The City of New London is unveiling a Black heritage trail, highlighting centuries of the city's Black history.
"It is a long time coming, first and foremost," said City Council Curtis Goodwin, who worked on a volunteer committee for the project. "It is a walk through our past and a chance for everyone to come and learn about New London's resilience as it relates to the Black community."
The trail functions as a self-guided walking tour, with 15 plaques to lead the way. Each plaque tells a different story, featuring a prominent place or person. The project's website describes the trail as celebrating, "three centuries of Black strength, resilience, and accomplishment."
Some of the sites tell the stories of more well-known people, like Frederick Douglass and the time he visited New London for a lecture.
Other plaques uncover stories that were forgotten or untold, like the story of Ichabod Pease.
"Ichabod Pease is an impressive man who is the epitome of Black excellence," said Goodwin.
Pease was a formerly enslaved man who, at the age of 81, fought to open the first school for Black children in New London. He ran the school out of his home.
Pease's plaque, hanging behind the Salvation Army in New London, was the first one installed on the trail. His story also inspired Goodwin to learn more and to work with others to create the Black heritage trail.
"If Ichabod can do it for me, my hope is that this New London Black Heritage Trail can do it for the rest of us," said Goodwin.
A team of volunteers, including representatives from New London Landmarks, spent countless hours researching for the project. Laura Natusch, Nicole Thomas, Tom Schuch and Lonnie Braxton II all contributed to the project. You can read their write-ups on each site at this website.
The trail also includes living history. Spencer Lancaster, now 93 years old, was the city's first Black elected official. There is a plaque in the front lawn of his home on Rogers Street.
"A New London native and former high school football player, he was vice president of the New London branch of the NAACP. In the 1950s, he had successfully advocated for the racial integration of New London’s formerly all-white public housing," researcher Laura Natusch wrote.
Lancaster became the first Black homeowner on Rogers street in the 1960s. He said he was grateful to be included in the Black heritage trail.
"My work didn't go in vain," said Lancaster.
When people read his plaque, and the others included on the trail, he wants them to remember: "That this town is a good town and if people work together, it can be a better town."
The committee will officially unveil the Black heritage trail during a ceremony on Thursday, October 7. They will honor Lancaster at 4 p.m. at 42 Rogers St. Then there will be a ceremony at 5 p.m. at 11 Hempsted St.
"It is about creating space and it is about making sure that Black culture and Black stories are relevant in today's history," said Goodwin.
The project received grant funding from the Thames River Innovation Place, the State of Connecticut Office of Tourism, and the Eastern Regional Tourism District. New London Public Works employees installed each plaque.