finally closed in 1977 as part of district cost-cutting measures. The location of Froebel School and its role in school desegregation is commemorated with an Indiana Historical Bureau marker.
(Excerpts of this information are courtesy of “Froebel School, Gary,” Digital Civil Rights Museum, accessed June 9, 2021, https://www.digitalresearch.bsu.edu/digitalcivilrightsmuseum/items/show/73.)