Gertrude Blanks is a well known storyteller. Although she was born in Baltimore, Maryland in the 1920’s, she has called Hartford home since she was five years old. When Ms. Blanks arrived the city was segregated. Employment opportunities for people of color were limited. As a result, her mother went to work as a domestic. Due to her mother’s work schedule Ms. Blanks lived with her grandparents. They lived on Capen Street in the North-End of the city. The community was home to many Jewish and Italian families. Ms. Blanks attended Arsenal school that was solely attended by African-American children.
Blacks were basically excluded in many ways. They were not allowed admittance to the YWCA. The only option available was the Boys and Girls Club that was located on Main Street where the Metropolitan AME Zion Church is located today. There was one African –American doctor to provide care for African Americans in Hartford during this time. Ms Blanks fondly recalls times when she would go to the Ten Cent Store located downtown. Her childhood was stable until the death of her grandfather. It was at that time that she went to live with her mother who was a domestic for a retired insurance man and his family in West Hartford, CT.
Life during this time was lonely for Ms. Blanks because her mother worked long hours and she did not have many friends. The most entertainment she would have would be to hear her mother tell stories about her childhood. This was their special time together and she loved her mother for those moments.
She experienced racism as well. Despite this inappropriate treatment, she attended school in West Hartford. Her mother was not well educated, but she always stressed the importance of a good education to her daughter. This was a priceless opportunity for her. Graduating from Hall High’s Class of 1938 opened quite a few doors for her.
Ms. Blanks has seen Hartford through many changes. She witnessed the Riot in 1968 that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. She remembers the campaign and victory in 1981 when Thirman Milner became the first African-American Mayor of Hartford and in any New England city. In 1987, Hartford native Carrie Saxon Perry became the first African woman to be elected as mayor in a New England city. Gertrude Blanks has seen Hartford at its best and worst.
Ms Blanks worked for the Hartford Public Library. She offered support with programs when the librarian would do story time for children. One day when the librarian was absent, she filled in and told the stories and the rest is history. She spent many years traveling throughout Hartford with books and stories. She would visit nursing homes and laundromats during those days. The stories gave her the energy to share with all who would listen. Ms Blanks was married and had three sons as well. Her family resided in Hartford as well.
Ms Blanks retired after 25 years of service. After retiring, she continued to tell stories as an independent contractor. Many schools, daycare centers and museum programs continue to request her service. Ms Blanks has also volunteered in community agencies as well. She was featured as a mentor for the Foster Grandparent Program and mentioned in the New York Times for storytelling programs as well.
After eight decades, Gertrude Blanks continues to tell stories. She spends twenty hours a week at the Simpson Waverly School helping pre-school aged children and their teachers with tasks as needed.
Gertrude Blanks is a storyteller, mother, mentor, advocate and a live hero who continues to make a great contribution to the city of Hartford today.
Reprinted with permission of the NorthEnd Agent's.
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