Eualeen Chapman: I could never really understand that because I always tried to help people get positions at NIPSCO once I got hired. I also worked for the City for a number of years and I got quite a few people hired by the City of Fort Wayne. That was the first thing I started to do. I would basically recruit blacks who I thought would qualify to come in and apply. In the early 1980s I was the secretary for Mayor Win Moses. Then I worked in voter registration, for the license bureau and I had been around politics for quite a while.
EH: When you worked for Mayor Moses, I noticed how easily you maneuvered in that environment. Why didn’t you ever enter politics as a candidate?
Eualeen Chapman: I had planned all my life to run for public office. I co-hosted Bobby Kennedy’s headquarters when he ran for president and visited Fort Wayne. All of my life, I had wanted to be a politician. Then I had a child in 1969 that was disabled. The doctors told me she was going to live for two years. She lived 42 years. I still worked, participated in neighborhood and church activities, but I had no time to devote to politics and I wouldn’t devote time away from my daughter.
EH: Were you present at the 1987 Win Moses vs. Paul Helmke debate at True Love Baptist Church?
Eualeen Chapman: Yes I was there.
EH: I videotaped it and still have it. It was the most awesome debate performance in recorded Fort Wayne history where two white mayoral candidates with fiery laser focus in their eyes were spitting thunder and lightning as they expressed sincerity in competing for the vote of Fort Wayne black people. I don’t think we will ever see such a spectacle again and I don’t think anyone will ever care about black people to that magnitude ever again.
Eualeen Chapman: I think Win Moses was the best politician that I have ever been around. And, Paul Helmke is a very, very nice fellow and I knew him very well. Whatever they wanted to say, they would say and they would go all out for what they wanted to do.
EH: Why don’t people seem to care anymore about blacks?
Eualeen Chapman: Because all they want to do is to get in office. They’ll look you in the face and tell a lie and just keep going. They don’t care. Number one, they try to keep blacks from the voting booths. In order to register to vote, you need a picture ID. They’re just not interested anymore in the concerns of black people.
EH: How do you feel when a black person tells you they have never voted and don’t intend to because it makes no difference anyway?
Eualeen Chapman: I get very, very upset. Many people have told me that. I have let them know what they should do in order to help themselves. If they don’t get out there and vote, we’ll never get anyplace. And, I have good friends who have never voted.
EH: Why have you never moved away from the inner city?
Eualeen Chapman: I think that I do a lot of things that people don’t do for blacks. I help the neighborhood. I help sick people, old people, disabled people and I help anyone I can. I like to live around my people because I’m comfortable here.
EH: How did you meet your husband James?
Eualeen Chapman: I had a sister who was in his brother Link Chapman’s wedding. We met then. He soon after went away and spent two years in Korea. When he returned, we got started again, got married and had a family. It’s been 57 years now.
EH: I have been working many years trying to document the Chapman family story. Why is it that your husband and his eight brothers have the ability to fix, build or grow anything?
Eualeen Chapman: As far as I can see, my husband’s father died when he was one year old. A couple of the brothers were old enough to be out on their own. But, their mother instilled into them that they had to do something to be something. Five or six of them had their own businesses and they did well in their businesses. From what I’ve heard from the brothers who were in business, they weren’t too particular about working for other people because they wanted to get out on their own. Link built his building, a huge building down on Creighton and his kids are still running it. Another brother Elvin founded Chapman Auto Diagnostic Services on Eliza Street and his son Larry is currently running it. It’s not they didn’t want to take orders from other people. They felt they could be a better asset to their families and the black community if they had their own businesses.
EH: Looking back over the years, when was Fort Wayne’s black community strong and when did it start to unravel?
Eualeen Chapman: That’s hard to say because in the 1960s things seemed to be going well and in the 1980 things stopped. John Nuckols was a man who really had Fort Wayne going. To me he was probably the most talented black political leader we’ve had and he did a lot for black people. Then Cletus Edmonds came along. Then after that, a lot of them worked, but they didn’t have any help. Today people are just not interested anymore. You need money to do things. A lot of us want to use our money on things that we can benefit from today. Maybe it takes five years to start making money from a business venture and many blacks don’t want to do this. They can’t wait on the time it takes to grow a business. If they can’t make money today or tomorrow, they won’t do it.
Eric Hackley is a veteran independent journalist, television show host and producer focusing on 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 14 print edition.
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