FORT WAYNE — Charles B. Redd, a community activist, civil rights leader and former city councilman whose life and work had a profound effect on Fort Wayne, died Sunday night, friends and family said.
He was 82.
“He was just one of life’s best people on this earth,” said Win Moses. Moses was mayor during most of the two terms Redd spent on the City Council, and in 1992 Moses beat him in the Democratic primary for state representative. “He was a motivator, a prime mover in everything he was involved in.”
And the list of groups and events where Redd was involved was long: He was instrumental in desegregating Fort Wayne schools, was a founder of the Voter Information Center, was chairman of the Indiana Democratic African-American Caucus, was a board member for Anthony Wayne Services, the Headwaters Park Alliance, the Fort Wayne branch of the NAACP and the Fort Wayne Housing Authority, and helped create Headwaters Park. The Indiana Democratic Party’s list of goals for minority inclusion was named the Charles Redd Honorary Fair Share Declaration. The list included diversity training, more minority delegates and increasing the number of minorities on the state party central staff.
An Indiana House Resolution passed in 2001 said he had, “spent his entire life in service to mankind,” but in recent years, as his health declined, he began to wonder whether he had made a difference, said his wife, Jackie Redd.
“It was as if to say, ‘Has my life been worth something to somebody?’ ” Jackie Redd recalled. “So I went to the attic where I had stored all the plaques and recognitions he had gotten over the years, because he wasn’t showy, and brought those down. Then I hung everything up, got him in his chair and rode him over to the hallway where I read every single one. … I just wanted him to know he was appreciated. I wanted him to visibly see the work he had done.”
And though he had never wanted them displayed before, the plaques and awards stayed on the wall.
“After that, he called it The Gallery,” Jackie Redd said. “Someone would visit and he’d say, ‘Jackie, go show them The Gallery.’ I said, ‘Oh, goodness, he’s proud of himself,’ because he was always such a humble man.”
Charles Redd was born in Detroit in 1930, and attended West Virginia State College and the Detroit Institute of Technology, moving to Indiana in 1963, where he was a probation officer for the Marion County Juvenile Court. Later, he began working for the Urban League of Marion and in 1968 became executive director of the Urban League of Fort Wayne.
Redd not only protested school segregation but helped organize “freedom schools” for children involved in school boycotts. After working for the former General Telephone Co., Redd was a Democratic City Council member from 1983 to 1991.
In the late 1990s, he served on the board of the Metropolitan Human Relations Commission, helping shake up the organization after the council removed seven commissioners because of infighting.
In 1997, less than one year into his four-year appointment to the board, he became interim director of Metro until a full-time director was hired. After just a year and a half on the board, he resigned his position because it seemed his work there was complete.
“It’s just time to move on,” Redd said at the time. “We’re stable now. There’s a sense of mission.”
He vowed to spend time trying to get people to vote and served as the president of the Voter Information Center, an advocacy group he formed in 1990 targeting the financially disadvantaged and ethnic minorities.
In 2008, he became the first recipient of Mayor Tom Henry’s Key to the Fort award.
“He was a real visionary in some areas,” said Henry, who served on the City Council with Redd. “He had the intellectual foundation to be able to debate with the best of them.”
Redd was known for saying exactly what was on his mind and not wasting any words saying it.
“There are those who sometimes talk for the sake of talking. Charles didn’t,” Henry said. “But he was polished and professional – he could hold his own.”
Geoff Paddock, executive director of the Headwaters Park Alliance, said Redd not only served on the Alliance’s board for decades but was also an original member of the Headwaters Park Commission in the 1980s, which created the park from what had been an industrial area of downtown.
Paddock said he had looked up to Redd since he was a teen in the late 1960s.
“He was a very visible civil rights leader in the community,” Paddock said. “I really looked up to him, and it was a great pleasure in life to not only meet him but then to work with him.”
Denise Porter-Ross, who works at the Urban League Redd once headed, said Redd taught generations of people how to be a community advocate.
“I was truly blessed to have known him personally and professionally,” Porter-Ross said. “He will be greatly missed.”
Jackie Redd said her husband had been receiving hospice care for several months due to his failing kidneys, but took great joy in seeing President Obama’s second inauguration last week.
“To see Obama inaugurated a second time, that was just something special,” Jackie Redd said. “But then he started to go downhill that Wednesday.”
Arrangements are pending but are expected to include a calling from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Ellis Funeral Home, 1021 E. Lewis St., and at the funeral at noon Saturday at Turner Chapel AME Church, 836 E. Jefferson Blvd., with calling from 10 a.m. to noon before the service.
“He’s at peace now. And he just slept quietly away,” Jackie Redd said. “I’m going to miss him. Really going to miss him.”