(WTNH) – They took up arms and fought for this country before it even considered them citizens, but what is being done to honor the rich history of Connecticut’s Black Civil War veterans?
During Black History Month, News 8 looked at an ambitious proposal to honor their legacy for generations to come.
Bridgitte Prince was on tour in Hartford’s North End when she came across a homeless veteran.
“You shouldn’t come here and see a veteran living behind a building,” Prince said.
It was a pivotal moment for the Hartford-born and raised Army veteran who is now leading a campaign to convert a vacant city-owned building into veteran housing.
“It’s the perfect place for that. Also, in the capital, there is no designated housing for veterans in the city of Hartford, when there should be,” Prince said.
The lofty $35 million proposal for 2 Holcomb Street includes funding for a new museum celebrating Connecticut’s black Civil War veterans.
“We need our youth, your urban youth have a place to come and see themselves as heroes, see themselves as superstars, see themselves as different from a lot of the images they see in the urban community. It’s important because it’s here, in the heart of the urban community,” Prince said.
Currently, the cemetery is primarily used as a gateway for people moving from one part of the community to another, but 26 members of Hartford’s all-black infantry are buried there.
“We stand on the shoulders of veterans, so support them now,” said Dean Jones, Community Advocate.
New Haven monument honors Connecticut’s 29and and 30and Volunteer infantry regiments, which fought in crucial battles in Virginia. The plan includes a new monument in Hartford’s Keney Park and money to rehabilitate a section of Old North Cemetery.
Mayor Luke Bronin says it’s premature for the city to approve the proposal until an environmental assessment, currently underway, is complete. He raised concerns that historic designation could limit redevelopment options.
“Obviously older buildings have problems. This presents challenges when trying to reuse them. Nevertheless, this building is in a very beautiful location across from Keney Park, here at the end of Vine Street, and it would be great for the community to bring it back online,” said John Gale, a councilor.
Advocates have been working with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal’s office on ideas for federal funding, but it appears renovations would have to happen first.
“The federal government has an obligation and a tremendous opportunity to support this historic effort. It is extremely exciting and it will serve all the people of Hartford and Connecticut to preserve and expand this treasure as a monument to the courage, determination and bravery of these veterans,” said Blumenthal.
Prince hopes spotlighting black war heroes will inspire heroism in local youth.
“Gun violence is so widespread. You know what, we’ll show you what we did when we had a gun. We went and fought wars, we were heroes and we have medals on our chests,” Prince said.