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'Black and brown history has to be relevant' | Black History Trail opens in New London

Three centuries of history are being honored across three miles in the heart of New London.

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Spencer Lancaster is a living legend in New London. The civil rights activist and Army veteran was the city’s first Black elected official when he served on the board of selectmen in the 1960s.

He was also the first Black homeowner in his neighborhood. His family home on 42 Rogers Street now stands as one of the markers for the newly unveiled Black Heritage Trail.

"For my dad to receive this honor, it's not just an honor, it’s a walk-in his life," his son Robert Lancaster told FOX61 News.

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Credit: Raquel Harrington/FOX61

The 93-year-old enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, and he said it was there that he got his first taste of discrimination.

“They separated us, and I kept wondering why,” said Spencer Lancaster. “We were carrying a rifle shooting the same bullets, and yet we can't get together, we had to be separated. I thought it was very unfair.”

After the war, he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement, pushing for the desegregation of public housing in the 1950s. He fought for residents displaced during urban renewal to have affordable, decent housing. He also served as vice president of the New London branch of the NAACP.

“My father just didn't talk to talk he walked the walk, he was willing to reach across the aisles, shake hands, with those who didn't agree with him, but he was always willing to go along and agree to disagree,” his son said.

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His community accomplishments go on, but he explained that his mission has always been to make a difference like his comrades honored along the trail.

"You got a gift to help—HELP,” he said. "If you have a goal, shoot for it, aim for it do everything you can to reach that goal."

Credit: Raquel Harrington/FOX61

His son said: “It's just truly amazing how they've honored him in this way and I just can't be more proud of my mom and dad.”

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The Black Heritage Trail is the project of New London Councilor Curtis Goodwin, who spent three years research, planning and building the three-mile-long route celebrating three centuries of contributions and history of the Black community in the region.

“Black and brown history has to be relevant in today's conversations and in future conversations," Goodwin, who is also a New London councilor, told FOX61 News, adding: “I'm just proud that we're able to pull together and do something together as a community. It just goes to show you what happens when you put a collaborative effort together.”

The Black Heritage Trail, which was unveiled Thursday, also includes locations like the Hempstead House, Amistad Pier entrance, Hotel Bristol and the Lancaster Home.

CLICK HERE TO FOR A FULL LIST.

Raquel Harrington is the race and culture reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at rharrington@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Editor's Note: The story has been edited to reflect that Spencer Lancaster enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. 

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