The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories
Repository: Bridgeport Public Library. Bridgeport History Center
Collection Description (CRHP): Towards the end of the interviews, the subjects were asked about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the events of the 1960s. Three interview subjects, in particular, discussed NAACP or civil rights initiatives related to their employment during the 1950s: Jennings, Marion; Johnson, James; and Frye, Bessie.
Collection Description (Extant): In 1977, a dedicated group of African American teachers decided to record the history of Black Bridgeporters in the residents’ own words. The Afro-American Education Association (hereafter AAEA) petitioned the CT Humanities Council for funds and technical support. The introduction to the AAEA recorded history states “This project is a study of the changes in Bridgeport neighborhoods from the viewpoint of selected Black residents during the historical periods of World War I, the Depression, World War II, and the 1960’s.”
During the time of the oral history gathering, the AAEA consisted of African American teachers who worked in the Bridgeport public school system, were living and/or engaged in the community, and had a vital interest in the black population. That interest extended beyond the history of the people to the health, welfare, and advancement of the people. So it was against the backdrop of the 1970s: a time rooted in community, and promising the realization of “The Dream” that this historian sat down to interview Ms. Frances Judson, past president of the AAEA and Chairperson of the Committee that spearheaded the oral history project.
Ms. Frances Judson is known as Sister Judson at First Baptist Church of Stratford, where she has served in the Music Ministry for many years. Ms. Judson invites me to take a seat in the choir loft before the closing ceremonies of a summer Vacation Bible School program. It is a peaceful and reflective moment before the rush of students comes to celebrate the lessons they’ve learned with their classroom teachers, and sing the songs taught to them by Sis. Judson. She was a Music teacher in the Bridgeport public school system, rotating at schools across the district before teaching at Read and retiring after a long tenure at Park City Magnet. Ms. Judson views the project endeavor as well as its contents as historic, given that the oral histories were made into Black History Kits for grades 5-8, and were adaptable to a high school curriculum.
The oral history project catalogued as Black History Kits was compiled by the Afro-American Educators Association between 1977 and *1983. While the existing audiotapes might be too fragile for patrons’ use, the transcripts are rich primary source materials. Individually and as a body of work, these oral histories capture the voices of the people, and the tenor of the times.
Access Copy Note: The recordings are on audio cassette only. Due to the condition of the cassettes, the library will only allow researchers to use the transcripts until digitization takes place and long-term digital preservation requirements have been met.
Collection URL: http://bportlibrary.org/hc/neighborhoods/black-bridgeporters/
Digital Status: No
Extent: 23 transcripts; approximately 23 audio cassettes
Related Archival Items: The archive also has the collection Bridgeport Working: Voices from the 20th Century at www.bridgeporthistory.org. It provides important contextual info for understanding the civil rights movement by addressing racism in the workplace and race relations in Bridgeport. It also addresses more generally working conditions in Bridgeport as well as labor unions, ethnic relations, and women workers there.
Interviewees: Marion Jennings, James Johnson, Bessie Frye
Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights
African Americans--Civil rights--Connecticut
Civil rights movements--Connecticut
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
World War, 1939-1945--Participation, African American