Civil Rights in Connecticut
Long before the Civil Rights movement
of the 20th century, a group of kidnapped African natives
bound for the Cuban slave trade revolted aboard their ship,
Amistad. Attempting to sail back to
Africa, the men were captured off Long Island and taken to New
Haven, Connecticut. What followed was a complicated trail through
federal courts beginning in Connecticut debating the issues of human
rights versus property rights. The question of slavery was yet to be
decided by a civil war, and the bulk of civil rights legislation
would not become a reality for over one hundred years.
See: Gedney v.
L'Amistad, 10 Federal Cases 141 (District court, District of
Connecticut, January 7, 1840)
The Amistad, 40
U.S. 518, 15 Peters 518, 10 L.Ed. 826 (January Term, 1841)
Also in New Haven, a little known civil
rights case was decided in Superior Court in 1939. The case centered
around the claim of overcharging based on racial bias. Plaintiff
claimed discrimination in treatment, in violation of Connecticut
statute. Connecticut law created a cause of action "in favor of
persons deprived, on account of alienage, race or color, of the full
and equal enjoyment of privileges of places of public accommodation,
or discriminated against, on that account, in the price of the
enjoyment of such privileges." The action was, one senses, pursued
out of principle rather than for the damages awarded ($.80). The
memorandum also details some interesting technical history of civil
rights laws in Connecticut. Of further interest, however, is the
fact that counsel for the plaintiff, Attorney Harry Watstein, later
in his career served for a period of ten years as Librarian at the
New Haven County Law Library.
See: Ross v.
Schade, 7 Conn. Supp. 443
through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily
given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963
of Connecticut Legal History