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Ella Little Cromwell Dies At 88; Hartford Woman Broke Down Barriers

September 18, 2006
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer

As a girl growing up in Hartford, Ella Little Cromwell saw the barriers that often kept blacks and other minorities from participating in the political process - barriers that threatened to keep her and her community from realizing their full potential, her friends and family members recalled Sunday.

Cromwell, who died Sunday at age 88, spent the rest of her life breaking those barriers down.

On Sunday, Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez and other area officials mourned the passing of a woman known with affection as "Queen Ella," whose political savvy was matched by her dedication to improving the lives of Hartford residents.

"It's an enormous loss, one that I'm not sure can ever be replaced," said former Hartford Mayor Thirman Milner, who added that his success as a politician was due in no small measure to his longtime friendship with Cromwell. "She was an inspirational figure to many, and I don't see anyone who can fill the void she leaves behind."

Cromwell, who died at her home in the city's North End after battling complications from asthma, was part of a generation of black Americans who stood up against the racial inequities of their youths by tapping into the political potential of their own communities, Milner said.

Over the years, she attained influence within the city's Democratic Party as more and more blacks were able to win seats in local and state government, he said. By the time Milner was elected mayor of Hartford in 1981, he said, Cromwell was already recognized as a political force whose backing could be extremely helpful.

At a ceremony in 2000 honoring her contributions to the city, Cromwell said she always felt it was her obligation to help lift her community. She credited her civic-mindedness to the influence of her mother, who passed out campaign literature in the Belleview Square public housing project where she grew up.

"Be involved," Cromwell said. "Let people know you're worth something."

In recent years, however, Cromwell and many of her contemporaries began to fear that the generations that have come after them have grown too complacent and too hopeless.

"That's a big concern of ours," Milner said. "We worry that these younger people have taken our struggles for granted."

Trude Mero, a close friend and political confidante, said the city's neighborhoods desperately need people to take inspiration from Cromwell's example.

"She leaves a real legacy and I hope it's a legacy that the next generation will follow," she said.

Cromwell was especially active in the Greater Hartford branch of the NAACP, where she served for many years as second vice president. Through her work in the organization, she tried to help blacks and other minorities assert their power through voter registration drives, a key issue for her, Milner said.

Over the years, friends and family members said, many aspiring politicians came to her home on Vine Street to obtain her blessing. An elegant woman who often downplayed her political significance, Cromwell was recognized two months ago at a ceremony in which she was given the keys to the city.

"Hartford has lost a champion of the people," Perez said Sunday. "Ella Cromwell embraced the residents as her family. ...Her devotion to providing hope and improving our quality of life set the standard for others to follow."

The widow of Russell Cromwell, Ella Cromwell leaves behind two children and six grandchildren. A memorial service was being planned by her family Sunday.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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