Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Letters to the Editor

September 23, 2013

READER POINT OF VIEW: Coming to Terms with Goshen’s ‘Sundown Town’ History


Hotel Elkhart vs. Hotel Goshen

The Hotel Elkhart clearly had higher-quality accommodations in 1958 than either of the Goshen hotels: the Hotel Hattle on East Lincoln Avenue or the Hotel Goshen at Main and Clinton streets (where First State Bank now has a branch). But a 24-year-old student at Goshen Biblical Seminary (then based at GC) named Victor Stoltzfus was troubled by rumors among GC students that Marian Anderson had to go to Elkhart for her lodging.

So a few days after Anderson’s performance, he personally went downtown and spoke with the manager of the Hotel Goshen. In the 2012 GC report, Stoltzfus says, “‘I asked why an artist of the stature of Marian Anderson would not be welcome in a Goshen motel or hotel. He told me that several investors put their life savings into the hotel he managed. He also said that salesmen and others coming to Goshen would avoid a hotel in which a black person had slept. He really feared loss of business.’”

Stoltzfus, who would go on to serve as president of Goshen College from 1984 to 1996, told me recently that the manager “had an anguished look on his face as I talked to him—and he was really trying to persuade me that he was being a reasonable person.”

So, regardless of the accommodations quality question, it appears that in the 1950s GC officials “knew better” than to even ask Goshen hotel owners or managers to provide lodging for their distinguished African American guests.

Goshen News poll in 1961

A few years later the Goshen News conducted a poll of the town’s two hotels and four other overnight establishments; the article appeared February 7, 1961. Under the headline “Negroes Not Exactly Welcome Here As Overnight Guests, Poll Reveals,” the first sentence reads: “Goshen residents have been pointing an accusing finger at the South for its integration inadequacies but a poll of Goshen motels and hotels today revealed that Negroes aren’t exactly welcome as overnight guests in the city of Goshen.”

The News reported that just one manager (of the Hattle) had recently provided overnight lodging to an African American. The other five were either forthright about their denial of accommodations to African Americans or declined to disclose their policies.

In response to that article, Ray Keim, pastor of East Goshen Mennonite Church at the time, wrote the following letter that appeared in the News on Valentine’s Day 1961: “This is to commend you for your bravery in releasing the facts about the attitude of hotel and motel owners in Goshen relative to accepting Negroes as overnight guests. I believe that a gentle but persistent pressure such as you applied in that report will help awaken consciences without causing violent reactions that only do harm. God bless you for your stand.” Keim of Goshen died this past April.

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