The Shoeleather History Project

Stories from Hartford's Grassroots

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

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

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

aka Jim Pembroke

The Reverend James W.C. Pennington, D.D. had been warmly received in Scotland, had his biography published in England, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University in Germany. But … Continue reading

May 8, 2014 · Leave a comment

Isabel Blake, Welfare Warrior

Isabel Blake challenges state legislators to “meet with us and talk things over.” The legislators stay silent. “We don’t bite,” Blake says, “we don’t have much to eat, but we … Continue reading

April 15, 2014 · Leave a comment

The Fugitive and the Hero

The steamship Hero made its way up the Connecticut River. It was October 1, 1850; two men with different purposes were aboard the vessel. The first was a runaway slave, … Continue reading

January 22, 2014 · 3 Comments

Baseball Crazy

No ESPN, no sports radio, no internet scores. In 1913, all Hartford baseball fans had was the Megaphone Man. He stood in front of the old Hartford Courant building on … Continue reading

January 13, 2014 · 5 Comments

No Room at the Inn

Ethel Thompson and her family reached Hartford after midnight. She entered the Hotel Essex on Main Street and went to the front desk to check in. The night clerk got … Continue reading

November 9, 2013 · Leave a comment

Why the Union Vote Counts

Will the union vote count on election day? For the last one hundred years it has, in Hartford and around the country. And every politician knows it, even if the … Continue reading

October 25, 2013 · Leave a comment

No Business as Usual: Vietnam War

On a cool and sunny fall day in Hartford, ten thousand people jammed into Bushnell Park with one goal: to stop the war in Vietnam. As the single largest protest … Continue reading

August 29, 2013 · 3 Comments

Ralph Allen: “He have more than courage”

As 3,000 people left Connecticut by car, bus, and train to join the historic March on Washington, Hartford college student Ralph Allen was spending his 20th day in a Georgia … Continue reading

August 22, 2013 · 2 Comments

Strange Fruit

What was the murder of Trayvon Martin if not a lynching? The definition of the word is clear: “an extrajudicial execution… in order to punish an alleged transgressor, or to … Continue reading

July 25, 2013 · Leave a comment

Playing ’til Sundown

Mahlon “Duck” Duckett and John “Mule” Miles returned to Hartford in 2007. Duck and Mule are surviving members of a proud but shrinking club: baseball players who were members of … Continue reading

May 22, 2013 · Leave a comment

John Brown & the Negro in the Dark

Sampson Easton entered the State House in Hartford through a door someone had left open. He and another man carried a lantern and yards of black cloth. Easton climbed to … Continue reading

May 14, 2013 · 1 Comment

Lincoln: “There is a Strike!”

March, 1860. Abraham Lincoln considers an invitation to Hartford, determined to widen his appeal as a possible presidential candidate. “Do not fail, for the sake of Connecticut,” his anxious host … Continue reading

May 7, 2013 · Leave a comment

The Shameful Legacy of Sam Colt

Some Hartford people are pretty desperate for heroes. What other explanation could there be for the recent attempts to glorify gunmaker Samuel Colt?  His 19th century factory is now a … Continue reading

May 3, 2013 · 3 Comments

Two, Three, Many Rosa Parks

Sixty-one years ago, Rosa Parks was removed from a city bus by a Montgomery, Alabama police officer. Her arrest sparked a successful 381-day bus boycott by African Americans in that … Continue reading

May 3, 2013 · 1 Comment

Sand Hogs

We might drive over the Bulkeley Bridge every day, but we seldom think about the sweat and toil it took to produce the link between Hartford and East Hartford. Even … Continue reading

May 2, 2013 · Leave a comment

Malcolm X in Hartford

On the fall afternoon in 1963 when Malcolm X spoke at the University of Hartford, Trinity College student Ralph Allen was spending his 84th day in a Southern jail. Malcolm … Continue reading

May 1, 2013 · 1 Comment

Paul Robeson

It was called the “greatest mobilization of police in the city’s history.” But the event that brought out hundreds of Hartford-area police to Keney Park was not a riot, not … Continue reading

April 21, 2013 · 3 Comments

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