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A Resounding Vote For Tradition

April 10, 2005
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer

Forget your blue states and your red states.

On Saturday, the color of politics in Hartford was all black as the city's African American community celebrated the first Black Governor "Lection" in 149 years.

In a ceremony befitting the historic occasion, dozens of people - many in period dress with flowing ball gowns, powdered wigs, top hats and tails - turned out at the Old State House Saturday evening as the ballots were counted and the winner announced.

The little-known tradition hearkens to the mid-1700s, when slaves and freedmen in Connecticut - who couldn't vote in regular elections - began electing members of their community to represent them. The black governors were considered moral leaders who advocated for new churches and schools, the right to vote and the abolition of slavery.

"I'm proud to be an African American and to be able to relive a time in history that is not being told," said Kyle Anderson, who wore a top hat, knickers and tails as part of his portrayal of former Black Governor Wilson Weston, who represented Seymour in 1855.

More than 500 ballots were counted Saturday following several weeks of voting around Hartford. The election was organized by Hartford's John E. Rogers African American Cultural Center Inc.

Six candidates were in the running: Roland Cockfield, 64, of Meriden, president of the Meriden-Wallingford branch of the NAACP; Eric Crawford, 43, a district intervention specialist for Hartford schools; Joshua M. Hall, 32, a Weaver High School social studies teacher; Andre Keitt, 45, a master storyteller and public speaker on African American culture; John Lobon, 54, a senior vice president and loan officer for the Connecticut Development Authority's urban lending program; and R. Michael Winters, 43, a community relations director for Community Health Services and pastor of Hartford's New Covenant Christian Center.

Crawford won the election, which was announced from the second-floor balcony of the Old State House by Webster Brooks, a John Rogers historian. Crawford and his wife, Maribel, were then whisked away in a horse-drawn carriage in a procession led by Hartford police and the Governor's Foot Guard.

A reception at the second annual Black Governor's Ball followed at the Bond Hotel on Asylum Street. Last year's ball, not preceded by an election, was sold out. Crawford will serve a two-year term. He said he intends to work to help bring communities and families together, both black and white.

Many in Saturday's crowd, delighted by the turnout, soaked up the moment. After nearly 150 years, the African American community, indeed the entire state, was paying homage to a tradition that has gone largely ignored yet was a vital part of the African American experience here.

"This brings history alive," said Barbara Alleyne, the Rogers Center current president, as she stood on the steps of the Old State House looking graceful and resplendent in an aquamarine and black gown. "People are learning about their history."

State Rep. Ken Green, D-Hartford, donned an ascot and tails to help count ballots as former Black Governor Eben Tobias. As proud as he was to be paying tribute to the past, Green's focus Saturday was partly on the future.

"I'm looking forward to the day when Connecticut has its first real black governor," Green said, with a wink and smile before disappearing into the crowd.

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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