Passing of Eric Hackley represents irreplaceable loss for community

| June 19, 2017
Eric Hackley (Photo: Jeanie Summerville)

Eric Hackley (Photo: Jeanie Summerville)

FORT WAYNE—Every time someone leaves this world, there is a loss felt in some quarter. But, the recent passing of one local community icon has left nearly everyone stunned across the Summit City.

On June 7, word started circulating that Eric D. Hackley had passed away. All throughout the community, people were in disbelief.

For more than 30 years, Hackley had been at the forefront of a number of important movements in the community. He was one of the first African Americans in the city to host his own hard-hitting public television talk show, featuring guest not only of local prominence but also national. Dubbed “Hackonomics,” Hackley used that platform to continually ask the hard questions about race, touching on numerous aspects of that question which still haunts the U.S. Hackley’s investigations led him into the world of politics, criminal justice, economics, civil rights.

Not content just to sit in Fort Wayne and hear what was going on here, he often traveled to other places, Indianapolis, Michigan, South Bend and Washington, D.C., to name a few in search of stories that would reveal our past and therefore illuminate our futures. At core, Hackley was an historian and one of the finest when it came to what his can and should be about. While it is true that he did his share of talking to politicians and other “leaders,” Hackley continuously tried to guide us down the path of realization that it is the everyday folk all around us who make history and change the world in significant ways.

Hackley often trained his camera on people just working to make a living and to secure their family because it was among them he said we could find answers to overcome the problems that plague the black community—white supremacy in particular. His interviews cut across economic and religious lines titles and other artificial barriers to get those stories. He talk to students, business owners, politicians, civil rights leaders, people hustling to make a living a small entrepreneur, Muslims, Christians—anyone who had something to say about the black experience in the U.S. and who could offer their wisdom as how to combat racism and white supremacy and go on to excel despite long-standing barriers on the American landscape. The knowledge he gained, he readily shared with other whether it was through his public access television, the many booklets and books he published spotlighting the words of people throughout the community, his on-line postings of video interviews, the published interviews he generously shared with us at Frost Illustrated one of many community forums he organized to discuss issues.

Hackley also was one of the most informed people this community has ever seen. If there was an event going on in the black community—a summit, a gala, a political forum—he knew about it and was often on the scene with his video camera capturing the moment for posterity.

Even though the majority of his work was rooted in the black community, Hackley’s work extended well beyond. Given his unique approach to history which involved him finding the real facts about what happened and trying to get others to see, Hackley worked with others who have been oppressed in the course of this nation’s history. For example, the past few years, he spent extensive time researching the history of Native Americans in this area and asking why weren’t their war leaders included in the statues depicting history in the area—especially given that those such as Little Turtle, who held his own against invading Europeans. Hackley campaigned to have perspectives such as that put in our school history books and made readily available in marketing materials focused on northeast Indiana. And, he also took time to talk with European Americans interested in justice, such as Larry Lee.

Not surprisingly, Hackley found kinship in some of the community’s boldest speakers and activists—the warriors. He talked to “soldiers for the cause” such as Dwight Laster, Rose Broadnax, Terry Lymon, Nicole King, Brother Sage and Black Justice to name a very few. While some didn’t always understand where Hackley was going it was clear to some. His goal was liberation of the mind and then the body.

His historical work also led him to action. For example, it was Hackley who organized Fort Wayne’s first official Juneteenth celebrations, commemorating the belated date on which slaves in Texas during the Civil War found out they were free.

Given his penchant for history it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Hackley also was one of the area’s most dedicated family genealogists, researching ancestors of his,—such as the abolitionist the Rev. John William Hackley who founded Mt. Calvary Church in Niles, Michigan in 1851—back to the formation of this nation and even to Europe. He also took time to spotlight contemporary relatives such as musician and producer Narada Michael Walden and Peggy Woodford Forbes, a history making Wall Street executive. But, as with all the information Hackley shared with the public, the idea was not to brag about family but to encourage others to look into their own rich personal histories.

Eric Hackley was many things: a television producer, an independent journalist, an historian, a genealogist, a community advocate, an entrepreneur. Most of all, he was a champion for the people. If you had something to say, Hackley was quick to be there to encourage you to speak your truth and to speak it fearlessly. His ability to cross over into so many aspects of the black community made him a one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime figure. Already, thousands of people in the Fort Wayne area and beyond are in disbelief asking, “Who’s going to take his place?” Truth is, Eric Hackley was truly unique and no one will take his place. But, the next best thing is that we can all honor him by trying to follow his example of always speaking the truth to power and believing in ourselves as a people and community.

Rest in peace, Brother Eric. You will be missed.

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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Health, Local

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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