May 17, 2015
By Amanda Gray
South Bend's demographic shifts over the last 150 years are "entirely typical" of the industrial Midwest region, according to Patrick Furlong, a professor emeritus of history at Indiana University-South Bend.
"You see a succession of various immigrant groups following the same pattern," Furlong said. "You see them move because jobs are available. They move in groups. The pattern is fundamentally similar for each group over a period of 150 years. The sources of the immigrants change, but the reasons are the same."
Furlong said census records and other historical information shows the landing zone for incoming immigrants often as the west side of South Bend, where housing tends to be cheaper. As the population ages, children and grandchildren move out of the neighborhood, opening up homes for the next wave of immigrants. Polish neighborhoods gave way to African-American neighborhoods, which gave way to Hispanic neighborhoods, he explains.
It's apparent when you look at corner grocery stores. It's not hard to find a corner building with a faded ethnic name painted on the side of the building, but now featuring a sign that says "Supermercado" in front of the store, he said.
How will demographics change in the next 150 years? Furlong said he isn't sure, but that studies are currently ongoing in Chicago.
South Bend's changing makeup
Prior to any European settlement, the St. Joseph River Valley was home to the Miami tribe of Native Americans. Later, the Potawatomi tribe arrived in the area of northern Indiana and southern Michigan until they were forcibly removed, ultimately gone by the 1840s. Following this, there were four waves of demographic changes in South Bend's history:
• Late 1820s: First wave arrives of settlers. These are made up of settlers from the British Isles and a little bit of France and French-Canada. By this time, the Native American population was already mostly gone, moved by federal authority.
• 1840s to 1890s: A steady immigration base, first with Germans and Irish and then with Polish and Hungarians (as well as other small groups from other countries), show up for construction jobs, especially railroad construction, and later factory jobs. The Norfolk Southern line that runs through South Bend was completed in 1851. A small but significant Jewish population from Poland also shows up toward the end of the 19th century.
• 1950s: As part of the larger countrywide Great Migration of African-Americans from the South moving to northern states, a large African-American population grows in South Bend and becomes part of the wartime employment boom. It's not until the mid-1950s that the African-American population exceeds that of the foreign-born population in South Bend.
• 1990s: A large wave of Hispanic immigration comes to South Bend. They settle primarily on the west side, which was a landing point for nearly every immigrant wave.
Source: South Bend Tribune