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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    New Haven’s first recorded Black resident honored

    NEW HAVEN — Lucretia still doesn't have a last name, at least not one that we know today.

    But New Haven's first recorded Black resident, an enslaved person who worked for the New Haven Colony's first governor, Theophilus Eaton, in 1638, now has "Lucretia's Corner" — the northeast corner of Elm and Orange streets — named after her to mark the fact that she once lived here.

    Lucretia's name — and the knowledge that Black people lived in New Haven just a year after the New Haven Colony was established — will live on, beyond simply in a historical archive.

    The Board of Alders unanimously approved retired college professor Ann Garrett Robinson's 25-year effort to get Lucretia some recognition — and Robinson said she now knows this was at least part of the reason she was put on this Earth to begin with.

    "I know now why I was born," said Robinson, 88, a writer and retired psychology professor at Gateway Community College who lives in the city's Newhallville section. "This was one of the reasons, one of the purposes of my life.

    "You can imagine how shocked I was when I first came across this," Robinson said.

    Robinson first learned about Lucretia in 1997 when she was asked to help start a Black urban education history museum at the Masonic Temple of the Prince Hall Masons on Goffe Street.

    In going through records, she found "precious, rare papers" titled, "Africans were among New Haven first settlers," she said. Among them, "I found a document buried in stacks of paper at the Q House that were brought over from the African American Historical Society."

    It made reference to Lucretia.

    Robinson chose the corner of Orange and Elm streets as the site for the recognition because that was where Eaton's estate was located — and where Lucretia lived and worked, she said.

    In addition to the commemorative street sign that usually marks such corner, "We are going to put up a plaque," she said.

    "I have been with this Lucretia story for 25 years, and at first it seemed as though I was very interested but I wasn't sure that others would be as interested as I was," Robinson said. "So I would occasionally write little notes or write a little article. But much of the time I spent reading about the Black slave experience.

    "So it seemed like Lucretia was a friend of mine ... but it was kind of a lonely walk," she said.

    Robinson enlisted the aid of Alder Steven Winter, D-21, about five years ago, telling him, "We need to do something to honor Lucretia.

    "I was happy that he seemed interested," she said. "Before that, it seemed that I was alone in this journey."

    Winter said was happy to be involved. The Board of Alders approved the request Nov. 10.

    "I think marking that corner is a small, vital gesture toward acknowledging the contributions of Black people in New Haven and in the United States toward building the foundation of the country," said Winter, who represents the city's Dixwell, Newhallville and Prospect Hill section.

    He also would love to see a plaque telling the world who Lucretia was.

    "We are hoping to get final approval from the building owners," Winter said.

    Lucretia "was an integral part of the first governor of the New Haven Colony's household ... keeping the house running," Winter said. "We thought that was a really important thing" to commemorate.

    "I think it's part of a larger project of telling the stories of people of color in America ... adding their stories and perspective to the dominant" culture's stories "of the largely white male" citizens seen as the founders of the country, he said.

    "I have to really give Dr. Robinson an infinite amount of credit," Winter said. "She was instrumental in leading the thing through."

    Yale Alder Alex Guznay, D-1, said this week at a meeting of the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team that "there's definitely a lot more work to do but it's a nice way to pay homage to Black history in New Haven."

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