Introduction to the Hartford African American Heritage Trail Tour
A message from Mrs. Barbara Alleyne the President, John E. Rogers African American Cultural Center
Mrs. Barbara Alleyne, President - JERAACC, Inc., P.O. Box 1931,
Named in honor of John E. Rogers, the local historian of African American history, the Center is a tribute to his legacy. JERAACC is a 501-C3 non-profit organization. JERAACC relies on volunteers and does not have any paid staff. This project, the Hartford African American Heritage Trail Tour, funded through the Connecticut Office of Culture and Tourism's Historic Preservation and Museum Division, is intended to be the first phase of research that will include a variety of private homes, burial sites of historical significance, unique shops, churches, commercial venues, and restaurants that tell the history of Hartford's African American citizens. It is a narrative of unique and collective shared histories depicted in the sites and commercial venues. It is appropriate that the project takes place during the 375th anniversary of the founding of the state of Connecticut and the city of Hartford. The Hartford African American Heritage Trail traces the experience of a community that is historically the third to build its home in this area. The first were the Native Americans; the second European settlers, mainly the Dutch and British; and third Africans, the ancestors of 21st century African Americans.
The journey to the Americas began in Africa and continued in the Caribbean to the Connecticut River where most captured Africans entered the area. The presence of African Americans can be traced to sites no longer extant yet they document the residential patterns of Hartford's African American citizens in the South End, the North End, and the West End of the city from the 17th through the 21st centuries. Those residences could be found in an area once called Hog River, the current site of Bushnell Park, and Front Street, which borders on Constitution Plaza and Charter Oak, where once lived Peter Nott, the son of Revolutionary War Veteran and Black Governor Peleg Nott. The current site of the Polish Home was identified on an 18th century map as 'Negro House,' the home of Boston Nichols, another Black Governor. Important historical landmarks such as 19th century African American daguerreotypist August Washington's studio on Main Street and the homes of African American poet Ann Plato and African American activist Maria Stewart have not been located despite research efforts to find them. In the post Civil War period, many formerly enslaved African Americans migrated to Connecticut and made their homes in a section of Hartford called the Bottoms just below the Clay Hill and Arsenal sections going toward the direction of Windsor Street. Some of those dwellings residences still stand.
Other significant sites have been replaced by contemporary commercial establishments or left empty with nothing to mark their historical importance: the 20th century apartment house of Mary Katherine Townsend and Frederick Seymour at 420 New Britain Avenue, Hartford, CT where Seymour met with Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, James Weldon Johnson and others to found the Hartford branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1920s and the Aetna Ambulance Service Inc., 140 Van Block Avenue, Hartford, CT established by the African American family Grady following the great circus fire in Hartford in 1944. There are other sites that are connected to the African American experience, but they are not African American owned or operated. A case in point is Trinity College. African American Master Carpenter, Mrs. Fisher's father, constructed the Bell Tower and keyed all the locks on the college campus doors.
The sites on the Hartford African American Heritage Trail, therefore, tell only a part of the true story of Hartford's African American community that is an old as the colony and state of Connecticut. A number of the sites, however, depict images of the quintessential African American institution, the church. It has always served a multifaceted function as a religious sanctuary, an educational facility, and a gathering place to organization for civic and political action. Several of the church buildings tell the story of the changing ethnic composition of Hartford neighborhoods. Adorned with Hebrew letters, the Star of David and ornate inscriptions, these buildings were synagogues that Hartford's Jewish community constructed.
Although it was not possible to include every Hartford African American historic home, burial site of historical significance, unique shop, church, commercial venue or restaurant, it is anticipated that more sites will be added. More information will be inserted on some of the unique retentions of African customs such as drawings of mikinsi symbols on the walls of dwellings occupied by enslaved African Americans or the placement of sacred bundles inside of the walls of those dwellings.
Some of the sites on the Hartford African American Heritage Trail are also part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail and have the designation CFT to indicate that connection. The concentration of the Hartford trail tour project on African American historic sites, commercial venues and cultural landmarks in no way diminishes the experiences of other communities in Connecticut. Major goals of this project are that all citizens take pride in Hartford History, preserve its architectural treasures, protect the safety of the local neighborhood, appreciate public history, and encourage economic revitalization by shopping at local venues and encourage out of town guests to do the same.
In this preliminary list of sites for the Hartford African American Heritage Trail Tour, photos, primary research, secondary sources and exhibits have been used as documentation. They are noted in the bibliography.
|Dr. Close, Project Historical Director
||Mr. Mike Cunha|
|Mr. McKenzie Web Master||Mrs. Billie Anthony|
|Mr. Rick Callahan Web Master||Dr. Katherine J. Harris, Project|
|Mr. Karrer, Photographer||Coordinator, Historical Researcher|
|Mr. Tom Smith||Mr. Michael J. Wilson, Field Researcher|
|Mrs. Yvonne McGregor-McCaulley||Reverend Stephen W. Camp
|Mr. Malik Ramiz
||Mrs. Gladys Fisher|
|Mr. Riley Johnson||Honorable John 'Chief' B. Stewart, Jr.|
|Dr. Benjamin Foster, Jr.
||Mrs. Jolie Rocke Brown
|Mr. Ismail Hasaan||Mr. Earl Shepherd|
|Mr. Kalil Abrams||Ms. Dion Abrams|
|Union Baptist Church|
John E. Rogers 1907-1982
Father of Connecticut Black History