West Hartford

West Hartford Public Library to Host First Juneteenth Storytelling Event

In 2021, the town recognized Gertrude Blanks in a mural outside the library as part of a Juneteenth celebration. This year, she'll be honored in a brand new way.

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For the second time, the West Hartford Public Library will honor the late Gertrude Blanks and her love of storytelling. But people will have the chance to learn about her life and legacy in a new way.

Growing up, Blanks broke down barriers in a heavily segregated society, becoming the first Black graduate of Hall High School, a librarian in Hartford Public Library and a beloved storyteller. 

"She loved to tell stories. She loved children. And she was always inspiring...And she told her experience in a loving way about how she had to deal with different controversies," said storyteller Jedda LaRue Williams.

Williams knew Blanks personally. A storyteller herself, Williams leads a program called "Living Legends Among Us" that works to teach children about people who've made a difference in the community.

"I honor the elders that are still here with us for the children to get to know who their village is," Williams said.

While Juneteenth isn't an official state holiday until next year, there will be plenty of celebrations taking place in West Hartford to commemorate the day this weekend.

Williams is set to take the stage inside the First Church Auditorium to honor Blanks' life. She'll be joined by Rosemarie Tate and Okey Ndibe who will share their life experiences as activists, writers and performers.

"So, we saw this event as an opportunity to celebrate her and also inform people who might not have been aware of who she was or what she did," said Laura Irmscher, director of the West Hartford Public Library.

Blanks' portrait can be viewed on the MLK39 mural right outside the library among two other remarkable women from West Hartford. 

As shown in the mural, Tammy Rush Exum, at the top, was the first Black woman elected to Connecticut statewide office. Judy Caperson, middle left, was the first Black woman to serve on West Hartford Town Council.

Williams said Thursday's storytelling event is an opportunity to respect and support those who came before them.

"I want them to remember Gertrude and how she made some milestones in the city," Williams said.

The event starts next Thursday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m. inside the First Church Auditorium next to the West Hartford Public Library. Admission is free to the public.

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