Visit to the Ruby & Calvin Fletcher African American Museum

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As part of their commitment to continuous learning about issues of race and justice, some members of the Race and Social Justice Coalition, many of whom are St. Paul’s parishioners, recently visited the first African American Museum in Stratford, Connecticut. The Museum was founded by Jeffery Fletcher from artifacts which his mother, Ruby Fletcher, had collected over many years of growing up and living in the racially divided south and had left to him on her death in 2000. Jeffery Fletcher, a retired New Haven Police Officer, did not immediately appreciate the 10 bins of artifacts that his mother left for him, until he started to go through them and realized the history that lay in this collection. According to stories written about him, his thought in putting the Museum together was  “I can show you better than I can tell you, and I can’t tell you the story without showing you these oppressive objects.” The objects on display, many of which in more recent memory have been donated by individuals from their own personal collections, tell the story of enslavement with stark reminders of that dark period in history including shackles, which you can actually hold in your hands and feel its awful weight, and an unforgettable spiked metal punishment device labelled “for uncontrollable slaves,” as well as the whip that Ruby Fletcher bought so long ago. It is a moving visit through enslavement, memories of the Jim Crow South including his reconstruction of a movie theatre where behind a railing are three seats with a sign, “Colored must sit in balcony.” But as you move from room to room, you also move through time and the struggles and achievements of the African American people: there is a wonderful tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, a distinguished but segregated unit in World War II, which includes the uniform of an airman from Connecticut; a civil rights room with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivering a speech; a “colored” water fountain and a large jar filled with jelly beans- a reminder of the impossible test of guessing exactly how many jelly beans the jar contained, that Blacks seeking to vote had to face.
The final room, the pièce de resistance, features two walls covered with influencers in African American history, including Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali, Emmett Till, Toni Morrison, Oprah Winfrey, James Brown, Kool and the Gang, Alicia Keyes, and the Obamas. Opposite them is a display of Ruby Fletcher’s favorite record albums (Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, the Platters, Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, and Esther Phillips among others) and two electric guitars built by Calvin Fletcher.

We all left there feeling truly moved by the fact that this was one man’s effort, right here in our state, to spread knowledge about our shared history. As he shared with us, finding a place to house the Museum was not an easy road, but the city of Stratford whose Mayor was willing to support his efforts, stepped up and helped to make it a reality. The Museum is about to move to bigger premises, but if you are interested in taking a day trip during the summer and bringing your children or grandchildren to visit, do call the Museum at 203 375-1102 or 203-506-9035 to schedule a visit or email Jeffery Fletcher at It is a great place to start your learning work.

The Race and Social Justice Coalition is a partner with St. Paul’s on issues of race and justice. It
meets on Zoom on Wednesday evenings at 7.00 p.m.

Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media
Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media
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