Color and Race: Willimantic

Racial Diversity in Willimantic in 1910

   According to the Willimantic census for 1910, Willimantic had very little racial diversity. The vast majority (99%) of residents in Willimantic were white. There was however great diversity regarding where exactly in Europe they came from. Willimantic also had a relatively high percentage of non-citizens: 32% of residents in 1910 Willimantic were born outside of the United States. This was more than twice the national average of 14% foreign born. As for residents born within the United States, the top five states were Connecticut, Massachussetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The second largest racial group in 1910 were Black residents, 77 people. This included eight people identified as 'mulatto' - the distinction between the two racial categories was described in the 1910 census enumerator's guide: "For census purposes, the term 'black' (B) includes all persons who are evidently full-blooded negroes, while the term 'mulatto' (Mu) includes all other persons having some proportion or perceptible trace of negro blood." This wording was only slightly less colorist than the 1890 census which, inspired by the racial science of the age, cautioned its enumerators:

Be particularly careful to distinguish between blacks, mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons. The word 'black' should be used to describe those persons who have three-fourths or more black blood; 'mulatto,' those persons who have from three-eighths to five-eighths black blood; 'quadroon,' those persons who have one-fourth black blood; and '‘octoroon,' those persons who have one-eighth or any trace of black blood.

Note the language reinforcing the instructions that the census taker was the one to determine 'color.' By the 1930 census, all such distinctions of mixed race would be erased, and those with any hint of Black ancestry were to be categorized as "Negro," the 'one-drop rule.'

Other races were listed as living in Willimantic as well, though in even smaller numbers. Until the 1900 census, most or all Native Americans were enumerated in a separate count. Willimantic's 1910 census listed 2 families described as "Indian", the Sekkateo family on Schoolhouse Lane and the Olin family living near the Natchaug River. The census also listed two Chinese residents - Charlie Wong (a non-citizen born in China) and his cousin Lee Wing, born in California.


H.C. Murray automobile in 1911 Independence Day parade, with African American chauffeur (unidentified, but possibly Daniel Willis)

Color and Occupation

The majority of those who worked in the mills were local whites from Connecticut followed by French Canadians. It appears blacks were excluded from working in the mills throughout Connecticut. Townspeople of color in Willimantic most commonly held domestic jobs in homes or hotels. In 1910, African Americans worked as launderers, washers, servants (or maids), and cooks. A.E. Stewart, a 58 year old Black man originally from Louisiana, worked as chef in one of the hotels, and several other African Americans also worked as cooks in hotels as well. There were also three black chauffeurs, one of whom can be seen driving Charles Murray's vehicle in the 1911 Fourth of July parade. The two indigenous young men worked as drivers/teamsters, while Charlie Wong ran a local laundry store on Church Street, where his cousin also worked.

In addition to those working in service jobs, there were also several prominent African Americans in town. One of the main north-south thoroughfares, Jackson Street was most likely named after a black farmer living on upper Jackson Street. In 1910, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church minister was Sinclare Grimstead, who migrated from Virginia to Connecticut sometime after 1900 with his family. Several African Americans listed their occupation as farmers, and William Miller owned his own house and business in town as a fruit dealer. Sixty-three year old Daniel Bentley, married to Emma, owned his own masonry business at 31 Church Street. William E. Grant was also listed as a mason in the business advertisement section of the city directory, while the Virginia-born John W. Flippin (Flippen?) also earned wages as a mason.

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Map of African American households in 1910 Willimantic

Color and Residence

This map illustrates the location and size of households with an African American present. We can see that most of the households were located west of Jackson Street, with several near the center of town and west of North Street. Many of these locations were very close to the hotels where several worked. The large household at 88 Chestnut Street was rented by Stoke Watson, a painter originally from Virginia, with his wife Queenie (a dressmaker originally from North Carolina) and their seven children, ages 1-13. The inhabitants of 28 Walnut are even more interesting. According to the census, three 'familes' (as defined by the census) lived at the address: a household headed by the previously-mentioned mason John Flippen and his mixed-race wife and their four children. The same address contained another small household headed by a divorcée Mary Bates ("mulatto") along with her six year old granddaughter Elma. Although there is no record in the city directory, a third household at this same address was headed by Ida Baudin (black, unmarried), who lived with an elderly white housekeeper Ora Sayles, as well as a 64 year old boarder Frank Potter (white). The relationships between these households, and particularly within the third household, are unclear, but they suggest how complex living conditions could be, or else how uncertain our reconstructions can be based off of a source like the census.

Dr. Jamie Eves' 2023 Mill Museum exhibit "Here All Along: African Americans in Northeastern Connecticut before the Great Migration" (currently here) provides a longer-term perspective on African Americans in the area.

Color and Race
Color and Race: Willimantic