Resting place of Barbara Vance Brandy, Riverview Cemetery, 2300 Portage Ave
A local civil rights icon took steps throughout her life and taught a new generation how to continue her legacy.
"I remember when black folk were only allowed to use the [Engman Public] Natatorium on Mondays.” In 2009, Barbara Vance Brandy recalled her experience with Mae Lee Johnson, a reporter at the South Bend Tribune.
Ms. Brandy was nine years old in 1942. She was one of about twenty children and adults attending Sunday school at Grace AME Church. They talked to each other about their frustration interacting with some of the many white supremacist dominated spaces—as Ms. Brandy put it, “how tired they were being treated badly by white people.” She continued:
My grandmother, mother, and many of the other members of the church decided to go swim on a day not designated as Negro night. What I remember most about that day was that my grandmother went to the dry goods store and bought some really pretty red material to make me a bathing suit. I was able to get a swimming cap and a little red carrying case to carry my towel and swimming cap.
I was so proud of my red bathing suit, and holding onto my grandmother’s hand, we walked up to the guard station.
The hateful white man scowled, ‘You can’t swim here today. It’s not your day.’
He turned us all away, and I just held onto my grandmother’s hand as she led me away, still wearing the red bathing suit.
In a separate interview, Ms. Brandy remembered going home, and her father buying an inflatable kid’s sized pool. She said she “had a good time in the back yard.” “I never saw the bathing suit once I took it off. I think my Granny took it in the backyard and burned it.” Well into her seventies at the time of both interviews, she stated in both that because of her experience, she hated the color red.
Ms. Brandy’s recognition of injustice continued well after this first incident at age nine.
In her 2002 oral history, Ms. Brandy spoke about living in a segregated dorm at Indiana University Bloomington.
Though she was a skilled typist, she experienced racial discrimination in her search for a job. She landed at Robertson’s, a prominent, Jewish-owned department store, becoming an administrative assistant for one of their buyers. Later, she worked as an administrative assistant for Kaley and then Kennedy schools.
After a long and filled life, in 2017, Ms. Brandy passed on. Her life was celebrated by her three adult children, fifteen grandchildren, and sixteen great-grandchildren. Those who came after her continue to celebrate her memory and share her legacy—not only with Ms. Brandy’s extended family, but with thousands of others who visit the Civil Rights Heritage Center every year.
 The exact date of the incident is not revealed in official sources. She remembered being nine years old when it happened. She said she was wearing the bathing suit at the time, which assumes a warm weather month. With a birthdate of October 1932 and her attire suggesting the event happening outside the cold fall/winter months, we are guessing that the incident took place before her tenth birthday in October 1942 and well enough after her ninth birthday in October 1941—perhaps spring/summer 1942.
May Lee Johnson. “Moving from hurt to hope,” The South Bend Tribune. February 9, 2009, B1.
Divided Waters: Healing a Community’s Past, 2009. https://youtu.be/DMMrvyQmg5c
Robertson’s history as one of the better places for African American people to work and shop is part of this Landmark Tour.
“Barbara Jean Vance Brandy (1932-2017).” Accessed June 29, 2022. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/175201638/barbara-jean-brandy.