Ration cards, Air Wardens and pinup girls. Hear the hidden stories of daily life during World War II in Westport, Connecticut and towns like it, with a special focus on untold stories of local teens and their contributions to the war effort. For more info and to see original documents and photos see the resources below.
Images of Ms. Greta Peterson from the Museum’s Collection
Westport Museum Executive Director, Ramin Ganeshram is joined by special guest Greg Porretta for the TRUE history of the first Thanksgiving. For more info and to see original documents and photos see the resources below.
Westport Museum for History & Culture is in the process of a multi-year cataloging of its archival holdings with the aim toward making resource guides and finding aids available for research use. It is the museum’s goal to describe our historic records and holdings in a way that both accurately reflects the historic record while remaining respectful to those represented in the collections particularly those from underrepresented communities including Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized groups. Despite this, researchers may come across language describing period records and within them that today we consider racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and ableist in nature.
It is our goal to represent history precisely while describing our holdings we do not alter the names of agencies, organizations, titles of published works etc. that may contain offensive language because changing or removing the content would alter the historical record or one’s understanding of it. There may additionally be descriptive resources, created in the past, that in themselves because of their vintage provide historical context about their period but contain language today viewed as inappropriate. In no way does the presence of these descriptive resources within the collections imply agreement or support, tacit or otherwise, of the language in question. When writing abstracts, finding aids, summaries and item level meta-data we may use modern, culturally appropriate language to describe material that would otherwise be harmful or problematic, when it is not needed or without providing context.
As Westport Museum for History & Culture’s archival resources continue to be cataloged and organized, new descriptive material including Resource Guides, Finding Aids, Abstracts and more will strive to use terminology to describe communities reflected in the records as they describe themselves. We continually audit our methodology to reflect input and feedback from various BIPOC leaders and organizations so that we may make informed decisions about the terms we use.
In May 1964, Temple Israel’s congregation hosted the Baptist Minister and Civil Rights Leader, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King came to Westport on the invitation of Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein and spoke to an audience of over 600 people noting that “It is possible to stand up to an unjust system without hate.” Under Rabbi Rubenstein’s leadership during the 1960s, Temple Israel hosted other activists including writer James Baldwin, becoming a forum for aggressive social progress.
Just a month after Dr. King visited Westport, the Mississippi Project began. This was a voter registration effort by civil rights groups including the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During the next few months, which became known as ‘Freedom Summer,’ volunteers and activists were beaten and jailed. Two white students, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, and an African American student, James Chaney, disappeared. Their beaten bodies were not found for six weeks. Westport artist Tracy Sugarman was in Mississippi bearing witness to the movement. He said later, “We knew immediately that they’d been killed.”
That June, Dr. King went to St. Augustine, Florida in response to citywide violence following an attempt by student protestors to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter there. The civil rights leader was arrested on the steps of Mason Motor Lodge Restaurant and wrote a letter from jail to his friend Rabbi Israel Dresner of New Jersey, asking him to recruit others to aid the movement.
Dresner arrived in St. Augustine with sixteen fellow rabbis including Westport’s Rabbi Rubenstein. All were arrested on June 18, 1964 and from jail they penned a three-page letter entitled “Why We Went” detailing what they had seen in St. Augustine and calling upon fellow Jews to support the civil rights movement:
“These words were first written at 3:00 am, in the sweltering heat of a sleepless night, by the light of the one naked bulb hanging in the corridor outside our small cell…We do not underestimate what yet remains to be done…In the battle against racism what we have participated here is only a small skirmish. But the total effect of all such demonstrations has created a Revolution.”
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Public education in Westport is open to under-served children from predominantly African American areas such as nearby Bridgeport through a legislative program called Open Choice to “reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation among students” in both communities. But in 1971, a national program called Project Concern bused students from predominantly black inner cities to white suburbs like Westport—and residents found themselves on opposing sides of the bitter debate. School Board President, Joan Schine, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Cliff Barton, spearheaded the program, which led to some residents prompting for Schine’s recall from the Board.
Barton joined the Westport School System in 1958 after teaching in Norwalk, where he had been invited to apply based on a phone interview. Arriving in Norwalk he tried to stay at the YMCA but was denied because he was African American. After teaching at Norwalk High School and then in Westport, Barton became an administrator whose passion was looking after students with special needs, including those disenfranchised by racial inequality.
The Art of Equality
In Westport, social activism on behalf of the African American community often found its outlet among the artists for whom the town had become so well known. Illustrator and Westport native, Tracy Sugarman, traveled to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964 to document the Civil Rights Movement. There, he met activist Fannie Lou Hamer, about whom he and filmmaker, Bill Buckley, made a biographical film at Buckley’s Westport home.
African American artists of all disciplines have long found welcome in Westport’s creative community. In 1955, Trinidadian film star, Geoffrey Holder, married fellow dancer, Carmen De Lavallade, at Christ and Holy Trinity Church with a reception at Norwalk’s White Barn Theater. Holder is most known for his role as Baron Samedi in the James Bond film Live and Let Die. Acting legend and activist, Eartha Kitt, lived in nearby Weston while R&B greats Ashford and Simpson maintained an estate on the corner of Bayberry Lane and Cross Highway for over thirty years.
Grammy winner guitarist and producer, Nile Rodgers, still makes Westport his home and has performed at benefits for the Levitt Pavilion and The Westport Library. The latter gave him a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to music. Award-winning playwright, Trey Ellis, is also a Westporter whose work includes the screenplay for The Tuskegee Airmen about the famed all-Black World War 2 Army Air Corps pilots, and the 2018 HBO film, King in the Wilderness, about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for which he served as Executive Producer.
Project Concern Documentary, C. 1970 Digital Media Courtesy TEAM Westport The predecessor to Open Choice, Project Concern was a program implemented in Westport which bused black students from Bridgeport. Both Hartford and New Haven also participated with student from their inner cities. This Psychology Today film follows three black third-grade students in the projects first year in Westport while also tracking community attitudes from Westport and Great Neck, New York—who held a like-minded busing project.
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