This is the story of African American Westporters from earliest settlement to today. It is a reclamation of hidden truths of heritage–how the long fingers of ancestry in New England reach far back into the histories of not just white families, but black ones too. Here in Westport, as in larger Fairfield County, the State of Connecticut and New England at large, African American lives intertwined with the lives of the European colonists who later became the only acknowledged citizens of the Republic.

The first African Americans in this town were enslaved people, with a few free people of color making their way in a world where there was little, if any protection under the law. But long after slavery ended, these families continued— many eventually leaving Westport for towns with larger black populations. But some remained, stretching their roots deeper into the soil, quietly keeping purchase on the land that once bound them, this time in new iterations–as landowners, as journeymen, as survivors–as respected citizens. They paved the way for waves of African Americans coming as part of the First and Second Great Migrations of the early 20th century. They worked on the docks, in the estate houses, shops and farms. African American Westporters were educators, artists, activists and freedom fighters.

On this tour we remember the contributions of African Americans to Westport, to Connecticut and to America. Select a topic area to see associated objects, explore resources and learn about the often forgotten group of people who shaped Westport, America and the World.

Some materials and images contain sensitive material and language. Please use discretion with younger viewers.

Suggested Readings

Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut: A true Story of Freedom by Venture Smith & Elizabeth J. Normen (Children’s Nonfiction)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA Fiction)

“The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret” George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon by Mary V. Thompson (Nonfiction)

The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha (Nonfiction)

Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston (Nonfiction)

Throughout the virtual exhibit questions, like the one below, will be posed that we encourage viewers to answer in the comment section.

What can we learn from the African American history of Westport, Fairfield County and the United States?

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