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    Tuesday, October 04, 2022

    Lancaster a living reminder of rich Black history in New London

    Spencer Lancaster hugs his daughter Margaret Lancaster during a ceremony Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, as the city of New London unveils its Black Heritage Trail; his former home is one of the stops. Lancaster was first Black elected official in the city and the only living person honored on the trail, which has 15 stops. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London — Spencer Lancaster, 93, is the living part the city’s new Black Heritage Trail.

    Nearly 100 people gathered on Thursday for an emotional unveiling of a plaque with his name that now marks the 42 Rogers St. home where Lancaster raised his children and welcomed the neighborhood kids — no matter their ethnic background.

    It is one of 15 plaques installed across the city highlighting significant historic sites and people, celebrating what City Council member Curtis Goodwin called three centuries of Black resilience and strength. Curtis helped spearhead the creation of the trail.

    The plaque at 42 Rogers St. honors Lancaster as a trailblazer and civil rights leader who became the first Black elected official in New London when he won a seat on the Board of Selectmen in 1960. He and his wife bought the home in 1963 and were the first Black homeowners on the street.

    Margaret Lancaster, a daughter of Spencer Lancaster, still lives at her childhood home. She said despite the racism that existed in the world, her parents saw to it that there was no such thing as segregation in her home.

    “It’s because our home was full of love,” she said.

    “This is amazing,” she said of the gathered crowd, many of whom were members of her extended family.

    Many people were in tears.

    Spencer Lancaster is a New London native who grew up on Belden Street, graduated from Chapman Tech and enlisted in the service in World War II.

    “My first experience with racial discrimination is when I was in the service,” he said. “I was taken aback when they separated me from the white people. I wanted to know why the Black soldiers are over here. That really got to me. Here I am carrying the same rifle, shooting the same bullets at the same people, yet I got to be separated. That got me interested in civil rights.”

    Lancaster was an advocate for racial integration of what had been all-white public housing. He was active with the NAACP and in 1961 organized a protest of a blackface minstrel show in Waterford.

    Thursday’s ceremony moved to the Hempsted Houses for a second ceremony, a short tour of nearby trail sites and to honor the people involved in the volunteer effort to create the trail. The Black Heritage Trail was accomplished in part by the efforts of New London Landmarks and New London Office of Development and Planning.

    The full list of sites is available at visitnewlondon.org.

    g.smith@theday.com

    Debbie Phillips of New London adjusts a ribbon on the plaque Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, as the city of New London unveils its Black Heritage Trail at one of the stops, the former home of Spencer Lancaster. Lancaster was first Black elected official in the city and the only living person honored on the trail, which has 15 stops. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Members of the Lancaster family cut the ribbon on the plaque Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, as the city of New London unveils its Black Heritage Trail at the former home of Spencer Lancaster. Lancaster was first Black elected official in the city and the only living person honored on the trail, which has 15 stops. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Spencer Lancaster speaks to the crowd Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, as the city of New London unveils its Black Heritage Trail with the stop at his former home. He was first Black elected official in the city and the only living person honored on the trail, which has 15 stops. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Spencer Lancaster's children, from left, Robert Lancaster, Tricia Lee, Margaret Lancaster, Spencer Lancaster Jr. and Gilda Butler, speak Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, as the city of New London unveils its Black Heritage Trail at his former home. Lancaster was first Black elected official in the city and the only living person honored on the trail, which has 15 stops. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Lonnie Braxton, one of the Black Heritage Trail researchers, talks with Spencer Lancaster before the city of New London unveils a stop Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, at Lancaster's former home. Lancaster was first Black elected official in the city and the only living person honored on the trail, which has 15 stops. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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