The Shoeleather History Project

Stories from Hartford's Grassroots

Bonus Veterans: An Army Without Guns

It was a warm Sunday night in Hartford on August 7, 1932. Several dozen men and women–exhausted, dirty, hungry– trudged into the city after a hard trip from Washington DC. … Continue reading

November 19, 2014 · Leave a comment

We Irish Are A Working Race

The angry Irish laborers marched from Hartford to East Hartford across the covered bridge that spanned the Connecticut River.  They converged at the  home of their boss. As a contractor … Continue reading

November 15, 2014 · 1 Comment

Jail Sit-Down Strike: Prison Rights Are Human Rights

Instead of returning to their cells for the night, 145 inmates at Hartford’s Seyms Street jail have organized a nonviolent sit down strike. They’re fed up with the poor treatment … Continue reading

November 11, 2014 · Leave a comment

Puerto Rican Youth Liberate Their Space

Just after dark, a dozen young Puerto Ricans approach 21 Kennedy Street, an abandoned building near Keney Tower. Within minutes they are inside, establishing the space as a liberated area … Continue reading

October 23, 2014 · Leave a comment

Breaking the UPS Race Barrier

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 … Continue reading

October 22, 2014 · 2 Comments

Labor History, Family Histories

My grandmother Nellie Grace arrived in Boston from Ireland in 1909. On the ship manifest she was described as a domestic servant. Many people’s relations have come from similarly humble … Continue reading

September 15, 2014 · Leave a comment

Gay Pride, Straight Prejudice

Nancy Buckwalter and Tony Norris expected 150 people to show up at the Old State House for their event. Instead, over 300 lesbian, gay and transgender activists spent a hot … Continue reading

July 2, 2014 · 2 Comments

Mark Twain: Nation Building at the Point of a Gatling Gun

June 19th marks a significant incident in Connecticut history. Yet no one celebrates it. (No, I don’t mean Juneteenth, which is the African American community’s commemoration of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.) … Continue reading

June 19, 2014 · 1 Comment

Hell Hole: The Seyms Street Jail

For more than a century Seyms Street jail housed the criminal and the courageous. At one time or another, Wobblies, civil rights protestors, anti-war activists and Black Panthers all found … Continue reading

May 8, 2014 · 7 Comments

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

Secret FBI Files 3: Lessons for Today

How the Phone company and the news media aided FBI spying in Hartford.

March 12, 2014 · Leave a comment

Secret FBI Files 2: The Black Panthers’ Work in Hartford

The National Archives released 1,582 pages on the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Hartford on March 6, 2014. Many pages are missing, of course, and many names have been redacted, … Continue reading

March 10, 2014 · 5 Comments

New: FBI Files Released on Hartford Black Panthers

Government spying on Hartford residents is not new. It dates back at least to 1919, when police and the U.S. Department of Justice secretly gathered information on–and infiltrated the ranks … Continue reading

March 2, 2014 · 14 Comments

Mayor Mark Twain

Could Mark Twain have become mayor of Hartford? Apparently, the Knights of Labor thought so. This 19th century labor union considered running “Mayor Clemens” in March of 1886. The notion … Continue reading

February 17, 2014 · 1 Comment

Shoeleather Quiz #2

1. What was the last film to play at the Meadows Drive-In Theater before it closed? 2. Which one of Hartford’s original founders made a woman “confess” to being a … Continue reading

January 22, 2014 · 1 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 · 1 Comment

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: Lessons from a Tragedy

Sol Bidek’s family lived in a tenement on Market Street in Hartford. They waited several days for word  from New York.  Finally, they got the news: their sister was safe. … Continue reading

January 19, 2014 · 1 Comment

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

More Hidden History of the Wobblies

A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut is a new book that documents the organizing efforts of this unique labor group … Continue reading

January 10, 2014 · 5 Comments

No Part too Great or too Small

I think Bobby Sands is smiling. In 1981, Bobby was an Irish prisoner in a British jail. As a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), he led a hunger … Continue reading

January 6, 2014 · 1 Comment

Roberto Clemente, ¡Presente!

Why would a baseball star who died more than forty years ago have such a great impact on Hartford people? Maybe because Roberto Clemente was much more than a ball … Continue reading

January 2, 2014 · Leave a comment

Shoeleather Quiz # 1

1. From where did Mayor George Athanson broadcast his overnight radio show? 2. Which famous person spoke in Hartford? (a) John Brown; (b) Emma Goldman; (c) Abraham Lincoln; (c) Elizabeth … Continue reading

November 26, 2013 · 15 Comments

The Gandhi Strike

It’s been more than 75 years since the legendary Flint sit-down strike by Michigan autoworkers, a watershed event in American labor history. The 44 day strike had a powerful impact … Continue reading

November 23, 2013 · 1 Comment

We Won’t Starve Quietly

At the height of the Great Depression, thousands of Hartford people were thrown out of work. Like the rest of the country, the 1929 stock market crash meant disaster for … Continue reading

November 12, 2013 · Leave a comment

Jay Gould: Octopus of the Wires

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half,” said Jay Gould, probably the most ruthless “robber baron” of the 19th century. It was not … Continue reading

November 9, 2013 · Leave a comment

They fought for me and I fought for them

When he was about eight years old, Ernie DeMaio came home after school– more than once– with a black eye. He had been wearing the button his mother gave him, … Continue reading

November 9, 2013 · 1 Comment

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

Heroes & Anti-Heroes

For more than a year, the prison authorities would not allow Avelino Gonzalez-Claudio proper medical treatment. Then, a month before he returned to a Hartford court on February 5, 2010, … Continue reading

September 23, 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 · Leave a comment

Hometown Nukes & Poison Gas

I went online today to see if I could buy a Gatling gun. It turns out there are at least five websites where the weapon can be purchased. One of … Continue reading

August 5, 2013 · Leave a comment

The Newsies Strike Back

The front page photo was startling, even to people who had lived in the city all their lives. On May 4, 1909, the Hartford Evening Post showed an alley just … Continue reading

July 30, 2013 · 3 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

Connecticut’s Jim Crow Law

A dozen farmworkers entered Windsor Town Hall, quietly following Erwyn Glanz, the local constable who had given them a ride. Most likely, this was the first time the men had … Continue reading

July 9, 2013 · Leave a comment

This Land is Your Land

In October 1944, weekend entertainment options for Hartford residents were limited. A family might take in the fall foliage, or just as likely, gather around the radio and tune in … Continue reading

July 3, 2013 · 1 Comment

Union Brew

In 1901, all Hartford saloons sold a glass of beer for a nickel. But if a thirsty man bought the same beer from a shop without a union card hanging … Continue reading

June 17, 2013 · Leave a comment

Hartford Sex Trade: Prostitutes and Politics

Ann Dunn and Caroline McElroy were unceremoniously escorted to the police station where they were charged with prostitution. The arrest of the two Hartford women came in the summer of … Continue reading

June 16, 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

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

May 14, 2013 · 1 Comment

Peace Work with a Union Label

“While this war was on, you appropriated billions for the war. How much are you willing to appropriate for peace and for jobs?” When Michael Rosenberg challenged U.S. government priorities … Continue reading

May 14, 2013 · Leave a comment

Red Emma

One of the most dangerous women in America spoke in Hartford on February 12, 1913. “Red Emma” Goldman talked about love and marriage, a subject that was as revolutionary as … Continue reading

May 10, 2013 · Leave a comment

Mechanic Street Obituary

Hartford’s Mechanic Street passed away in the early months of 2003; the exact date is not known. It was located near the city’s riverfront for well over 120 years. While … Continue reading

May 10, 2013 · 1 Comment

A Feeling of Solidarity

It was March, 1912. Emily Pierson and her sister suffragists were on a statewide tour of Connecticut, putting up posters, distributing handbills, speaking wherever they could find a space. Pierson’s … Continue reading

May 10, 2013 · 2 Comments

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

Solidarity and 75 cents

It started out as a dispute over seventy-five cents and ended up as a test of wills between hundreds of Hartford construction workers and their employer. Decades before working people … Continue reading

May 6, 2013 · Leave a comment

Indian Summer in the City

Hartford’s Wild West fans and kids of all ages had to make a hard choice one hot summer day in 1899. They could travel to the park on Albany Avenue … Continue reading

May 5, 2013 · Leave a comment

Hobo Life

On the Big Rock Candy Mountain  /All the cops have wooden legs/ The bulldogs all have rubber teeth/ And the hens lay soft boiled eggs… The original hobo’s version of this … Continue reading

May 4, 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

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The Shoeleather History Project