Eualeen Chapman: ‘I always tried to help people’

| August 21, 2013
Activist Euleen Chapman was the first black cheerleader in Fort Wayne Community Schools. (Photo: Eric Hackley)

Activist Euleen Chapman was the first black cheerleader in Fort Wayne Community Schools. (Photo: Eric Hackley)

THE HACKLEY REPORT by Eric Donald Hackley

The following is an interview with Eualeen Chapman, first black cheerleader of Central High School and first black cheerleader in the history of Fort Wayne. Mrs. Chapman also is well known for her political activism in the city.

EH: Tell me about your transition from Alabama to Fort Wayne.

Eualeen Chapman: When my family moved to Fort Wayne, we already had a lot of relatives here and we lived in very close proximity to each other. So, it was like a family reunion when we got here. My relatives and I all attended Harmar School. There were two blocks between home and school. I would engage with family members about everyday.

In Alabama, we lived on a farm. We were surrounded by chickens, pigs and all kind of different fruits. It was segregated. We lived 18 miles from town. It was just us out there in the country until we went to town on Saturday. In town, we had certain areas where we could sit. We had a block in town were some of the seats were for whites and some seats were where blacks could sit.

EH: As you look back, did it seem odd that blacks could only sit in assigned areas?

Eualeen Chapman: No it didn’t. It was the norm and that’s what we did. We never thought any other way. That’s all we knew.

EH: Did you have relationships with whites outside of the farm?

Eualeen Chapman: We didn’t have anything to do with whites in Alabama. The only time we saw whites was when we went to the store in town and when the mail carrier delivered our mail. The mail carrier was very nice and would offer to take us into town if we had to go for something during the week. We knew what we could do and what we couldn’t do. We couldn’t use their bathrooms.

When we came to Fort Wayne, it was all together different. We used the same bathrooms and went to the same schools.

EH: Were there any restrictions on blacks in Fort Wayne?

Eualeen Chapman: Oh yes. There were restrictions on where you could eat. When I first moved here, there were certain counters where blacks could stand and eat and the white people could sit down and eat. At Murphy’s and other dime stores downtown that had restaurants and a stand-up bar, that’s where the blacks could eat. Standing up to eat was okay with us because we were use to it. We basically accepted whatever was offered to us.

EH: At what age did your spirit of independence start to emerge?

Eualeen Chapman: Maybe at the age of 12 or 13, I started to notice that things were wrong and we were not going to accept business as usual. By that time they were starting to let us do a little bit more. We could now go downtown to Murphy’s and eat while sitting down. They may not wait on us for 15 or 20 minutes, but we could still sit there. Then they would finally come around and wait on us.

EH: What were your earliest memories of socializing with white people in Fort Wayne?

Eualeen Chapman: When we first started socializing with whites, we became friends. When we went to high school, they were a little different and they treated us differently from the business establishments. We could be friends and some would even come to your house. I went to some of their houses and some of their families were okay with that. Not many, but a few and we did it. It was a little different. My father always thought we may get hurt if we went to their homes, so we had to go without him knowing it. We weren’t being defiant, we were just curious.

At Central in 1952, I became the first black cheerleader in the history of Fort Wayne Community Schools. I didn’t really face any opposition. Central and most of the Fort Wayne schools only had boy cheerleaders at that time. So a bunch of us girls decided to go out and I was selected to be a cheerleader.

I’ve kind of always been independent minded. I did accomplish most of my goals because I would stick with it if I wanted to do something. I would do pretty much what I wanted, regardless of what anyone had to say. Most of my high school teachers were pretty much lenient in letting us do what we wanted to do.

Our teachers cared about us and they wanted us to learn. They projected to us that we had to learn and if we didn’t, we would get suspended. I had the kind of parents that, if I got in trouble in school, I would be reprimanded at home. So I had to keep my grades up.

In the era of my cheerleading, the dominant atheletes were Tom Knox, Eugene Barksdale and Jim Blevins come to mind. Tom Knox was a terrific basketball player, but very low key. They all came along after Johnny Bright.

In 1955, during the Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycott, we felt the ramifications here because there were a lot of things that blacks were not allowed to do in Fort Wayne. Blacks could only live in certain areas and that went on for many years. As far as I could see, the blacks here were very receptive of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. Because if you ever quit pushing for change for the better, it will never happen. Martin Luther King was one who would not quit. We realized that we needed the rights Dr. King was pushing and fighting for.

I worked for Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) downtown in the office. Myself and Jamia Churchill were hired the same day and were the first two blacks hired by NIPSCO. At the time, they had a black elevator operator. Each time we would get on the elevator, she would always start doing her nails or something and never spoke to us the whole time we were there.

EH: Why do blacks seem to have a problem with blacks who have better jobs?

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About the Author ()

Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing largely on history, particularly family history in the black community. His award-winning public access television shows have featured a host of local and national icons. Hackley can be contacted at hackonomicstv@gmail.com.

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