A World Apart - Connecticut's African-Americans, 1914-1970
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This site was created by Mark Williams, a history teacher at The Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Connecticut, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Some of the materials published here were originally created by Mark Williams as Connecticut Case Studies, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council, and printed by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. John F. Sutherland of Manchester Community College, Ronald P. Dufour of Rhode Island College, Thomas P. Weinland of the University of Connecticut, Tracey Wilson of Conard High School, Robert K. Andrian of The Loomis Chaffee School, and State Historian Christopher Collier served as consultants. The Connecticut Humanities Council is the State Committee of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The viewpoints or recommendations expressed in the materials on this site of are not necessarily those of the Council or the Endowment. Teachers are encouraged to print and make copies of these materials for their students.
Some students play roles of key figures and witnesses to the 1968 riots in urban areas in Connecticut, and others play the role of investigators for a state commission. By interviewing the role-players and studying source materials on African Americans and race relations from the early 20th century to the 1960s, the commission members write a report on the causes of the riots and make recommendations for solutions to the problems. In engaging in these activities, students learn about the history of African Americans' place in Connecticut society in the 20th century.
State Standards AddressedSt.1: see national standards on historical thinking below St.2: Local and state hist./US and World: see national standards for particular eras below St.3: conflicts, effects of race and ethnicity on societies, causes and effects of migrations St.4: initiate questions and hypotheses, decision making, empathy, relationships to current issues
National Standards Addressed (from the National Standards for History: Basic Edition)
Historical thinking: 1. questioning and hypothesizing, 2. comprehension, 3. analysis and interpretation, 4. research, 5. decision making
U.S. History: Era 7: St. 1C Limitations of Progressivism for African Americans, 2C Role of African Americans in WWI; Era 8: St. 3C Effects of WWII at home; Era 9: St. 4 Struggle for Equality; Era 10: St. 2E Continuing debates on social issues.
Activity Typesprimary source analysis role playing and debate group investigation analysis of causes, developing solutions to problems
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Historical BackgroundI read that report . . . of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of '35, the report of the investigating committee on the Harlem riot of '43, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot. I must again in candor say to you members of this Commission - it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland - with the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.-Kenneth B. Clark, Testifying before the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968
Kenneth Clark certainly had good reason to be despondent in 1968. The nation had been rocked by the most violent and widespread racial violence of its history, and those familiar with that history had little hope that things would change for the better in the future. Connecticut was not spared from this turmoil. In 1967 there were disturbances in Waterbury, New Britain, Stamford, Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Middletown, Norwalk and New London. Militant protest and violence continued for three summers, and even spread to the University of Connecticut in 1969. In the spring of 1968 the state government set up its own investigative commission to try to understand what was happening. As the hearings progressed in Waterbury, it became apparent that the nature of Connecticut's problem was quite similar to what Kenneth Clark had discussed before the National Advisory Commission - for the better part of the century there had been problems with race relations and urban poverty, they had been widely recognized, but too little had been done to bring about any significant change.
This unit of Connecticut Case Studies addresses issues of race relations, the condition of Connecticut's Black population, and the changing demographics in Connecticut in the twentieth century. It seeks to understand the deepest roots of Connecticut's "race problem" by having students study the impact on Connecticut of the Great Migration of Blacks to the North after 1910, the dreams and hopes of Black people who were coming to the state, the degree to which they were able to achieve those goals, and the effect of the Great Migration on them, their children and grandchildren.
When war broke out in 1914, immigration to the United States from Europe slowed considerably, and, at the same time, a depression struck the South as European buyers canceled cotton orders. Hundreds of thousands of Blacks, from both southern states and the West Indies, were soon moving north in search of jobs (and being encouraged to do so by northern employers in need of cheap labor). Some of these migrants were offered work by Connecticut's tobacco farmers, and as early as 1917 and 1918 The Hartford Courant was reporting on the rapidly increasing Black population and meetings of church and civic groups to address the new "problems" that would arise as a result of the population shifts. The state's Black population doubled (from around 15,000 to 30,000) between 1915 and 1930. Soon racial stereotypes developed that associated Blacks with poverty and slums. Indeed, it was true that the vast majority of Blacks live in the worst and most crowded housing conditions, but they faced discrimination in the job market, in politics, and in recreational activities and civic organizations that kept them locked in the ghetto. Segregation and racism was not the law, but it was supported by prevailing attitudes, and the pattern continued to affect Black people adversely throughout the following decades as more and more came to Connecticut.
By 1970, there were 181,177 Blacks in the state, making up six percent of the population. In Hartford and New Haven, Blacks comprised fifteen percent of the population, illustrating the trend toward de facto segregation in urban neighborhoods. Hispanics as well, whose numbers began to grow in the 1960's, found it difficult to get housing anywhere but in the poorest urban neighborhoods. As prospects had grown increasingly dim after World War II that they, like other immigrants to the state, would be allowed to assimilate into Connecticut society and share its privileges and wealth, Black people themselves became frustrated and alienated. These frustrations growing out of a long history of discrimination and roadblocks to advancement were at the root of the militance and riots of the late sixties.
Focusing on these trends and the racial violence of 1967-69 runs the risk of perpetuating the stereotypes that connect Blacks with urban poverty and turmoil. Certainly there have been many Black people in Connecticut who have risen from poverty, and, against great odds, carved a place for themselves in Connecticut society. Furthermore, a good share of the protest of the late sixties, while militant, was not necessarily violent and lawless. It might be argued that a more positive approach would be to focus on significant Black leaders, the "Black and proud" side of the Black Revolution, and Black people who have made substantial achievements, and to stress efforts that have been undertaken (and there have been many) to achieve racial harmony in the state and in the cities.
While references to such positive aspects of the Black experience in Connecticut are included in the student materials in this package, the primary concern is with the negative. In fact, in the end, students may wonder if Kenneth Clark's somber observations could not now be made again twenty years after the turmoil of the late sixties. Some current statistical data to raise that issue is included in the package. In spite of the achievements of Blacks in this state, de facto segregation continues, school systems still face the issue of racial balance, racial minorities are the poorest of the state's population groups, there is still a sense of powerlessness and alienation in the ghettos, and whites continue to flee from neighborhoods into which people of other races move in hope of "melting" into middle-class American society. Teachers of Black students, in particular, should be aware that this package forces these issues, and that Black students will, undoubtedly, experience an even deeper sense of frustration than Kenneth Clark's expressed above, as they look at document after document stating the same problems and making the same recommendations. Yet history must deal with reality, and the reality in Connecticut is that almost a century after the Great Migration began the state's racial minorities remain a world apart, struggling to find an equal and dignified place among the people of the state.
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The assumptions, in stating these objectives, are twofold: first, that, even though the time period of these materials is between 1914 and 1969, the teacher will use them in the context of studying the 1960's, or the Civil Rights Movement and Black Revolution of the 1950's and 1960's; and second, that, in studying the period before World War II, the teacher has already asked students to raise questions, at least, about the experience of Black people in America during those years. It is possible, however, to integrate these materials in many different ways into the study of the twentieth-century America, necessitating, of course, some adjustments in the objectives stated here. To make most effective use of the materials, students should have already studied the problems of minorities and the Civil Rights movement in the 50's and 60's, the concept of Black Power, national issues of the 60's (such as Vietnam, the New Frontier and the Great Society), and general trends in urbanization during the 20th Century.
1) To know when Black people began to come to Connecticut in large numbers, and what conditions, in terms of employment, housing, and attitudes, they faced when they arrived.
2) To be aware of some of the efforts by Black leaders and ordinary Black citizens of Connecticut to advance themselves economically and socially, and of the obstacles they encountered along the way. Here students could review the thought of Black reformers and intellectuals for the previous century and compare them with what Connecticut Black leaders were saying in the 1960's. Also students should become aware of the role played by religious and community organizations and by family in giving Black people the strength to cope with the many challenges they faced.
3) To become aware of the many subtle forms which discrimination takes. In the process, students should become conscious to the slow, often nonexistent, pace of change in the racial situation in Connecticut between 1914 and 1967. This subtle discrimination and lack of change was at the root of the frustration expressed by Blacks in various ways between 1967 and 1969. Students should also hypothesize on the more immediate causes of the racial disorders of the late sixties, such as more recently frustrated expectations of the Great Society movement, the Vietnam War, obstacles encountered by the nonviolent Civil Rights movement, and the breakdown of the reform consensus in America after 1966.
4) To be aware of the attitudes of whites, in general and of particular ethnic groups, toward Connecticut's Black population. Students should take note of a great deal of ambivalence among American whites toward African-Americans.
5) To hypothesize on the impact that moving to and living in Connecticut had on Black people, and, conversely, of the impact of the Black population of Connecticut on the state.
6) To have an opportunity to practice and "exhibit" question asking, investigation, interpretation, and analysis skills that students have been learning all year.
7) To have an opportunity to exercise decision making skills in making recommendations about social problems.
8) To reflect, generally, on racial issues in America today, and hypothesize on factors working for and against change toward a more harmonious and egalitarian society.
9) To see the world from a variety of different perspectives, and to understand viewpoints that one cannot necessarily condone.
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The student handouts and rubrics for these assessments are described on the assessment page. You may go directly to this unit's assessment by clicking here.
After the investigative commission has held hearings and made its report on the 1968 riots, students do an oral and written critique of the report, assessing its strengths, weaknesses and ways it could be improved.
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§ "A World Apart: Introduction" - a summary of the racial disturbances of 1967 - 1969 in Connecticut.
§ 10 Character Sketches of Connecticut citizens and leaders, for students to role-play in testifying before an investigative commission.
[Note: The information on the role sheets was derived from numerous sources, including articles in July and September, 1967 issues of The New York Times and The Hartford Courant; John Barber, "by," Connecticut Life, November, 1967; a special section of The Hartford Times reported and written by Don O. Noel, Jr., November 24, 1965; Time, September 1, 1967; Newsweek, September 4, 1967; The New York Times Magazine, September 3, 1967; Talking about Connecticut: Oral History in the Nutmeg State, ed. by Bruce M. Stave and John F. Sutherland (1985); and State of Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, Waterbury Hearings of the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (1969). Two of my students, Jared Synnestvedt and Erika Hanson, designed four of the roles.]
§ 2 Charts showing population changes in 4 Connecticut cities, 1920-1970.
§ "The Great Migration Begins" - excerpts from Emmet J. Scott's Negro Migration During the War (1923)
§ Excepts from "The Negro Population of Waterbury, Connecticut: A Survey by the Department of Research and Investigations of the National Urban League," by Charles S. Johnson, Director, in A Journal of Negro Life (Oct. and Nov., 1923).
§ Excerpts from the first report of Connecticut's Inter-Racial Commission (1944)
§ "A Review of the Social and Economic Condition of the Negro Population of Hartford, Connecticut," Conducted for The Council of Social Agencies of Greater Hartford and The Hartford Negro Citizens' Council by The National Urban League Department of Research and Community Projects (September-October, 1944).
§ "Connecticut Inter-Racial Survey" - a 1948 newsletter from the Connecticut Inter-Racial Commission.
§ "Spotlight on Civil Rights" - a 1952 newsletter from the Commission on Civil Rights.
§ "Civil Rights Bulletin" - a 1958 newsletter from the Commission on Civil Rights.
§ "Two Government Studies in the Civil Rights Era" - Henry G. Stetler's studies of racial integration and attitudes toward it in Connecticut, 1957 and 1961.
§ Annual Combined Family Incomes in the Greater Hartford Area, 1959 - a comparative chart.
§ "From a Symposium on Equal Education in Connecticut Held in 1965" - two speakers address education issues.
§ "The Waterbury Public Hearings of the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities" - excerpts from a report on the racial disturbances of the late 1960's.
§ Minority School Populations - a chart showing increasing segregation in schools since 1970.
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The vehicle for this analysis of the Black experience in twentieth-century Connecticut is to have the students study the turmoil of the late 1960's as though they were an advisory investigative agency such as the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities that actually conducted the Waterbury hearings of 1968. Some students would be commission members, and others would take on roles as people of various walks of life who could testify before the Commission. In addition to the testimony, there are numerous documents for the Commission to review, some of which date back to the World War I era when Blacks began migrating in large numbers from the South. With all of this material, the object would be for the students on the Commission to prepare an oral or written (or both) report containing an analysis of the situation in the late sixties, and their recommendations for improvement.
To get started, have students read the introduction, "A World Apart," which describes the climate in the cities in the late 1960's. From this questions will naturally arise, which can be directed toward the general issue of why did violent and militant protest in the late sixties take the place of the nonviolent protest and civil rights legislation of just a few years earlier. At this point announce that they will try to address this issue as thought they were assigned by Governor John Dempsey to try to figure out the causes of the disturbances and to recommend action that could be taken to prevent such disturbances from happening again. Assign as many as ten of the students to the roles and tell them to prepare to present their perspective to the other students when they hold hearings as an investigative commission. These role-players could write a statement, and think about questions they might have to answer (they might even write down some questions they would like to be asked - even hostile ones - to help the commission).
If this unit is used in a year-long United States History survey, it would make an ideal exercise in which students can demonstrate the thinking and writing skills they have learned during the year. Since the burden is on their shoulders to investigate, analyze data, work together and make judgments, the teacher can see how they apply what they have learned from doing other analytical exercises during the year to a study of a very current issue (even though the time frame is 1968, two decades later that same problems exist). The best thing for the teacher to do is to stay out of the operation as much as possible, once the initial assignments have been made. Let the commission decide how it will conduct its hearings, divide the investigative work and the writing assignments. In fact, it might be good to withhold the documents from them, until they are required to state the kind of sources they would like to see from the state library. (It is too bad that the students cannot experience the joys of searching through shelves of misplaced books, reeling through blurry microfilm borrowed from libraries in Ohio, and driving from one end of the state to the other to find single copies of sources on a subject that librarians and state officials seem bent on burying. But with restraint, a teacher can reproduce some of the fun by demanding students be as specific as possible about what sources might be helpful to their investigation. Students should be clairvoyant enough to realize they would need things such as statistics on population change, earlier reports of the government, files from the state civil rights agency, and studies by reform groups.)
The investigation could well consume several class periods and homework assignments, if students really take their work seriously. If they each write a section of the final report (perhaps each could write a draft that a few others could critique before rewriting), the teacher could get a picture of how writing skills are developing. When the report is done, have copies made for the entire class, and critique it together. Withhold the excerpts from the report of the Waterbury Hearings until after the students have written their own report. Part of their critique could be comparing their report to that of people doing an investigation at the time. (They should also note that the Waterbury Hearings had quite a few more witnesses). They might even look at excerpts from the Kerner Commission report they could find in their school or public library.
The summary critique is a good opportunity to bring out some of the main points to be made about when Blacks came to Connecticut, where they came from, why they came, and what the impact of their coming was on Connecticut and the lives of Black people themselves. It is also a time to take note of the similarity of the reports and recommendations made on the condition of Blacks in Connecticut since the end of World War I. Does history repeat itself? Do people learn from their mistakes? What prevents them from gaining from past experience? What changes did take place between 1920 and 1970? Pass out the data on current school populations (or assign some reading from the Hartford Courant's recent series "Two Connecticuts - Separate and Unequal." What changes still need to occur, before Connecticut society can be said to be living up to the American creed of equality, liberty and justice? Perhaps one or more of these questions could be the subject of yet another summary, reflective writing assignment. Other additional research projects might include investigation into music in the Black community - jazz and gospel, or the psychological effects of racist text books on small children, or an oral history project on the role of churches and other community organizations in neighborhoods such as the North End of Hartford.
The key word here is "restraint," for by this point in the year, students have surely developed some independence as learners, as questioners, as group-workers, as researchers, as role-players and as writers. An investigation into a serious and very real problem with deep historic roots (which need to be understood if the problem is to be attacked effectively), can bring out the best of this independent learning spirit, and make the students themselves aware of and proud of what they have accomplished during the course.
[Note: I would like to thank the following of my students for their invaluable assistance in putting this unit together: Liz Hallas, Kris Lower, Kate Twitchell, Gretchen Ulion, Rebecca Banks, Noelle Neu, Alison Barnes, Maren Bean, Erika Hanson, Jed Synnestvedt, Beth Messmore, Cheryl Ordway, and Samantha Rabetz. I hope in doing this work they learned as much as will those who will use it.]
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Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Grove Press, 1964. Reading sections of this would help students understand the rationale behind the radical positions of the sixties.
Asbell, Bernard. "Dick Lee Discovers How Much is Not Enough." The New York Times Magazine, September 3, 1967, p. 6 ff.
Botemps, Arna and Jack Conroy. Anyplace but Here. New York: Hill and Wang, 1966. Some good firsthand impressions of life in the south in the early twentieth century.
Carmichael, Stokely and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1967. Explains the reasoning behind a more radical approach to equality.
Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the Nineteen Sixties. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981. A good account of the diversity of views within the Civil Rights movement.
Foner, Philip, ed. W.E.B. DuBois Speaks. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970. This along with June Sochen (ed.), The Black Man and the American Dream (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), are good source books displaying Black aspirations and goals.
Henri, Florett. Black Migration. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press, 1975. A good overview of the movement of Blacks north, but there are no references to Connecticut specifically.
Janick, Herbert F. A Diverse People: Connecticut 1914 to the Present. Chester, Conn.: The Pequot Press, 1975. The last chapter of this part of the Pequot Press series on Connecticut provides a good summary of the history of Blacks in Connecticut in the 20th century.
Kennedy, Louise Venable. The Negro Peasant Turns Cityward: Effects of Recent Migrations to Northern Centers. New York: Columbia University Press, 1930. This is an interesting study that contains some information on people coming to Connecticut, but is more valuable in terms of understanding the forces at work in the South driving Blacks north in the early twentieth century.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown vs. Board of Education and Black American's Struggle for Equality. New York: Knopf, 1976. A good background source on the 50's and 60's.
Lee, Frank F. Negro and White in Connecticut Town. New York: Brokman Associates, 1961. A not-so-well disguised study of Branford, Connecticut. Fascinating, since he has based his research on countless interviews of people of all walks of life.
Meier, August and Ruderich, Elliott, eds. The Making of Black America. New York: Scribners, 1971. While there is nothing specifically related to Connecticut here, this is an excellent collection of sources on Black History.
Meyer, David R. Urban Change in Central Connecticut: From Farm to Factory to Urban Pastoralism. Cambridge: Ballinger, 1976. Good social history.
Noel, Don O, Jr. A special section of The Hartford Times, November 26, 1965. Numerous articles on Blacks in Hartford (and some from Georgia who were thinking of coming to Connecticut. If this were available for students in its entirety, it could deepen their research considerably. Some of the information is incorporated into the roles.
Pearson, Ralph L. "Interracial Conflict in Twentieth Century Connecticut Cities: The Demographic Factor." Connecticut History 17 (January, 1976), pp. 1-14. His statistics are incorporated into the materials. Pearson feels that ethnic antagonisms are often overlooked when searching for causes of the racial discord of the late sixties, and provides evidence of such antagonisms in Connecticut.
Perkins, Olivera. Two Connecticuts, Separate and Unequal. This is a series that the Hartford Courant has been running in 1989 on the continuing problems of racial minorities in Connecticut. It could be obtained from the Hartford Courant library and be of great use in discussing whether the events of the late sixties mad any difference.
Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. New York: Bantam Books, 1968. This would be good for students to look at after they have finished writing their own report. It is long and would need to be divided or excerpted.
Scott, Emmett J. Negro Migration During the War. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Preliminary Economic Studies of the War, No. 16, ed. by David Kinsley. New York: Oxford University Press, 1920. Some excerpts from this are included in the materials. The are numerous references to Connecticut, and Scott provides a generally complex analysis of a great upheaval of his own time.
Spear, Allan H. Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto 1890-1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969. Very thorough, readable, and insightful study.
Steward, Daniel Y. Black New Haven, 1920-1977. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978). This is a small and generally unavailable (except in the New Haven public libraries), yet very valuable source for studying changing social conditions and attitudes.
Stave, Bruce M. "Making Hartford Home: An Oral History of 20th Century Ethnic Development in Connecticut's Capital City." In Astor Stave, ed. Hartford, The City and the Region: Past, Present, Future. Hartford: University of Hartford, 1979), pp. 31-45. A good demonstration of the use of oral history in studying the conditions of immigrants, including Blacks and Hispanics, in Hartford.
White, David O. "Blacks in Connecticut," in David M. Roth. Connecticut History and Culture. Hartford: Connecticut Historical Commission, 1985. A good general overview for background for teachers.
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