Stories from Hartford's Grassroots
One by one the young protestors approach the United Parcel Service (UPS) parking lot on Locust Street. It is May, 14, 1965. In unison, they sit down at the lot’s entrance, blocking the mammoth trucks that are delivering packages to the city and beyond. The police are waiting. Ten activists are arrested; some refuse to leave and are carried to the police wagon.
The patience of local civil rights organizers has been sorely tested. Since 1963,Wilber Smith, president of the Hartford NAACP, had been asking UPS to end its discriminatory hiring practices. At the time the company had only one African American employee, as a car washer. The activists later threatened to demonstrate in front of the UPS facility; four more black workers were hired. UPS blamed white suburban housewives who would object to having their packages brought to them by black men.
Progress is much too slow, until NECAP enters the scene. The North End Community Action Program was founded in 1963, an offshoot of the Northern Student Movement. The Hartford group focuses on race discrimination in housing and jobs. They take on slumlords with tenant rent strikes; several landlords capitulate and improve their buildings. They picket restaurants such as Carville’s and Terry Square Diner with some success. Traveler’s Insurance, the Statler Hilton hotel and Korvettes department store are targets of the group’s pickets as well. In solidarity with SNCC in Atlanta, Georgia, NECAP and UCONN students demonstrate in December, 1963 at the Toddle House, part of a national chain. Twenty-one SNCC members had just been arrested at the Atlanta restaurant after being refused service (two Connecticut activists were among those arrested), and the local activists marched to show their support.
Now, after fruitless efforts to commit UPS to fair hiring practices, the NECAP youths put their bodies on the line. One day after the arrests, the group announces its plan to escalate their campaign by picketing the Hartford Chamber of Commerce. On May 19th three NECAP members occupy the Chamber’s office on Constitution Plaza and are arrested for trespassing. At this point NECAP has the attention of City Hall and Governor John Dempsey. Elected officials scramble to sit down with the UPS regional bosses to see how the dispute can be resolved.
Within two weeks, UPS officials publicly pledge to hire eight African Americans–at all job levels– and create a special recruiting program for “minority and disadvantaged people.” The company also drops the charges against the “NECAP 10.” The student group moves on to its next target.