The Shoeleather History Project

Stories from Hartford's Grassroots

The ABC of Freedom

After the American Civil War, a handful of courageous Hartford volunteers took part in a brief but critical moment that held a promise of healing the nation.  One of those … Continue reading

Featured · 1 Comment

Teaching Working Class History to Our Kids

Beginning in 2018, Connecticut schools gained a new resource to teach students about the history of the American working class.  Centuries of struggle by workers and their unions to build … Continue reading

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OUR STORIES: Ivan Valentin and the Connecticut Connection. Fight Back!

Originally posted on furbirdsqueerly:
NOTE: Some language terms in this article are terms that were used in 1975-1976 which have been replaced in Queerdom since then. Bear with these terms…

October 24, 2018 · 1 Comment

“Beer is Proof that God Loves Us and Wants Us to Be Happy”

Reaching all the way back to the 1600s, Connecticut was first a colony made up of three towns: Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford.  In 1662 a royal charter from British king … Continue reading

October 17, 2018 · Leave a comment

Upcoming Film: BISBEE ’17

BISBEE ’17 is a film by director Robert Greene set in Bisbee, Arizona, an eccentric old mining town just miles away from both Tombstone and the Mexican border. Combining documentary … Continue reading

September 7, 2018 · Leave a comment

Hartford Federal College, Experiment in Democracy

It has long been a common belief that free public education is the bedrock of democracy. Thomas Jefferson believed an educated citizenry was vital for our survival as a free … Continue reading

August 26, 2018 · Leave a comment

Dorothy Day’s New Society

She was a women’s suffragist, arrested in 1917 at a White House protest, but she may never have voted. In spite of that paradox, Dorothy Day lived a singular life … Continue reading

August 14, 2018 · 1 Comment

War Resister: the Odyssey of Ulysses

Thirty-seven million people were killed in World War l from 1914 to 1918, including 1,100 from Connecticut.  The United States armed forces averaged 297 casualties a day. Here was a … Continue reading

May 5, 2018 · Leave a comment

Der Arbeiter Ring : The Workmen’s Circle

  The New Britain branch of the Workmen’s Circle applauded the death of the Czar’s henchman, Imperial Police director Vyacheslav von Plehve, who had disbanded labor unions and failed to … Continue reading

April 6, 2018 · 2 Comments

“It is a Subterranean Fire”

The police wagon, pulled by two large, galloping horses, thundered toward the rioting protesters. Its target was a group of socialists and anarchists– “red ruffians” who railed against big business … Continue reading

January 11, 2018 · Leave a comment

Fascists Uncovered: A New Civil War?

Are we heading for a civil war in this country? Frankly, I don’t think so. But if we fail to oppose racist and fascist actions like those in Charlottesville, Va., … Continue reading

October 29, 2017 · 1 Comment

Serving Up Justice: Black Waiters Organize

Me and a man was workin’ side by side This is what it meant They was payin’ him a dollar an hour And they was payin’ me fifty cent They … Continue reading

October 2, 2017 · 1 Comment


“Conniving bosses, predatory landlords, and political intrigue; every city has its wicked side, but not every city has a proper critic to chronicle it. In loving detail, Thornton remaps the city, locating its rollicking beer halls, crowded opium dens, and casinos of yesteryear as well as the notorious jails, poor houses, and smallpox quarantines which have long since

September 11, 2017 · 4 Comments

Hartford Challenges “The Birth of a Nation”

Can a movie change history? The Birth of a Nation did. The original 1915 film fomented racial bigotry and consciously distorted the history of the post-Civil War era. D. W. … Continue reading

August 18, 2017 · 2 Comments

Labor Family Beats Garment Boss

This is the story of two Hartford families: one that rose to the top of the economic and social ladder by cheating their employees and putting them in danger every … Continue reading

July 15, 2017 · 4 Comments

Lesbian Community Says NO: Beating the 1970s Grand Jury System

In 1970, American students shut down hundreds of schools and universities across the nation after the illegal U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the killings of four young people at Kent … Continue reading

June 29, 2017 · 1 Comment

Godzilla is Really, Really Hard to Kill: the Millstone Around Our Necks

Nuclear power was once considered “too cheap to meter.” The “peaceful atom” was a spurious claim spread by nuke proponents, with little public opposition, after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima … Continue reading

June 21, 2017 · Leave a comment

Queer Power, from Stonewall to Hartford

Hartford’s first gay liberation group decides that ‘coming out’ means direct action and if necessary, confrontation with the police. On September 3, 1971, eleven Kalos Society members are arrested while … Continue reading

June 5, 2017 · 3 Comments

Connecticut’s Longest Labor Strike

The Colt Firearms factory has been producing guns since the 1800s, from pistols to Gatling guns and the M-16 (now the M4 carbine). The Colt name is known worldwide. Workers … Continue reading

February 23, 2017 · Leave a comment

Telling People’s History: Interview with Steve Thornton

  Steve Thornton has been an activist in Hartford since moving there in the 1970’s after graduating from the University of Connecticut. He worked for many years for the Hartford-based … Continue reading

February 3, 2017 · Leave a comment

How Should We Remember World War I ?

How should World War I be remembered? Connecticut libraries and historical groups are now gearing up for this year’s 100th anniversary of April 6, 1917– the day we entered the … Continue reading

February 2, 2017 · Leave a comment

What Would Jay Gould Do About Police Unions?

  When railroad mogul Jay Gould beat the Knights of Labor in 1886, he revealed his strategy. “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other … Continue reading

February 2, 2017 · Leave a comment

It Can’t Happen Here

On Oct. 27, 1936, Connecticut theater-goers watched  It Can’t Happen Here, performed by the Federal Theater Project, one of the New Deal’s progressive jobs programs. The Nobel prize winner Sinclair … Continue reading

November 22, 2016 · 2 Comments

Children of the Original Wobblies

Connecticut produced plenty of courageous members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Some of their children and grandchildren are still around, and they have good memories. As Utah Philips said, a long memory is a dangerous weapon…

August 20, 2016 · Leave a comment

With Black Lives at Stake, Words Matter

  Quiet down, class.  It’s time to review some definitions.  This time, let’s focus on current events: “Black Lives Matter.”  Here’s a phrase that has been incorrectly defined with increasing … Continue reading

July 28, 2016 · 2 Comments

Texas Millionaires Booted from a Company Town

Waterbury, Connecticut is a company town, but in 2013 union members and neighborhood activists won their two-year battle to change that. The “Brass City” is not the industrial fortress it … Continue reading

July 25, 2016 · Leave a comment

The Gilded Age: Sons of Hartford’s 1%

The boys at the Hartford Wheel Club had a great idea: they would organize a party and dress up like poor people! And so on January 20, 1893 the “Hard … Continue reading

July 2, 2016 · 2 Comments

We March with Jesse Jackson to Rebuild America

Hartford and Bridgeport have long been known as the poorest cities in the country, but there is another statistic that completes the poverty picture. At the state’s southern tip is … Continue reading

July 2, 2016 · 1 Comment

“Our Mission is Not Violence But Freedom”

On a warm summer day in 1955, fifteen domestic workers– maids, cooks and chauffeurs– packed into a small apartment in a Hartford public housing project. It was a Thursday, the … Continue reading

June 25, 2016 · 2 Comments

Theater for the 99%

On stage at Bridgeport’s Park Theater in the fall of 1944 stood “Republico, The Little Mechanical Man.” He was an empty-headed dummy that the stage barker described as “handy, dandy, … Continue reading

June 25, 2016 · Leave a comment

On Memorial Day, No Business as Usual

I took this photo with my Instamatic on October 15, 1969. I was in Hartford at the anti-war demonstration known as the Vietnam Moratorium. That day, 90,000 people at protests … Continue reading

June 4, 2016 · 2 Comments

Everyday Heroes Fight for Patient Care

If it is true that the test of a society is how well it cares for its most vulnerable people, then Bridgeport’s health care workers can be proud of the … Continue reading

June 4, 2016 · Leave a comment

“Something to Show for Our Work:” The Unemployed Organize

Brainard Field may well be the country’s first municipal airport. Located in a former cow pasture in southeast Hartford, Brainard opened in 1921. The era’s greatest aviators– Amelia Earhart and … Continue reading

June 4, 2016 · Leave a comment

Steam Punk History: Low-Tech Storytelling in the Digital Age

Uncovering history is one thing; presenting it effectively is another. Even in the digital age, there are “low tech” methods that can be used to aid greater public understanding of important people, places and events.

May 7, 2016 · Leave a comment

The Rebel Girl on May Day

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn celebrated May Day with Connecticut textile workers on May 1, 1912. This little-known speech was a special moment, uniting the radical idealism of the Industrial Workers of the … Continue reading

April 30, 2016 · 1 Comment

Fascism in Fashion

Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy during the 1920s and he is credited with developing modern- day fascism. For many people, the ideology did not carry a negative connotation … Continue reading

April 22, 2016 · 1 Comment

Speaking Under an Open Sky: Frederick Douglass in Hartford

The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass had significant ties to Connecticut. He visited Hartford many times, spoke to appreciative crowds, and dined with elected officials. Douglass had his portrait taken by … Continue reading

April 22, 2016 · 6 Comments

Young Boot Blacks Struggle to Survive

A story circulated in Hartford toward the end of the 19th century about a young boot black who worked on a steamship. Perhaps he found the competition on dry land … Continue reading

February 27, 2016 · 1 Comment

The Teenager Who Saved the Amistad Capitves

James B. Covey was only fourteen years old when Josiah Gibbs found him working on the New York docks. Gibbs was one of the Connecticut abolitionists determined to free the … Continue reading

January 8, 2016 · Leave a comment

Puerto Rico, Our Experiment in Colonialism

Puerto Rico is in a severe economic crisis, and Connecticut shares some of the responsibility. After all, we made the island what it is today: a colony. Not a colony in … Continue reading

January 8, 2016 · 1 Comment

Refugee Crisis, Then and Now

The good people of Connecticut are terrified that society will be overrun by the dangerous, ignorant foreigners and their strange religion. Politicians fan the flames of prejudice to increase their … Continue reading

November 28, 2015 · Leave a comment

Hartford’s City Mother

The small plaque in the south corner of the State Capitol identifies the names of early 20th century Connecticut women who campaigned for the right to vote. One of those … Continue reading

November 13, 2015 · 1 Comment

Deeds, Not Words: Emmeline Pankhurst Speaks to Hartford

The British campaign to win the vote for women was led in large measure by Emmeline Pankhurst. She spoke to a Hartford audience in 1913 (see below). Her presentation is … Continue reading

November 8, 2015 · Leave a comment

Original Wobbly

I met the daughter of Pierce T. Wetter in August. Pierce was an original Wobbly. He was arrested in 1917 in a nationwide roundup of more than one hundred IWW … Continue reading

November 7, 2015 · 1 Comment

Beatrice Longman Breaks the Mold

Connecticut has no shortage of war memorials and statues featuring prominent business and political leaders. The celebration of the state’s ordinary working people, however, is almost nowhere to be found. … Continue reading

September 29, 2015 · 1 Comment

Remembering Butch Lewis

One friend of Butch’s called him the Pastor of Hartford’s North End. “A pastor is a shepherd, and everyone came to Butch with their problems.” With other Vietnam vets Butch started the Black Panther Party in Hartford. He never became a politician, never used his reputation for fame.

September 29, 2015 · Leave a comment

Kalos Society: Early Gay Liberation

On September 3, 1971, eleven Kalos Society members were arrested while protesting at a local gay bar where lesbians were being harassed by the management. The owners of The Park … Continue reading

September 16, 2015 · Leave a comment

Community Survival: Black Panther Programs

On May 1, 1969, Hartford’s Chamber of Commerce flanked Mayor Ann Uccello as she held up a broom on the city hall steps. This photo op for the press was … Continue reading

September 15, 2015 · Leave a comment

Another Look at the “Negro Governors”

Were the ceremonial “Negro Elections” a harmless practice, or way to diminish Connecticut’s complicity in slavery?

August 16, 2015 · Leave a comment

Rock and Roll vs. Racism

In 1955, the most racially integrated public space in Connecticut might have been the rock & roll concerts at Hartford’s State Theater. Despite the widespread discrimination against African Americans in … Continue reading

August 12, 2015 · 1 Comment

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The Shoeleather History Project