Barbara Vance Brandy remembered as South Bend civil rights icon Celebration of Life planned for Barbara Vance Brandy


SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) – An icon of South Bend’s Civil Rights Movement, sadly, has passed away. Barbara Vance Brandy died Tuesday surrounded by family and loved ones. She was 84.

She leaves behind an inspiring story of a young girl who wanted to go for a swim at the city’s indoor pool on Washington Street, but was turned away because of the color of her skin.

Decades later, Barbara is the reason that very same building is housed by IU South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center.

A little girl in the red bathing suit.

“My great-grandmother sewed, and she had made her a little red bathing suit to wear on that day, and they walked down from Birdsell Street to Washington, and when they got there, they were turned away,” said Karen Brandy-Comer, Barbara’s daughter.

Barbara Vance Brandy went on the “wrong day.”

“There’s a great symbolism about this facility because it had been a place of institutional racism,” said Steve Luecke, former Mayor of South Bend.

Barbara’s story ignited a push for racial equality.

While it took 28 years, the natatorium eventually opened to the entire public.

“The iconic story of why the center exists, why the Civil Rights Movement began, is because this little girl, who was so excited about her red bathing suit, and they got to the door, and they said, ‘no you can’t come in,’” said Dé Bryant, professor of psychology, IU South Bend.

In 2010, Barbara’s story came full circle when the Civil Rights Heritage Center opened, and a painful memory was made right many years later.

“It left you speechless, it really did,” said Bryant.

“Seeing this as a ray of hope, she just had a wonderful spirit about her, she was…human,” said Luecke.

“Mama was so humbled by the fact that her story is the story of that center, and she was very pleased to have to be the one to cut the ribbon, and that just made her feel very, very special,” said Brandy-Comer.

Today, a little African American girl in a red bathing suit serves as the logo of the Civil Rights Heritage Center.

“I’m extremely proud, especially at this time when she has left us, it swells my heart and I’m so proud of her,” said Brandy-Comer.

Karen says her mom was feisty, a spitfire, and that much of her own personality comes from Barbara.

Barbara’s legacy will carry on not only through the Heritage Center, but also through her three children, 15 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

The family is holding a Celebration of Life at the Civil Rights Heritage Center Friday evening from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. It is located at 1040 W. Washington St. in South Bend.

You may also send flowers to the celebration. Simply click this link and scroll to the bottom of the obituary.

Visitors are welcome, and the family asks that you, too, wear red to show respect for that little girl in the red bathing suit.

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