Thirman Milner knows all about racial barriers. When he was elected in 1981 he not only became Hartford’s first black mayor, but the first in New England. He recalls a time when opportunity was far from racially equal.
“When I was a youngster the only people that worked in the department stores that were black were the elevator operators or cleaning people,” said Milner.
Milner explained that change did not come until after the Civil Rights Movement.
The Civil Rights movement took place largely in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a movement to eliminate legal discrimination and segregation. What’s happening now, as people draw attention to police violence and racial inequality, is something Milner finds familiar.
“What I’m glad to see is younger people finally stepping up and getting involved in what I call the new Civil Rights Movement,” he said.
Milner applauds the peaceful protests. He says he’s proud of the way Connecticut has reacted and the ways some police have shown signs of solidarity with the people.
“I think that showed a positive image of them to the community,” explained Milner. “Those types of things need to happen. I think you need to have better community police relationships.”
Milner says he has been unable to participate in protests himself because of health issues. Instead he said he looks to young people like reverend AJ Johnson to take the lead. Johnson happened to be one of the key speakers in Wednesday’s protest at the State Capital.
Now 86 years old, Milner is looking to this generation to continue the movement and has a message for young people involved.
“Get involved in the civil rights movement,” he said. “We need to get where everything is even ground. I hope and pray that will happen In the City of Hartford soon.”