A Celebration of Greenwich’s Black History

Newsletter Volume 1 • Number 32

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February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who have struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American public life, including in Greenwich.

Slavery in Greenwich

According to the Greenwich Historical Society, approximately 300 enslaved people lived in Greenwich. Although many of their stories have been lost, the stories of some of the 15 enslaved people who resided at Bush-Holley House have been chronicled through the efforts of local students. They reveal a family forced to live apart, half emancipated, half enslaved, under laws known as Gradual Emancipation, as parents waited for their enslaved children to reach the age of 25 for men and 21 for women, before they could be freed. Upon his freedom, Cull Bush Sr. became a successful landowner, buying and selling property in Cos Cob. 

Witness Stone in memory of Cull Bush, Sr., one of 15 enslaved people who resided at Bush-Holley House.

Greenwich’s “Colored” Civil War infantry showed “invincible determination”

African-Americans responded with enthusiasm to the call for volunteers during the Civil War. CT Governor Buckingham called for 400 volunteers to create a Colored Infantry Brigade. Over 1200 answered the call to duty, and resulted in the addition of two additional brigades. Many Black men from Greenwich served. The 29th Brigade engaged in five battles, and joined in pursuit of Lee’s Confederate army, “showing invincible determination to be in at the death of the Southern Confederation.” Their commander, Major Wright, wrote, “I cannot speak too highly of both officers and men in this engagement. More bravery and enthusiasm I never witnessed. Besides their patriotic ardor, they went into that action with a determination to command the respect of white troops, which they knew could be attained only by hard fighting.”

A history of self-empowerment in the face of widespread discrimination

In an era when Black Americans were excluded from most areas of public life, they formed the Crispus Attucks Association in 1942. Originally located at 33 Railroad Avenue, and later at 6 Lewis Street, it served as the heart and home of the Black community. The Association became the nexus of Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, lecture series and volunteer awards.

Banquets, teas, card parties and pool tables were open to the community. A room with a radio became a popular destination for people to gather and listen to programs. Rolling skating nights and a prom were popular with youth. The Center also hosted plays, art classes and musicals. According to the Historical Society, “These social and cultural events were in and of themselves radical statements in a time of widespread discrimination. They were a declaration that the Black community of Greenwich was thriving in spite of the racism community members often faced.”

The Crispus Attucks Center opened in 1942 at the Bethel AME Church, then moved to 33 Railroad Avenue. The Center served as the heart and home of the Black community in Greenwich. Source: Greenwich Historical Society
Crowning of prom queen at Crispus Attucks Center. Source: Greenwich Historical Society Collection.

The lingering effects of racism

Post WW2, deed-restricted covenants and red-lining practices prevented African-Americans from moving into suburbs with access to better schools, cleaner air, and higher quality of life. Greenwich is no exception. While the Black population of CT is 10.5%, in Greenwich it is under 4%.

Affordable housing is a key driver for people of color to build wealth that they can pass down to the next generation. And as David Lehman, former Senior Economic Advisor to Governor Lamont, recently made clear in a talk to LWV, more housing that workers can afford is just as critical to the economic health of the entire State.

The greatest step we can take toward creating a more just and fair society here in Greenwich is to learn about our history, including the unpleasant parts, and open our minds to seeing the obstacles faced by others.

We hope this month inspires you to learn more about the struggle for equality by Black Americans.

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

James Baldwin

Essential reading

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks—those that are honest about the past and those that are not—that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.
Since 1865 and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, every time African Americans have made advances towards full participation in our democracy, white reaction has fueled a deliberate and relentless rollback of their gains. Anderson pulls back the veil on how Black progress has repeatedly encountered white rage and resistance, especially in the aftermath of the election of America’s first Black president.
Eleven-year-old George Washington Black—or Wash—a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen as the manservant of his master’s brother. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where a flying machine can carry a man across the sky, where even a boy born in chains may embrace a life of dignity and meaning, and where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human.

Legislative Corner

Governor Lamont pitches tax cuts in new budget. Gov. Ned Lamont presented lawmakers with a budget that delivers more than $500 million in annual tax relief, topped by the first major cut in state income tax rates in Connecticut history. Depending on adjusted gross income, some joint filers could receive almost $600 in income tax relief and single filers could save almost $300. In total, about 1.1 million of the state’s 1.7 million tax filers will see some amount of relief under the plan, if approved by the legislature.

Greenwich delegation approves free school meals and fiscal guardrails

Our Hartford delegation took part in a unanimous vote this week to fund the free school meals program for the remainder of this school year, and to renew the state’s fiscal guardrails for the next several years. According to Governor Lamont, “[this] legislation is a compelling and effective sign to residents, employers, and credit rating agencies that Connecticut is serious about living within our means and saving for the future.”

For your calendar

March 8. Jennifer Egan, author of best-selling novels, Visit from the Goon Squad and Manhattan Beach, will be giving a talk at Greenwich Library about her new book, The Candy House. Register here. Wednesday March 8, 7:00-8:00 p.m.

March 8. Trevor Noah, Off the Record Tour. The Palace Theatre, Stamford. Purchase tickets here.

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