History of a Holiday

Black History Month: Monday, February 1st to Monday, March 1st

Source: Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH)

The story of Black History Month begins in Chicago during the summer of 1915. An alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city, Carter G. Woodson traveled from Washington, D.C. to participate in a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation sponsored by the state of Illinois.

Thousands of African Americans travelled from across the country to see exhibits highlighting progress their people had made since the destruction of slavery. Woodson joined the other exhibitors with a black history display. Despite being held at the Coliseum, an overflow crowd of six to twelve thousand waited outside for their turn to view the exhibits.

Inspired by the three-week celebration, Woodson decided to form an organization to promote the scientific study of black life and history before leaving town. On September 9th, Woodson with A. L. Jackson and three others, formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH).

As early as 1920, Woodson urged black civic organizations to promote the achievements that researchers were uncovering. A member of Omega Psi Phi, he urged his fraternity brothers to take up the work. In 1924, they responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week.

Their outreach was significant, but Woodson desired greater impact. “We are going back to that beautiful history and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. Going forward it would both create and popularize knowledge about the black past. He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February, 1926.

Woodson chose February for reasons of tradition and reform. It is commonly said that Woodson selected February to encompass the birthdays of two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, whose
birthdays are the 12th and the 14th, respectively.

More importantly, he chose them for reasons of tradition. Since Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the black community, along with other Republicans, had been celebrating the fallen President’s birthday. And since the late 1890s, black communities across the country had been celebrating Douglass’. Well aware of the pre-existing celebrations, Woodson built Negro History Week around traditional days of commemorating the black past. He was asking the public to extend their study of black history, not to create a new tradition. In doing so, he increased his chances for success.

Yet Woodson was up to something more than building on tradition, he aimed to reform it from the study of two great men to a great race. Though he admired both men, Woodson had never been fond of the celebrations held in their honor.

He railed against the “ignorant spellbinders” who addressed large, convivial gatherings and displayed their lack of knowledge about the men and their contributions to history. More importantly, Woodson believed that history was made by the people, not simply or primarily by great men.

He envisioned the study and celebration of the Negro as a race, not simply as the producers of a great man. And Lincoln, however great, had not freed the slaves—the Union Army, including hundreds of thousands of black soldiers and sailors, had done that. Rather than focusing on two men, the black community, he believed, should focus on the countless black men and women who had contributed to the advance of human civilization.

From the beginning, Woodson was overwhelmed by the response to his call. Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and before the public. The 1920s was the decade of the New Negro, a name given to the Post-War I generation because of its rising racial pride and consciousness.

Urbanization and industrialization had brought over a million African Americans from the rural South into big cities of the nation. The expanding black middle class became participants in and consumers of black literature and culture. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites stepped and endorsed the efforts.

Woodson and the Association scrambled to meet the demand. They set a theme for the annual celebration, and provided study materials—pictures, lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of important dates and people. Provisioned with a steady flow of knowledge, high schools in progressive communities formed Negro History Clubs. To serve the desire of history buffs to participate in the re-education of black folks and the nation, ASNLH formed branches that stretched from coast to coast. As black populations grew, mayors issued Negro History Week proclamations, and in cities like Syracuse progressive whites joined Negro History Week with National Brotherhood Week.  Like most ideas that resonate with the spirit of the times, Negro History Week proved to be more dynamic than Woodson or the Association could control.

By the 1930s, Woodson complained about the intellectual charlatans, black and white, popping up everywhere seeking to take advantage of the public interest in black history. He warned teachers not to invite speakers who had less knowledge than the students themselves.

Increasingly publishing houses that had previously ignored black topics and authors rushed to put books on the market and in the schools. Instant experts appeared everywhere, and non-scholarly works appeared from “mushroom presses.” In America, nothing popular escapes either commercialization or eventual trivialization, and so Woodson, the constant reformer, had his hands full in promoting celebrations worthy of the people who had made the history.

Well before his death in 1950, Woodson believed that the weekly celebrations—not the study or celebration of black history–would eventually come to an end. In fact, Woodson never viewed black history as a one-week affair. He pressed for schools to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year. In the same vein, he established a black studies extension program to reach adults throughout the year. It was in this sense that blacks would learn of their past on a daily basis that he looked forward to the time when an annual celebration would no longer be necessary.

Generations before Morgan Freeman and other advocates of all-year commemorations, Woodson believed that black history was too important to America and the world to be crammed into a limited time frame. He spoke of a shift from Negro History Week to Negro History Year.

In the 1940s, efforts began slowly within the black community to expand the study of black history in the schools and black history celebrations before the public. In the South, black teachers often taught Negro History as a supplement to United States history. One early beneficiary of the movement reported that his teacher would hide Woodson’s textbook beneath his desk to avoid drawing the wrath of the principal.

During the Civil Rights Movement in the South, the Freedom Schools incorporated black history into the curriculum to advance social change. The Negro History movement was an intellectual insurgency that was part of every larger effort to transform race relations.

The 1960s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month.

The shift to a month-long celebration began even before Dr. Woodson death. As early as 1940s, blacks in West Virginia, a state where Woodson often spoke, began to celebrate February as Negro History Month. In Chicago, a now forgotten cultural activist, Fredrick H. Hammaurabi, started celebrating Negro History Month in the mid-1960s. Having taken an African name in the 1930s, Hammaurabi used his cultural center, the House of Knowledge, to fuse African consciousness with the study of the black past.

By the late 1960s, as young blacks on college campuses became increasingly conscious of links with Africa, Black History Month replaced Negro History Week at a quickening pace. Within the Association, younger intellectuals, part of the awakening, prodded Woodson’s organization to change with the times.

They succeeded. In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history.

Since the mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme. What Carter G. Woodson would say about the continued celebrations is unknown, but he would smile on all honest efforts to make black history a field of serious study and provide the public with thoughtful celebrations.

Education Information for All

Stratford Board of Education Meeting: 1/26/2021

By Michael Suntag

The Stratford Board of Education met at its monthly meeting on the evening of 1/26/2021. Monthly meetings are the last Monday of each month and are held virtually.

During the public forum, 2 speakers presented to the Board. A representative of the Stratford Education Association urged the board to deliberate with caution about opening schools 4 days a week. He spoke to President Biden’s plan for testing and ventilation in order to get students back to school asking why this plan is going into effect now when Our schools do not have testing for all students and in some schools that do not have proper ventilation. He cited cases being higher here than in England where schools have been closed down.

The second speaker, Harold Grace, called in support of the plan to institute an increase in half day Wednesdays for k-8 so that teachers can have time to have structured collaborative time. This would be full day for teachers and half days for students. Time would be used to connect with students who have curriculum needs, to do collaborative planning necessary because of the need to develop new strategies for students caused by school changes in response to COVID-19. Brian Darcey stated that this is beneficial for students and staff – it is not a time off – they are doing more than on non-traditional days – they connect with students who have hard times to connect normally – they connect with tutors, teachers, special projects are definitely a need. Half day for students and full day for teachers.

The Board approved Wednesday half days to begin in two weeks.

Dr. Robinson provided her Superintendent’s Executive Summary Report. She spoke about the State school safety plans being submitted on time. School system is now in complete compliance. Some schools have student cases of positive tests and teacher absences. Dr. Robinson spoke about the protocols that are utilized in each school including daily check in where those with symptoms are flagged to a nurse so they can administer a rapid test. Findings are that students who have positive tests are not picking it up in schools. Teachers are not eligible for vaccinations yet as they do not fall within the 1b cycle.

The Board approved roof replacements and New Solar Arrays for Chapel, Second Hill, Wooster, Bunnell, Stratford Academy and Johnson House.

The Board also approved new curriculum including: Conversations on Race Course, African/Black/Puerto Rican/Latino Studies, College Algebra 2/MAT 120 and Chemistry 2.

Board approved 2 days as snow days. Anything over 2 days will revert to remote learning. Board member stated that there has been four times more students quarantined this week than last. Students are finding it hard to deal with the changes.

Discussion ensued on the social/emotional needs of students. Dr. Robinson spoke about all the work the schools are doing on attending to social/emotional needs of student. There was also discussion about the social/emotional needs of teachers.

Many teachers fear being in schools when there is community spread. Dr. Robinson pointed to the existing mitigations: masks, hand washing, shields, social distance. There is a process for catching those with symptoms and on contract tracing. When teachers can get vaccinated, there will be less concern.

A Board member spoke about her concern for the high school level where student groups are isolated and unsupervised.

Questions were also raised about developing additional strategies for use of virtual programs and for improving the level of academics for those on remote learning including use of a virtual academy model. Dr. Robinson replied that with the changing numbers of students in and out of school it would be hard to develop that type of program as well as with certification issues.

Questions were raised about specific responses to improving instruction virtually. The need for a specific plan or a response to pilot is critical. There needs to be a way to increase learning while children re remotely learning. Why this has not happened over the last several months is problematical according to two board members.

Graduation is set for June 15th . State has mandated that it must happen on that day.

Discussion about students who have been found to be in the wrong school districts. Three students have been identified and work continues on finding those illegally attending Stratford Schools.

Budget preparation workshop begin on Thursday 1/28/2021. The Superintendent search committee is continuing their search and met on Wednesday 1/27/2021.

Tea for Two (or more)

Open Door Tea

By Sally Head

Open Door Tea, located at 3552 Main Street, Stratford, is a quaint, little tea shop that serves tea, coffee, fresh juices and delightful delicacies- with gluten-free and vegan options.

Open Door Tea, literally opened its door in 2016 and has been serving tea and homemade food ever since. The owner, Kasia Lindeberg, who has her Masters in Human Nutrition, had a passion of merging her knowledge of the healthful benefits of herbs and teas to bringing the community together, so in September of 2016, her dream became reality.

According to Lindeberg, her passion in life is to drink from all over the world and to spread the good news and the health benefits of tea. Opening Open Door Tea was an expansion of her dream to serve good food, using only pure ingredients, to help people maintain their good health.

Currently Open Door Tea is only open for takeout. Customers can still enter the shop to place their orders, or they can call the shop directly at (203) 345-9659 for curbside pickup. You can also order from a take-out app, e.g. Uber Eats or GrubHub. You can also book a virtual Tea Tasting Party, a fun and educational way to learn more about teas: where they come from, how to serve them, and even how to bake with them (teas are versatile and not just for sipping).

These guided tea tasting can be for small or large group gathering. According to Lindenberg, “they are a great way to learn about teas and the areas they come from. Everyone enjoys the teas tasting and tea tours.”

All teas served are sourced from a variety of small farms from around the world, especially in the tea regions, China, and India, or they are carefully blended inhouse to create a unique tea experience. With over 100 tea varieties, you are sure you will find a tea you like.

Before Covid, you would be able to get a whiff of your tea to make sure you like it, now you can rely on the knowledge of the staff to answer any of your tea questions. There are also varying types of tea such as black, green, Rooibis, and white tea. If this is not your “cup of tea” they also have coffee or fresh juice.

Of course you cannot have a tea without a scrumptious treat or a light meal. At Open Door, they serve pastries, sandwiches, salads, soups, quiches and other small delicacies. Check out their menu by visiting: https://opendoortea.com/pages/menu.

Open Door is a great place to get a nice afternoon pick me up or even an early morning breakfast. The knowledgeable staff welcomes your questions and concerns, especially when it come to allergies, and food sensitivities. They cover them all as best as they can.

Lindeberg saw her tea room as a way to bring the community together to live, learn and love. Even the name of the tea shop came as an inspiration from the bible verse in Revelation 3:20. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.” As Ms. Lindeberg shares, “we are an open door to all to enter and I look forward to opening my doors again soon for everyone to come back and dine in.”

Open Door Tea is currently open Monday-Saturday 11-4 pm. Take out only. For more information visit http://opendoortea.com/.

Statement on the Statewide Property Tax Proposal

by State Senator Kevin Kelly
21st District

Connecticut Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford), Senate Republican Leader Pro Tempore Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) and Senator Henri Martin (R-Bristol) issued the following statements regarding the Connecticut Senate Democrat leader’s proposal to create a new statewide property tax:

Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) said, “Connecticut Democrats’ solutions, tolls, gas taxes, and insurance taxes, always target middle class families’ wallets.  Now, they are coming after the middle class family home.  During this pandemic, middle class families are struggling financially and need our help, not more burdens.  The progressive left agenda of Connecticut Democrats will make it more difficult for middle class families to live, work and raise a family.  It shows just how tone- deaf they are to the middle class.”

Senate Republican Leader Pro Tempore Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) said, “Like every Connecticut resident, I have experienced the ever increasing burdens the majority has imposed by taxes and fees over the years. As a Senator, First Selectman, homeowner and small business owner I oppose Senator Looney’s proposals to levy yet another tax on our homes and our businesses and his proposal to take away local control and regionalize school districts. These policies will only hurt the middle class, the same people the majority party claims to care about.”

Senator Henri Martin (R-Bristol), who is the Ranking Senator on the legislative Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee added, “I am overwhelmed by calls and emails from my constituents asking for assistance for all the challenges they are currently facing.
While the pandemic related burdens are new, Connecticut’s financial crisis has been around for many years. It’s time to stand up, say ‘enough’ and start supporting policies that can help put the state and its residents back on a path to financial stability to end
the state’s anemic economy.”

Proposed Statewide Property Tax Proposal
Source: Stratford Patch

CONNECTICUT — State Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney (D-New Haven) has proposed a set of property tax reform proposals aimed at reducing the economic disparity in Connecticut.

Looney proposed a statewide 1 mill ($1 tax per $1,000 assessed value) on properties worth $430,000 or more. The proposed formula would exempt the first $300,000 of assessed value; homes in Connecticut are assessed at 70 percent of their fair market value, which works out to around $430,000.

Homeowners with a home valued at $500,000 would pay $50 annually and those who own a $1 million home would pay $400, Looney said.

“We have such a great disparity and a great inequity in the property tax of the state of Connecticut that has really held us back in so many was in terms of economic development,” Looney said during a news conference about the proposals.

The money would then go back to help property tax relief to help municipalities that have high tax rates. The tax would raise around $73.5 million, he said. The exact mechanism of how taxes would be applied to residences and commercial properties would have. “This isn’t necessarily raising taxes across the board, this is targeting tax reform,” he said.

Municipalities in Connecticut derive most of their operating revenue from property taxes on residential and commercial property, but the system has long been considered regressive because it doesn’t take into account an owner’s ability to pay. The issue is more apparent when looking at the motor vehicle tax system where the same exact vehicle is taxed at a much higher rate in New Haven than it is in Greenwich.

Legislative Republican leaders criticized the proposal and said the tax would affect many middle-class families. “It hits all communities,” state Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly said at a news conference. “This isn’t like your mansions down in southwestern Fairfield County only. A $400,000 home is in every single town.” House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora said new taxes would only increase economic anxiety during an unpredictable time with the pandemic. “It’s disturbing that we see these type of proposals cropping up, more taxation on our Connecticut residents and our families,” he said.

Property owned by non-profits such as colleges and hospital systems are exempt as are properties owned by the state. This hits New Haven especially hard because around 60% of property is tax-exempt, according to the New Haven Independent.

Looney also proposed a bill that would reform the state’s payment in lieu of taxes program, which reimburses municipalities for non-taxable property owned by non-profit colleges, hospitals and the state itself. There would be three tiers of reimbursement that take into account the fiscal health of a community, but under the bill all towns would stand to gain at least a little more than they currently get in reimbursement, Looney said.

The tier system would be tied to the net grand list (all taxable property) per capita. Communities with a per capita grand list of $100,000 would get 50 percent reimbursement while the middle tier would get 40 percent and the last tier would get 30 percent. The program would cost the state an additional $144 million annually.

Currently, communities get the same reimbursement amount regardless of their status. Greenwich gets the same reimbursement level for Greenwich Hospital that New Haven gets for Yale-New Haven Hospital, Looney said.

Looney pointed out that Greenwich has a net grand list per capita of $734,000 while New Britain has a per capita grand list of $50,000. There are more than 30 communities that have a per capita grand list below $100,000.

Representative McGorty Asks for a Public Debate on Governor’s Emergency Powers

by State Rep. Ben McGorty
122nd District

“I sent the following letter to Democratic legislative leaders asking that the 10 members of the Public Health Emergency Committee meet to debate the Governor’s extension of his Public Health and Civil-Preparedness Emergencies. I believe strongly that it is the job of this state’s legislature to write new legislation and alter existing laws, not the Governor. I also disagree with those who believe the Governor needs the emergency declarations extended to respond to COVID-19, as he can still issue executive orders relating to testing, vaccinations, and other needs if those declarations are allowed to expire.

I agree with the assessment of my colleagues, Republic leaders Rep. Candelora (R-86) and Sen. Kelly (R-21) that “it is not unreasonable to ask for certain modifications to the exercise of the Governor’s authority. Businesses should be provided more time to adjust to government’s ever-changing restrictions, and government should respect people’s right to exercise their religion again.”

COVID-19 Testing Site – Stratford

Do School Systems Have Implied Biais?

Unequal Educational Disparities Feb 4th Discussion

by Stratford Citizens Addressing Racial Equity (CARE)

How can we come together to make Stratford stronger and healthier for all? Join CARE for a series of Zoom conversations led by trained facilitators from Raising the BAR, a program of The Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport. Learn from thought- provoking videos, articles and podcasts how racism has shaped our environment. Then work in small groups to discuss ways we can unite to take action, heal divides and make a difference…right here at home.

As a town-sponsored citizen coalition, we work to make Stratford stronger and more inclusive by fostering racial equity in education, leadership and policing. For over 10 years, our CARE Action Teams have partnered to build relationships, identify opportunities and bring people together for open dialogue.

Learn More and Register: StratfordCare.org/Courage

Stratford Food Banks

Drive-Thru Food Pantry

Holy Name of Jesus Church
1950 Barnum Avenue, Stratford CT

Tuesday, February 9, 3:00 – 4:00 PM

To encourage social distancing and help limit the spread of COVID-19, the Stratford Health Department, CT Food Bank, and
Holy Name of Jesus Church have partnered to offer a drive-thru food pantry. We ask for all those attending the drive-thru pantry to adhere to the following directions:

  • Stay in your car at all times
  • Pop your trunk (if possible)
  • A pre-selected bag of food will be placed in your car
  • One bag per car

The Holy Name of Jesus Drive-Thru food pantry serves, on average, 270 families at the pantry each month. Yes, there is food insecurity in Stratford, as you can see, we have hundreds of cars line up to receive food. If you are in need for food come to the February 9th drive-thru. You enter the line for the food by going down Mary Avenue, making a left on Edwin, and a right on College Street. The entrance to the drive-thru in on College Street.

Food Assistance Programs for Older Adults

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing difficulty accessing food during the COVID-19 health pandemic, please contact Stratford Senior Services at (203) 385-4050 for a phone screening to determine what food assistance programs are available to assist you.


Letter to the Editor: Correction

Editor’s Note:
In last week’s edition we inadvertently left out of Tom Dillon’s Thank You letter to Stratford residents that participated in the inaugural Shakespeare Winter Market a shout out to Stratford resident Suzanne Kachmar of www.citylightsgallery.org and www.bridgeport-art-trail.org for generously donating the funds to provide live entertainment.

“The Power of Diverse Voices: In Their Words”

New Signs Added to Anti-Racism Display

by Tom Holehan
Public Relations & Programming at the Stratford Library

The Stratford Library, 2203 Main Street in Stratford has extended the viewing period of its lawn sign exhibit Entitled “The Power of Diverse Voices: In Their Words“, which debuted last November, through February 2021.

The exhibit is a project of the Library Board’s newly formed Anti-Racism committee and features select quotations from people of color on over 50 lawn signs gracing the Library’s Main Street and rear entrances.  The words of Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Harriet Tubman, Caesar Chavez and many others have now been joined by 30 more signs that include quotes by Frederick Douglass, Beyonce, Michael Jordan, James Baldwin, Kamala Harris, Stevie Wonder and Alice Walker.

The project is the first of several programs dealing with racism and implicit bias planned by the Library in conjunction with CARE (Citizens Addressing Racial Equity), Sterling House Community Center, the Town of Stratford and the Arts Alliance of Stratford.  There is also a lobby display providing brief biographies about all the authors. Those seeking further information can also visit the Library’s website at: http://stratfordlibrary.org/anti-racism-reading-list-resources/.

In conjunction with the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the Stratford Library Teen Department is inviting friends and families to come to the lawn exhibit and take a selfie next to their favorite sign. The ASALH theme for “Black History Month” is The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity which runs February 1 thru March 1. Photos should be submitted to the Teen Department (tneville@stratfordlibrary.org) which is creating a collage of faces to augment the exhibit.

Stratford Library Board Anti-Racism Statement

Stratford is a town with a growing minority population. We unequivocally condemn all forms of violence against Black, Latinos, Indigenous, and all people of color. The library believes it is important to come forward and publicly state that we believe Black lives matter. Libraries are often considered neutral spaces but the Stratford Library is far from neutral on the issue of racism. We can proudly say that the mission of the library “…to empower and enrich our diverse community by providing access to innovative services, information, and ideas” is one that seeks to directly combat divisiveness, ignorance, hate, and racism in our community.

Adopted by the Stratford Library Board, September 17, 2020

For further information, call: 203.385.4162.