It all began with a vision in 1905 by Elbert H. Gary, founder of U.S. Steel. The industrial colossus, then the largest corporation in the world, footed the bill for Gary’s magnificent civic structures. When the plant went into decline, so did the rest of the town. The palace theater, one of the glories of Gary’s golden age, shut down entirely in 1972.
Gordon Keith, the owner of Steeltown Records in Gary, Indiana, discovered the Jackson Five and signed them to their first contract in November 1967. In March 1969, they signed to Motown. In August of 1969 Motown Records moved Joe, Michael, and the rest of the Jackson 5 out to Los Angeles.
To give some historical context, in April 1968, the greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War was sweeping the nation following the assassination of Martin Luther King. This was preceded by the 1967 riots in Detroit—fueled by widespread unemployment as the motor city’s famed automobile industry shed jobs.
There are still a few factories and a few neighborhoods with nice homes, but much like Detroit, some parts are overgrown, others burned-down or just rubble. To be among these abandoned buildings is to be in a place removed. A relic from another time that is still home for those who got left behind. Leaving was an option few blacks had. Unless you were Joe Jackson.