by Stanley Heller
Traditionally during Black History month students get a little watered-down Martin Luther King, a tribute to Rosa Parks and not much else. In December 2020 the West Haven City Council passed a resolution declaring “racism” a public health “crisis” and specifically mentioned the need for an "anti-racist" curriculum . So hopefully the schools are busy revamping what they are teaching about Blacks and "race relations". Here are just a few things that could be included:
Yale University and Slavery
There’s a whole website about Yale and slavery. http://yaleslavery.org/ It tells many disturbing stories about the connections of the famous university and men who made money from slavery. Fox example the first endowed professorship at Yale was paid for by slave-trader Col. Philip Livingston. The first scholarships were paid for by a plantation in Rhode Island whose workers were likely slaves. In the late 1700’s Yale’s President was Timothy Dwight. He owned at least one slave and was very much in favor of American slavery. A residential college (housing student living areas) is named after him.
Another Yale residential college is named after Samuel B. Morse who invented the telegraph in 1830. Unfortunately, he also was a nationally known Northern activist who supported slavery as a positive good that should be extended throughout the country. He published pro-slavery pamphlets in which he describes slavery as beautiful and as a source of salvation. He did this in the 1860’s, during the Civil War!
In a recent win for justice (2017) Yale changed the name of one of its residential colleges which had been named after Yale grad and arch defender of slavery and Indian-removal, John C. Calhoun.
The Law Against Educating a Black Child
Once it was illegal to educate a Black child in a CT school if she came from out of state. A woman named Prudence Crandall set up a girls’ school in the town of Canterbury (about 30 miles east of Hartford) and admitted a black student named Sarah Harris. Whites in the town were outraged. They pulled out their own students from the school. So Crandall made the school for Black girls. The state of CT then (1833) passed a law making it illegal to have such a school with Black out-of-state students. While the matter was being taken up in the courts people in the town rioted and smashed up the school, breaking 90 windows. Crandall closed the school the next day.
After the Civil War and Reconstruction open racism made a comeback. Many, many towns told Blacks not to be in the town limits after dark. They had signs like, “N-----, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On You In Alix (or in whatever town the sign was in.)” Others stated, “Whites Only After Dark.”
The historian James W. Loewen wrote a book, “Sundown Towns”. He remarked, “When I began this research, I expected to find about 10 sundown towns in Illinois (my home state) and perhaps 50 across the country. Instead, I have found about 507 in Illinois and thousands across the United States.”
Many towns didn’t have signs, but Blacks knew they’d be in real trouble if they were in the town after dark. Darien, CT was considered by many to be a sundown town.
City Government that Included Blacks Overthrown
The term “insurrection” has been used by President Biden and others to describe what Trump and his followers tried to do on January 6. The only successful insurrection in U.S. history took place in. Wilmington, North Carolina. On November 10, 1898 whites burned down the town’s Black newspaper and murdered scores of Blacks and seized the local government. Before the violence, this port city on the Cape Fear River was remarkably integrated. Three out of the ten aldermen were African Americans, and Black people worked as policemen, firemen, and judges. The mob ended that. Rather than do anything to punish the killers the state government of North Carolina took away the right to vote from Blacks.
KKK in West Haven
The KKK seems to be something out of the distant past and far to the South. Actually in had great strength a hundred years ago in Northern states. It also tried to organize in Connecticut. It held a rally in Meriden in 1981 and planned to hold one in West Haven in 1985. The town tried to stop it by passing an ordinance that required any group that was holding a sizable rally to pay police to keep order. The Connecticut Supreme Court found that measure unconstitutional. The day of the Klan rally in West Haven a group of 20-40 people came to rally against the Klan, but the Klan never showed.
Black Panthers in Connecticut
In the late 1960’s progress for the Civil Rights Movement slowed to a crawl. Many young blacks were fed up and turned to a new group that started on the West Coast, the Black Panthers. In California it was legal to carry rifles in the open and the Panthers often did that. The group started chapters all around the country including Connecticut. They were known for their “Free Breakfast” program, their black berets and their angry language. A number of them were killed by police (look up the name Fred Hampton). FBI and police sent agents into the Panthers to spy on them and to stir things up. In New Haven a Panther named Alex Rackley was found dead. He had been killed by other Panthers terrified by the spying. Some of them were then arrested and served terms in prison. Bobby Seale, a major national Panther leader, was put on trial for the murder. In 1970 the New Haven Green was filled with protesters who were convinced it was a frame-up. Military tanks were in the streets. Seale was found not-guilty of the murder by the jury.
Mob Murder – Racial Terrorism
Not for younger grades, but perhaps for 11th and 12th graders……………the story of lynching, from the Colfax Riot to George Floyd. Teach about the heroism of Ida Wells who campaigned against lynching. Also see the powerful exhibitions at the The National Memorial for Peace and Justice which was created just a few years ago in Alabama.
Not every story about race relations ended badly. In 1839 Hartford, CT was the scene of a trial of the Amistad rebels. They were Africans who were enslaved (kidnapped) who overcame their captors at sea. The ship was captured by the U.S. Navy and the men were put in jail in New Haven. At their trial for murder and mutiny they said they had a right to resist kidnapping. They were found not guilty. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Former President John Quincy Adams represented the captured men. The Court affirmed the lower court decision, and the men were set free. They returned to Africa. Today there’s an Amistad museum ship in New Haven harbor.
#BlackLivesMatter in Connecticut
The police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020 led to the biggest social movement in U.S. history. The New York Times noted that by July of 2020 “about 15 million to 26 million people in the United States have participated in demonstrations” to protest the murder. On May 31 a number of major Connecticut highways were occupied by protesters. On June 6 upwards of 3,000 people who rallied on June 6 in West Haven to protest police killings (including that of Mubarak Soulemane in West Haven). The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was coined in 2013 after the killing of Trayvon Martin.
Just a week ago the “Black Lives Matter” movement was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a member of the parliament in Norway.
Yes, free. We didn't believe it either, but the link was right there on the West Haven Board of Education website. You can hear a (limited) number of books in 6 languages.
You're three clicks away. Start here.
by Stanley Heller
I wrote about this problem in August calling on the Board of Education to respond to national #BlackLivesMatter demands for justice by reviewing curriculum from top to bottom. No response. There was no statement that curriculum would be reviewed at all. And when Oct. 12 came round "Columbus Day" was marked.
On December 28 the West Haven City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling racism a public health "crisis" in West Haven. Among remedies Point #6 calls for a "balanced and anti-racist curriculum" that would challenge the "single Eurocentric lens of education". The Council said this is a "crisis". That usually demands swift action. Will the Board of Education respond in a meaningful way? Why not pay teachers who volunteer to take a thorough look at the curriculum?
The resolution by the Council recognizes that racism oppresses "Black, Brown, Indigenous People of Color" in many ways including employment. As a first step let school officials tell us the numbers, the percent of minorities employed as administrators, teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, etc. We know the percents are bad, way too low. But the first step in remedy of this wound to BIPOC people is to expose it to the sunlight of truth. Then there can be a discussion of what can be done to encourage hiring of Black, Latinex, Turkish and Native Americans (without threatening the jobs of current staff).
Columbus was no hero to humanity
Oct. 13. Looking at the "revised" school calendar for the West Haven public school you see a day off in honor of "Columbus Day". Hasn't the city noticed that since the murder of George Floyd millions of people have shown their fed up with white supremacy. One myth they've abandoned is one that civilized European's settled an area empty except for "savages". Columbus statues are going down and the day being renamed Indigenous People's Day.
Andrea Fusco, a Social Studies teacher at Bailey said, "I suppose this holiday is about celebrating a racist who took native Americans aboard his ships while torturing them and making them his slaves!! I am for calling the day -Discovery Day of America - (but we know Columbus shouldn’t have gotten credit for that either ) so I’m for changing the day altogether ! ?! - Maybe ?"
Has the West Haven schools done any soul searching about revising what they teach about race relations, native Americans, etc., Superintendent Cavallaro?
Oct. 13. A growing outbreak of Covid has forced the university to switch to online classes. The New Haven Independent reports that 100 people on campus have tested positive for Covid. Obviously collaboration between the city, city schools and UNH needs to be put on hold for now
by Stanley Heller
I sent a letter to the Board of Education on July 18 thanking the Superintendent for making a statement about the murder of George Floyd and asking him to also speak out about the killing of Mubarak Soulemane.
When watching John Oliver's August 2 program where he denounced the sins of American schools on the way history presented slavery and other Black matters I recalled a paragraph in my July letter to the Board. It read, "We are realizing that white supremacy is endemic in the country. As you know Columbus’s cruelty is being exposed and his statues are being removed. What about Columbus in the classroom? How is he being portrayed? How about Jefferson, who was anti-slavery until he found out how much money his own slaves were making him? I suggest teachers be hired to look over West Haven Social Studies curriculum and texts over the next month and to make recommendations. Obviously, it would be prohibitively expensive to replace textbooks, but certainly teachers can develop supplemental material for use in classrooms."
None of the Board members or Administration (some of whom once were my students) have answered my letter.
I urge teachers and parents to take up the matter. How are things being presented? Do they gloss over Washington and Jefferson's ownership of slaves? Do they mention the achievements of Blacks during Reconstruction? Do the high school texts talk about the 1898 coup in Wilmington, North Carolina where 60 were murdered and Black aldermen replaced with a white supremacy government, the hundreds killed in the Tulsa massacre of 1921, the "slavery under another name" that existed until the 1940's where Blacks were convicted of trivial crimes and forced into decades of servitude? Does it present the Civil Rights movement as victorious when schools are more segregated than ever and when measures to make up for centuries of inequality were ruled illegal under the fiction of "color blindness"?
You get the point. There needs to be an honest look at tenets of white supremacy that have been part of U.S. social studies teachings for a hundred fifty years. We need to begin the work at revision.
July 23. Teachers and concerned families held a honking car carvan past the Capitol building and on to the governor's mansion today. Here's video courtesy of The Struggle Video News.
This document explains the position of the Connecticut Education Association.
Article in the CT Mirror
Joint statement in June from AFT CT and the CEA
by Stanley Heller
Back in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s ideas of protest seem to come naturally. The Vietnam War was going badly and more and more young people and soldiers were in opposition. The Civil Rights Movement had given way after the assassination of King to angrier, more radical action. In the spring of 1970 New Haven put a number of Black Panthers on trial and tens of thousands came to CT to protest. Teachers had struck as early as the 1930’s but the big teacher strike wave came decades later. Between July 1960 and June 1974, the country experienced over 1,000 teacher strikes involving more than 823,000 teachers.
West Haven teachers were represented by a CT Education Association affiliate until 1968 when a more aggressive group, the West Haven Federation of Teachers, was voted in. The WHFT was part of the American Federation of Teachers which unapologetically stood for the right of teachers to strike. It was led by Joseph Delano, Ted Mack, Russ McCreven and in 1970 by Ralph DeMatteo. Virginia Ekman and Helen Georgia were also active. The WHFT had won teachers over by its conduct in the “Key Case”. The rule was that each teacher at the end of the day had to go to the central office and deposit their room key. At the huge West Haven High School this could be quite a walk. Teachers were insulted that they were not considered trustworthy enough to take care of their keys. One teacher, Arthur Sapienza, refused to turn in is key and was suspended. The WHFT went to bat for him with the Board of Education and in the press. It embarrassed the powers that be and he was reinstated.
In 1969 teachers almost went on strike. It took some courage to threaten a strike. A mean-spirited legislature had wept crocodile tears about the welfare of the children and passed a law making it illegal for teachers to strike. It was also feared you could lose your job and livelihood if your walked out (but I don’t think that ever happened in CT).
Bargaining between the union and Board continued until just a few days before school began when there was a settlement. The contract gains were substantial. There was a whopping raise, teacher got two days a year they could take for personal business, a duty-free lunch and other benefits.
1970 saw Boards of Education trying to win things back. Teachers struck in Bridgeport and New Haven. The Board in the Elm City got an injunction against the strike and convinced a judge to send some 30 strike leaders to jail.
In West Haven the Board offered a miserly raise and tried to take back personal days and other provisions. There had been a battle royal in the newspapers all during the spring and summer of that year. I represented the union at a national convention in Pittsburgh that summer. In the middle of it our national rep told me that the West Haven Board of Education had asked a judge for a $500,000 fine a day to be lodged against the union. I had to read a Special Order of Business before a thousand delegates asking for support, which we received with a roar.
The 500 or so West Haven teachers would meet in a Knights of Columbus Hall on Center St. (The building is still there, but it hasn’t been used in years). The first day of school in September teachers met at the K of C and voted overwhelmingly to strike. We went to the schools, not to enter them, but to picket. .Not all the schools had solid support. Few Seth Haley teachers walked out and it was the same story with the teachers at Colonial Park (the school building no longer exists. It was on Seaview Avenue.) A few teachers at those two schools went out and volunteers from the solid schools like the High School and Bailey and Carrigan came to support them. We’d picket all day long with picket signs (signs on thin sticks).
Our immediate adversary was a lawyer who represented the Board of Education named Richard Hershatter and he was bitterly reviled. I recall at one of the K of C meetings it was announced that Hershatter had suddenly been sent to the hospital and had been sent a telegram by the union which read, “The Executive Board of the WHFT voted a resolution wishing you a speedy recovery. The vote was 5 to 4.” People reacted to the joke uproariously.
In the early days of the strike people were still pretty civil. A non-striker asked for permission to explain why he didn’t walk out and he was given permission to do so! Some yelled, “scab”, but where shushed. While we waited for announcement in the K of C some of the teachers played sentimental songs on the piano.
After about a week the judge picked out the names of several union leaders and about ten teachers picked at random at Mackrille School and told them if they strike wasn’t settled in a couple of days he’d put them all in jail. I’m told there was a lot of weeping, but no one broke. They all came to the court on the appointed day with suitcases for their stay in jail. But the judge relented, and no one was put behind bars.
The strike went on for 11 school days before it was finally settled. It was a success. My pay as a second-year teacher was $7,733 for the year. Don’t laugh. It was enough for me to buy a brand-new V-8 Pontiac.
Feelings ran high though. Some teachers never spoke to strikebreakers for years or ever.
I became WHFT president from 1973 to 1980. I still have the 1970 contract. The union is now called the West Haven Federation of Teachers and School Nurses.
[the White Knight was the emblem of the union for years]
West Haven students are 67% minority, but the teaching staff is 6% minority.
New Haven is able to get 26% of its teachers from the minority community. West Haven is doing much worse on minority hires even though its pay rates are comparable or better.
Figures were from the State Department of Education as published in the CT Mirror Dec. 2018, but we'd be stunned if they were any different today
Perhaps what should be done is what is sometimes done with doctors in rural areas. A student is recruited and gets a big chunk of his college payments forgiven provided he or she works in the area for a certain number of years.
From the Department of Education website "minority" means individuals whose race is defined as other than white, or whose ethnicity is defined as Hispanic or Latino by the federal Office of Management and Budget for use by the Bureau of Census of the United States Department of Commerce.