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Connecticut WWII-era newspapers offer view of black life

Updated February 11, 2019

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AN ORIGINAL April 23, 1949, copy of the New England Bulletin weekly newspaper.—AP
AN ORIGINAL April 23, 1949, copy of the New England Bulletin weekly newspaper.—AP

A DETAILED account of African-American life in the Northeast during World War II, carefully preserved in the basement of the Connecticut State Library, has been uploaded for a new, modern readership.

Hunched over a lighted magnifying machine, Christine Gauvreau spent months scrolling through reels of microfilm of black-owned and operated Connecticut newspapers, preparing them to be digitised.

They are some of the latest entrants in the Chronicling America project, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress to create a national digital database of historically significant US newspapers published between 1690 and 1963.

“It’s really a document from the very early civil rights movement in Hartford,” said Gauvreau, who recently finished archiving old issues of the now-defunct Connecticut Chronicle, Hartford Chronicle, Hartford-Springfield Chronicle and New England Bulletin, a family of black-owned and operated newspapers that began in 1940 and operated consecutively for about a decade. Connecticut’s latest additions to Chronicling America mark the first African-American newspapers added to the project from a Northeast state.

The four Connecticut-based weekly newspapers upheld a “crusade tradition” of journalism, Gauvreau said. They pushed for the hiring of Hartford’s first black firefighters and black bus drivers; advocated for a law barring racial bias in the National Guard; and exposed substandard housing, inferior quality goods and high prices in Harford’s North End neighbourhood.

Other pages of the newspapers provide a window into the culture of the time. Articles cover everything from an Easter sermon at Mount Calvary Baptist Church to performances by musical greats. Written by correspondents stationed throughout the state and region, many articles chronicle the accomplishments of black residents.

“They wanted to tell the story about what was happening in black Hartford. They also wanted to highlight issues of discrimination. They wanted to celebrate black achievement at the same time,” said historian and Professor Stacey K. Close of Eastern Connecticut State University. “They also made sure that young people knew what was going on in the rest of the country,” Close said.

He added “there was an urgency” to what the newspapers were doing. “They were trying to push the city to do better than they had done in the past,” he said. “They were an organisation and a paper pushing for social, economic and political change.”

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2019