If Fort Wayne had a social justice hall of fame, Charles B. Redd would surely be a charter member.
As head of the Fort Wayne Urban League in the late 1960s, Redd was a voice of both passion and reason in challenging segregation in city schools, reinforcing his advocacy by helping establish freedom schools for students who participated in a school boycott. The actions of Redd and other minority leaders led to the desegregation of high schools.
If he had recorded no other accomplishments, Redd’s leadership then would have left a worthy legacy. But he did more.
As a city councilman during the 1980s, Redd carried the mantle of the late John Nuckols, the city’s first black City Council member, who served from 1960 to 1982. Representing the southeast portion of Fort Wayne through the difficult years during and after the exit of International Harvester and the sharp decline of other east-end industries, Redd was a strong advocate for the area, repeatedly explaining the unique difficulties of a part of the city as it fell into decline.
Personable, humble and always a gentleman, Redd was effective in many ways because of what he didn’t say.
He was the rare politician who consistently chose his words carefully and without hyperbole, reserving his rare exhibitions of sharp criticism only when absolutely necessary, and even then with class and grace.
After losing his bid for re-election to the council in 1991, Redd continued serving both his southeast community and the entire city.
When the Metro Human Relations Commission went through one of its periodic implosions in the 1990s, Redd helped restore professionalism and consistency to the anti-discrimination agency, first as a board member and later as interim director.
By the turn of the century, Redd directed his civic efforts toward voting, starting the Voter Information Center while personally registering numerous citizens to vote, many of them minorities and low-income residents.
In 2008, Mayor Tom Henry launched the local equivalent of the state’s Sagamore of the Wabash, and he awarded the first Key to the Fort to Charles Redd.
Charles has been a tireless advocate for equality and democracy in Fort Wayne and beyond, Henry said in giving the award to Redd. He has lived his ideals in service to others through City Council, the Fort Wayne Urban League, the NAACP, his church and numerous non-profit organizations.
The term servant leader’ has become something of a buzz phrase, but it perfectly describes Redd, who died over the weekend at the age of 82. Consider the 10 characteristics of a servant leader: Listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people and building community.
Charles B. Redd exhibited all, and both his loss and legacy will affect his city.