1905: Relics on Display

Middletown People See Mementos of Garrison, John Brown and Others.

Middletown, Conn., December 12.–The one hundredth anniversary of the birth of William Lloyd Garrison was observed at the Cross street Zion church on Sunday evening. The principal address was made by Rev. William North Rice, D. D., a professor at Wesleyan University. His father was an old-time Massachusetts Abolitionist and voted for James G. Birney. The address was interesting and instructive. Two bound volumes of the “Massachusetts Abolition” were on exhibition, also a steel engraving of William Lloyd Garrison, made in 1834, inclosed in an old-fashioned 6 x 9 gilt frame; a copy of Lydia M. Child’s “Appeal” (1833); a copy of Boume’s “Picture of Slavery,” published in Middletown in 1834; “Some Recollections of the Anti-Slavery Conflict,” by Rev. Samuel J. May; a copy of The Colored American, New York, 1841, containing an account of the trial of the Amistad captives; and a cane carried by Rev. Jehiel C. Beman while in Boston in 1840 acting as agent of the Anti-Slavery party and publisher of their organ; and a cane and piece of the rafter from the home of John Brown, in this State.

From The New York Age (New York, New York), Thursday, December 14, 1905.

1959: Frat Withdraws In Race Protest

Middletown, Conn., Dec. 3 (AP)–Wesleyan University’s Sigma Nu Fraternity today withdrew from its national organization. The action, a local chapter official said, was in protest of the national’s “white only” membership requirements.

The decision was applauded by University President Victor L. Butterfield, who said:

I am glad that all Wesleyan fraternities are now free of clauses discrimination against students for reasons of race or color.”

From The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), Friday, December 4, 1959.

1893: To Boycott the Girls

Wesleyan University Boys Object to the Fair Sex as Students.

Middletown, Conn., Oct. 24.–When Wesleyan university first opened its doors to young ladies there was no opposition among the young men. The young ladies, however, have so increased in numbers that the boys begin to feel their influence in college affairs, one effect of which is the decline of football, as the girls are not experts at kicking.

Twenty-five percent of the freshmen class this year is of the fair sex, and the ratio in the whole body of students is as one to five. The first evidence of the feeling of the boys was the name “quail,” which signifies a female student at Wesleyan. Webb Hall, the dormitory of the young ladies, is known as “Quail Roost.”

But this is not all. The boys have organized the “P. D. Q.” society, the object of which is to put down the “quails.” The society is secret, and has now only about 100 members, but every young man in college is expected to join.

The method adopted by the “P. D. Q.” society is similar to the boycott. The college girls will not be invited by the college boys to any entertainments. Any college boy seen in the company of a “quail” will be summarily treated. The “quails” are to receive no consideration whatever.

From The Reidsville Review (Reidsville, North Caroline), Friday, October 27, 1893.

1969: Racial Tensions Erupt Into Violence

The summer of 1969 was full of high racial tensions in Middletown, Connecticut. In the mid-sixties, there was a rise of what were considered militant Black activist groups. The white Middletown community followed in the steps of much of the United States and reacted with fear. On the night of June 27th, these tensions began to culminate. Three white men assaulted a young black man as they were driving through an East Main Street neighborhood. This was followed by an incident at the Middletown Shopping Plaza on Washington Street, in which a white youth was stabbed. Violence escalated through the following two nights.

From The Bridgeport Post, Friday, June 27, 1969:

Big Disturbance in Middletown

Middletown, Conn. (AP)–Three persons were arrested in what police termed a “large disturbance” on South Main Street Thursday night.

One person was stabbed and another suffered a broken elbow before the crowd was dispersed.

Police broke up a crowd of black and white youths at a shopping plaza on Washington Street, but the black youngsters reassembled at the south end of Main Street, about a mile away. Several store windows on Main Street were smashed.

An emergency was declared by Police Chief Vincent Marino, and all off-duty officers were recalled to duty. The disturbance was over before midnight.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.

June 7 – Middletown 366


Women Strikers Claw and Bite Police; Troops Called

Middletown (Conn.) Officers Forced to Use Clubs in Subduing Foreign Industrial Workers

Middletown, Conn., June 7.–A clash of 350 striking operatives of the Russell Manufacturing Company with police and deputies, at the mills in South Farms today, brought here later a platoon of cavalrymen from Troop A, Connecticut national guard, to assist the police until the trouble is over.

Practically all the strikers are foreigners, the greater number being women who have joined the Industrial Workers of the World, and under encouragement of the organizers they demanded increased wages and improved working conditions. The strike followed the company’s refusal to recognize the labor organization.

Today’s clash was brought about by the strikers trying to stop others from going into the mills. The women fought the police with finger nails and teeth while showers of stones, bricks and other missiles were thrown by the men. The police finally used their clubs and dispersed the mob after several arrests had been made.

From The Indianapolis Star, June 8, 1912.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaks at Wesleyan University

On this date in 1964, the Rev. Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the baccalaureate address at Wesleyan University, and the University conferred on him an honorary degree of doctor of divinity.  It was one of several visits Dr. King made to Wesleyan in the 1960s–Wesleyan Professor of Religion John Maguire was a close friend of his going  back to their student days.

Dr. King’s speech in 1964 was a powerful call to action–urging graduates to act according to their conscience.  His last visit to Wesleyan was in 1966.

Story contributed by Joyce Kirkpatrick; Kimberly Singh.

April 15 – Middletown 366


Great Day at Middletown

Largest Draw Span Bridge in the World Now Bridges the Connecticut River.

1896 bridge dedication

(Special Dispatch to the Transcript.)

Middletown, Conn., April 15.–At exactly 10 o’clock this morning the new Connecticut river bridge between Middletown and Portland, the largest draw span in the world was opened to traffic. Governor Coffin was present and walked across the bridge. Every bell and every whistle on either side the river sounded, and the event was witnessed by 7000 persons.

From the North Adams Transcript (North Adams, Mass.), Wednesday, April 15, 1896.


Blackface Omitted

Middletown, April 15–(UPI) The Rotary club announced today its annual blackface minstrel show next Saturday will be changed to a variety show because of objections raised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

From The Bridgeport Post (Bridgeport, Connecticut), Saturday, April 15, 1961.


March 15 – Middletown 366


Vigorous Critic of A. M. A.

Veterans’ Hospital Care Defended by Legion’s National Chief.

Old Point Comfort, Va., March 15 (AP)– The national commander of the American Legion has attacked the American Medical Association for its official stand on veterans’ hospitalization and said he is “troubled” that the A. M. A. “should declare war on sick people.”

Arthur J. Connell of Middletown, Conn., spoke at the concluding session of the 2-day spring conference of the Virginia department of the American Legion at the Hotel Chamberlain here.

“In recent months the A. M. A.’s chief spokesmen have been telling the country that the veterans’ hospital program is a big mistake, that it is leading to socialism and worse, that the only solution lies in denying hospital care to patients who cannot prove that their disability is directly related to war service,” said Connell.

Connell said 5,000 patients in thirty-six VA hospitals were questions and less then 2 percent showed the slightest indication of being able to afford private hospitalization.

From the Kansas City Times (Kansas City, Missouri), Tuesday, March 16, 1954.


Main Street Civil Rights March

Over 400 protesters marched on Middletown’s Main Street to stir attention about the Civil Rights Movement in Middletown, Connecticut. This demonstration was preceded by a three-day conference at Wesleyan University, wherein members of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Northern Student Movement gathered together along with hundred Middletown citizens.

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.

EXTRA! February 21, 1969

[Note: Every once in a while a significant story comes to our notice after the date for it has passed. When this happens we will post is as an EXTRA.–Editors of Middletown 366.]

Fisk Hall Takeover

On the morning of February 21, 1969, a group consisting of members of Wesleyan’s Afro-American Society, Wesleyan University students, and Middletown residents barricaded Fisk Hall and demanded the Wesleyan administration’s attention. This group demanded that the university keep to its promise of commitment to the black student population.

The students in this protest had previously requested that classes be cancelled on February 21st in honor of a memorial service for Malcolm X, who had been assassinated on that day in 1965. After the request had been ignored, the Black students and members of the Wesleyan faculty began to rally. The group presented the following statement to the Wesleyan administration on February 21, 1969 as they barricaded the doors of Fisk Hall:

“In occupying Fisk Hall we seek to dramatically expose the university’s infidelity to its professed goals and to question the sincerity of its commitment to meaningful change. We blaspheme and decry that education which is consonant with one cultural frame of reference to the exclusion of all others. As Black students we recognize the dialectical relationship which exists between the educational system which devalues and dehistoricizes Black people by consciously ignoring the accomplishments and contributions of their forbearers to the American tradition, and the political and social system which rejects and oppresses them by depriving them of their rights as American citizens.”

The list of demands included fourteen items concerning the welfare and educational rights of the Black students of Wesleyan University.

The events of this day and the show of civil disobedience were recreated in a short film named “FISK TAKEOVER” by a group of Wesleyan students in 2014.  [Note: there is occasional strong language in this film that may be offensive to some.]

Story contributed by Kimberly Singh.

1898: Henry Clay Work Monument Planned

“The movement in G. A. R. circles to erect a monument over the grave of Henry Clay Work, at Hartford, Conn., revives the fact that his father was once confined in the Missouri penitentiary on the charge of aiding slaves to escape from the state of Missouri to Illinois. When the elder Work was released one of the conditions of his pardon was that he should return to the state of Connecticut, whence he came originally, and remain there for the rest of his natural life. This obligation he faithfully kept. The son, Henry C. Work, was born at Middletown, Conn., and saw the end of American slavery, while hundreds of thousands of soldiers and citizens sang his “Marching Through Georgia” and “The Year of Jubilee.”– From The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Penn.), Feb. 15, 1898.

Alanson Work anti-slavery petition
Anti-slavery petition signed by Alanson Work, Henry Clay Work’s father.