Pioneer Honors

If you know the names Tracy Sugarman, Joan Schine and Venora Ellis, you know why they’ll receive Diversity Trailblazer Awards this Sunday.

If you don’t know them, you don’t know 3 important pieces of Westport history.

The Trailblazers — all involved in some way in the battle to dismantle racial barriers — are being  honored by TEAM Westport, the town’s official committee on diversity.  The ceremony and reception is set for Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler’s Stony Point home, at 3 p.m.

Tracy Sugarman

Tracy Sugarman

Artist, writer and filmmaker Tracy Sugarman has chronicled the civil rights struggle since the 1950s.  His lectures — based on his eyewitness accounts of marches, sit-ins and much more in Mississippi and throughout the South — have had profound impacts on generations of Americans, including many Westporters.

As chairman of the Board of Education, Joan Schine fought to establish Project Concern in Westport.  The program — which brought Bridgeport youngsters to our schools — was so controversial in the early ’70s that the state Supreme Court had to strike down a recall attempt against her. 

In her 68 years as a businesswoman and resident of Westport, Venora Ellis challenged traditional social mores and shattered racial barriers, by action and example.  For much of her last  40 years here, Venora and her late husband Leroy were instrumental in attracting citizens of color to live in Westport.

It’s easy to dismiss Westport as an unrealistic bubble.  It’s also easy to pat ourselves on the back for not being as white-bread a town as cookie-cutter New Canaan or Darien.

Sunday’s celebration will provide context for both views.  No community is all — for lack of a better phrase — black and white.  It is filled with colors.  This weekend, TEAM Westport reminds us all how rich those colors can be.

(This Sunday’s TEAM Westport ceremony and reception is freee, and open to the public.  RSVP to, or call 203-227-9671.)

2 responses to “Pioneer Honors

  1. Dan,

    One other bit of related history was the Inter-Community Camp, which brought kids from Bridgeport to an all-day camp located, when I attended it in the summers of 1972 and 1973, at Burr Farms School. I believe that Johanna and Tony Nicholson were its directors. Joan Schine may well have been involved in it (her daughter Beth babysat me and my sister!), and Stu Losen and Judith Hamer no doubt remember it. It was a wonderful program and yet another indication that Westport has been actively engaged in such efforts for years.

    Marc Selverstone

  2. And Marc Selverstone must be Bob Selverstone’s son?