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Fleeing the North End

A panel discussion about a new book on Hartford’s North End « sheds some light on white flight

Daniel D’Ambrosio

February 11, 2010

Patricia Lawson-Kelly, executive director of Hartford’s Ebony Horsewomen, sat on a panel last week to discuss Remembering the Old Neighborhood, Stories from Hartford’s North End, a new book published by The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford.« Lawson-Kelly, who grew up in the North End, runs Ebony Horsewomen, a nonprofit organization, where she has a 6,000-square-foot riding arena on Vine Street, a veterinary science program and classrooms.

The organization works with nearly 400 children yearly from the Hartford area, helping kids who are having a “tough time” get on the right track in their lives, says Lawson-Kelly.

“We use horses to help the kids,” she said. “Horses mirror the behavior of humans. We use them to get to the heart of the matter and help to heal.”

There was a strong Jewish presence in the North End when Lawson-Kelly was growing up there in the 1940s, which is the subject of Remembering the Old Neighborhood.

“There was such a forging of relationships between Jews and blacks in the early years, the 1930s and 1940s,” said Lawson-Kelly in an interview with the Advocate.

“There was a meeting of the minds, particularly the ones who experienced the Holocaust first-hand or through relatives. They hated racism like you wouldn’t believe.”

Estelle Kafer, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society, said 1,300 copies of Remembering the Old Neighborhood have sold since its publication in June, with a third printing coming soon.

The book includes stories from about 150 contributors about the North End from the beginning of the last century to the 1960s, when the racial riots around the nation triggered “white flight,” according to Susan Viner, who sits on the board of the Jewish Historical Society and shared the panel with Lawson-Kelly.

Viner’s own family left the North End in the early 1950s for “one reason only,” she said — upward mobility.

“My parents wanted their own home,” said Viner. “Do not believe that white flight began in the early 1950s.

It did not. We got along. We were in a four-room flat, my father longed for a house, the suburbs called.”

Yet Lawson-Kelly, the next to speak, recounted the move her parents made in the early 1950s from a section of the North End called “The Bottom,” where blacks were consigned to live, to a white area across Main Street. Lawson-Kelly, a young girl at the time, recalls watching her new neighbors gather in front of her house “yelling and shouting” at the Jewish woman who’d sold the property to her parents.

“Folks never did calm down,” said Lawson-Kelly.

“Two years later, seven or eight [white] families moved out.

The more black families moved in the more white families moved out. That’s the fact of it.”

Yet Lawson-Kelly does not harbor any bitterness about what she witnessed as a child, nor did she intend her recounting of the scene in front of her childhood home to be considered an indictment of race relations in the North End.

“I may feel my little corner of the world is threatened and it’s not my corner any more,” Lawson-Kelly told the Advocate.

“Some people call that maintaining society, some call it racism, some call it a lot of different things.

You don’t know what was going on in somebody’s heart and mind, but I do know the Jews and blacks got along very well.”

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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