February is Black History Month.
It’s a time to celebrate the many contributions and accomplishments of African Americans — and to reflect on our country’s often tortured relationship with race.
It’s a time to think about how Americans treat every person in our country.
And it’s a time to look back at how we did so in the past.
Alert “06880” reader — and amateur historian — Mary Palmieri Gai made an astonishing find recently. The Town Crier of December 15, 1949 ran this photo:
The caption reads:
For the first time in Westport history, a Negro attended one of this community’s town meetings. The group was especially interested in the debate on public housing.
It’s amazing — and embarrassing — to see what qualified as “news” nearly 70 years ago.
It’s also probably quite wrong.
Among Westport’s most historic homes is 108 Cross Highway. Built in 1805, it’s one of a few dwellings in town documented as being built by “a free black.”
Henry Munroe, a farmer, bought the land from John Burr in 1802. Munroe’s descendants were members of Green’s Farms Church.
Black families lived here throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Some were servants and housekeepers. But others — like Munroe — were farmers, shopkeepers and businessmen, with a vested interest in town.
I can’t believe that 1949 was the first time a “Negro” attended a town meeting.
And I’m surprised that the Town Crier did not even dignify him with a name.
Which is one more reason why Black History Month remains vitally important today, for all of us.