Thursday, January 1, 2009

History of the New Haven Peoples Center

Built in 1851, 37 Howe Street was purchased IN 1937 by a group of mainly Jewish immigrant workers who fervently believed that their new homeland should be a model of peace and social and economic justice. The tradesmen and artisans who had grown up speaking Polish, Yiddish, Russian, Ukranian and Polish, envisioned for their families a center of social and cultural life and reached out into the community in friendship and solidarity.
  • 1930s: housed the Unity Players, the first Black/white integrated drama group in New Haven; and the New Haven Redwings, the first Black/white basketball team in New Haven. Provided space during the Great Depression for the unemployed to organize for jobs; housed the Connecticut CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and was the initial meeting place for many of today's local unions. First celebration of International Women's Day in New Haven.
  • 1940s: organized rallies against lynching and against segregation; initiated New Haven’s first evening college “to fulfill the need of workers to advance their education” (it became the evening division of the New Haven State Teachers College, now Southern Connecticut State University
  • 1950s and 1960s: participated in civil rights and peace movements; struggled against the impact of McCarthyism on labor and other progressive organizations and activists. Organized a group to protect Paul Robeson at famous Peekskill, New York concert. Meeting place for Jewish and Ukrainian progressives.
  • 1970s-1980s: provided meeting space to working men and women organizing for better wages, for health care, for weekends off, for paid vacations: machinists at Winchester; workers at Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital; health care providers at the Jewish Home; New Haven teachers; and Harco, and Circuitwise workers. Held weekly potluck suppers which served as a place for socializing and exchange by peace and justice, civil rights and women activists. Local coordination for national marches on Washington DC. Hosted dances and other youth activities. Opened a Crisis Information / Action Center to provide assistance and organize against utility rate hikes and other economic emergencies.

  • 1990s: housed the first in the country homeless run day time drop-in center. Solidarity work with unions on strike and organizing. Participated in labor-community coalitions to protect healthcare and pensions, and stop plant closings. Meeting place for peace organizations. Rehab of the building to upgrade. Home to 1199 Training and Upgrading Fund nursing home students. Research library developed. Designated as a site on the Connecticut African American Freedom Trail by the Connecticut Historical Commission.
  • 2000s: original meeting place of Unidad Latina en Accion. Meeting place of New Haven Peace Council. Became a chapter of Alliance for Retired Americans. Participant in Community Organized for Responsible Development and Connecticut Center for a New Economy. Home to New Growth Praise Center until 2009 when they found a permanent location. Home to Knowing God Ministries. Home to 1199 Training and Upgrading Fund. Home to Unite Here Joint Board during New England Linen organizing drive. First Friday Cafe with music, film and in 2009 the Free 2 Spit poetry venue. Location for poetry, music shows, forums and other cultural and educational activities.
  • 2010s: office for New Haven Workers' Center and ULA. The New Elm Cit Dream youth group was founded, holding weekly meetings, events, marches and activities training youth to organize.  SEIU 32 BJ opened an office here.  In 2012 a large celebration was organized to mark the 75th birthday of the Peoples Center, addressed by elected officials, labor and community leaders who pledged to help win support for the large project of repointing the bricks and other necessary updates.  In 2014 the Black and Hispanic Caucus of the New Haven Board of Alders presented the New Haven Peoples Center with a community service Heritage Award at their annual gala in recognition of the contributions of this all-volunteer institution which has continued to be a welcoming space for labor, community, youth, peace, immigrant and many other groups since it was founded.

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