Upcoming event will explore New London's 'lost neighborhood'

New London — New London Landmarks and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center on Tuesday will present "Discrimination, Urban Renewal and New London's Lost Neighborhood," an exploration into a largely black neighborhood wiped out by New London's Winthrop Cove Redevelopment Project.

The event will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Mount Moriah Fire Baptized Holiness Church, 22 Moore Ave. The guest speaker is Lonnie Braxton, former president of the NAACP New London Chapter.

The event is being held in part to mark the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, which passed in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, education and outreach coordinator at the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said in a written statement.

Staff from the Fair Housing Center and New London Landmarks, with assistance from local librarians and volunteers, spent weeks working together to uncover this “lost neighborhood.” Tuesday’s program will focus on the Shapley/Hill Street area, drawing on oral histories, historic photos and an exploration of the federal, state and municipal policies that led to divestment in the neighborhood in the decades before its demolition. It was one of many similar "urban renewal" projects across the state and country at that time.

"Shapley Street and Hill Street had been gone for decades by the time I moved to New London," Laura Natusch, executive director of New London Landmarks, said in a statement. "So learning about this neighborhood from the people who lived there and about the impact urban renewal had on their lives has been fascinating."

“New London received over $12 million in federal funding for the Winthrop Cove Urban Renewal project," Darby-Hudgens said. "The project goals included slum clearance and the creation of publicly financed housing. Over 600 New London families were displaced, and the total number of new housing units built didn't equal the number demolished."

The New London families displaced through urban renewal had a wide variety of experiences, ranging from feeling as if they were rich after being relocated to an apartment with heat and hot water, to mourning the loss of lifelong friendships and never being able to own a home again, Natusch said.

"This was one of the oldest sections of New London," she said. "But it's important to look not only at the loss of historic architecture, but also at the loss of a close-knit community, and at the forces (that) made this neighborhood so vulnerable to demolition."

 g.smith@theday.com

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