The Bend’s Civil Rights Museum

At one time, a pool divided The Bend.

Many members of the community celebrated July 3, 1922 as a momentous occasion. Engman Public Natatorium — believed to be Indiana’s largest public pool at the time — opened that day.

Notre Dame used the natatorium, as did many residents. Children learned how to swim there.

Other residents were unlikely to share those fond feelings. The “public” swimming pool didn’t apply to everyone. Instead it barred South Bend’s flourishing African American community altogether until 1936. Limited entry — on a segregated basis — lasted until 1950.

Engman was officially desegregated in 1950 and operated that way until it closed in 1978.

Transforming the natatorium

Decades followed before anything came of the natatorium. It experienced a rebirth in 2010 when it was dedicated as the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center. It’s since become one of the can’t-miss attractions in any history tour of The Bend.

The center is committed to educating people on contemporary issues of social justice and civil rights. It documents, preserves and shares our area’s civil rights history. Included in that is the movement to desegregate the natatorium. It also documents LGBTQ and Latinx experiences.

Touring the CRHC sheds light on those undertakings. Find out more about the people involved, prominent South Bend residents, and how they helped push the natatorium toward desegregation.

Displays at the natatorium walk visitors through each step in its history. Around back, a “peace garden” grows in place of the former pool as a symbol to help heal wounds in the community’s past.

“This is the last building standing that tells the story of segregation in South Bend,” a sign reads near the garden, “and the change that occurred.”

Visitors can thumb through its vast library. There are often special events too – poetry readings, art exhibitions, film screenings, lectures and presentations.