Better Homes of South Bend Historic District, 1702 North Elmer Street
A group of Studebaker employees fought housing discrimination by banding together and forming a Black housing cooperative.
In her 2015 book, Better Homes of South Bend, author Gabrielle Robinson shares the stories of Margaret and Leroy Cobb. The Cobbs, along with other Black Studebaker employees, fought against entrenched housing discrimination in South Bend to provide a neighborhood where their families could thrive.
In Mr. and Mrs. Cobb’s 2001 oral history with the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center, they highlight some of the many challenges they and others faced in the simple, basic, human need of finding a home. As they said, “at that time [late 1950s] you couldn’t move anywhere or buy anywhere in the city.” Even their doctor had a hard time.
Most white people feared repercussions from their neighbors if they sold a house to someone not white. In several cases, African American people had to ask a white person—a friend or, in some cases, a hired broker—to buy the house first.
Most white real estate agents steered people towards certain neighborhoods, enforcing racial segregation. Most banks would not loan money to people who were not white, forcing a Black homeowner to save significant amounts of capital before being able to purchase.
These impediments maintained racial segregation throughout much of the twentieth, and even into the twenty-first century.
In order to combat these impediments, on May 21, 1950, the Better Homes of South Bend formed with the intention of buying land in a then undeveloped portion of South Bend’s far west neighborhood. The organization pushed through hurdle after hurdle, and by November 1953, the first families moved in.
Check out a copy of Better Homes of South Bend from the Civil Rights Heritage Center’s library or purchase a copy at your favorite local bookseller.