By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
The city paid tribute to the proud legacy of African Americans and the immeasurable contributions — courage, imagination and unbeatable determination — they have made to shaping the American nation at the 24th annual Black Heritage Celebration at City Hall on Feb. 27.
During the cultural event in observance of Black History Month, the city’s Black Heritage Committee cited West Haven High School seniors Esther Boadiwaa Danso and Edward Kruah for leadership and honored Freddy Jackson and the late Teresa S. Blackwell as African American Citizens of the Year.
On behalf of their mother and grandmother, who died of cancer in 2005, Edwin Blackwell and his sons, Eli, 16, and Quincy, 15, accepted a citation from Mayor Nancy R. Rossi recognizing the former city welfare director’s “conviction, integrity and wisdom.”
Jackson, the commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9422, also received a citation from Rossi for his “courageous spirit and inspiring good works.” He was joined onstage by his wife, Miriam Silas Jackson.
Reading the citations, Rossi said: “I am grateful for your pioneering contributions in shaping the fabric of our African American community. Your story, an American story, speaks to the hopes and dreams we all have in common.”
A native of Bennettsville, South Carolina, Blackwell moved to West Haven in the mid-1950s. She later became involved in the city’s Democratic Party and worked on several campaigns, including Azelio M. “Sal” Guerra, who was elected the sixth mayor of Connecticut’s youngest city in December 1985.
Seven months into his inaugural two-year term, Guerra appointed Blackwell as West Haven’s first African American female director of welfare. She led the Welfare Department from Aug. 4, 1986, to Jan. 5, 1990.
After her stint with the city, she served as U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro’s office manager.
Blackwell was a member of the Democratic Town Committee, the Board of Education and the Democratic Women of West Haven. She was also an avid bowler and golfer.
Jackson, 75, an Army veteran who served in Colorado and Korea in 1963-66 during the Vietnam War era, was the ceremonial grand marshal of the city’s 2018 Memorial Day parade.
Born and raised in Opp, Alabama, he came to West Haven with his wife in 1968.
Jackson is a longtime member of Hughson-Miller Post 71 of the American Legion and served as its commander in the early ’90s.
He has also volunteered for many years at the West Haven Veterans Affairs Hospital and is a former girls softball coach.
Jackson and his wife live on York Street and have two adult daughters, Tiffany and Joya, and eight grandchildren.
The hourlong program, held in the Harriet C. North Community Room, included an awards presentation by Rossi and committee Chairman Steven R. Mullins, the master of ceremonies, whose daughter, West Haven High junior Nora E. Mullins, sang a moving rendition of the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” She was accompanied on the performance by the standing room-only assembly of dignitaries, family, friends and residents.
The ceremony also included a presentation of the colors by the West Haven Police Honor Guard and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Eli and Quincy Blackwell.
Danso, who aims to study mechanical engineering at a university next fall, and Kruah, who also aspires to pursue higher education, received a Black Heritage Committee certificate of achievement from Mullins, who was joined by Rossi, Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro and West Haven High Principal Dana Paredes.
Danso is enrolled in Advanced Placement courses, has earned high honors and was named West Haven High’s Student of the Month. Kruah, whose interests are video games, basketball and football, is also enrolled in college-level courses and has earned honors all four years while tackling a challenging workload.
The program featured remarks from Rossi, Cavallaro and 7th District Councilwoman Treneé McGee, the keynote speaker, as well as committee founder Beulah “Bea” Johnson and committee President Emerita Ernestine Jackson.
Rossi thanked the committee for “celebrating West Haven’s African American community.”
McGee focused her speech on the history of black soldiers, including the Tuskegee Airmen of the Army Air Forces’ 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group who fought in World War II, and how they played a significant role in the history of the U.S. military.
After saluting the veterans in the room, she concluded her remarks by empowering the crowd, made up of people from all walks of life, to embrace diversity and “be part of the cultural expansion in our country.”
In honor of the monthlong black history celebration, organizers have decorated the walls of City Hall with banners and posters depicting important black leaders and role models worldwide.
The committee has worked since 1996 to promote racial harmony across West Haven, transforming City Hall into an exhibition of African American art and literature throughout Black History Month to educate residents about black culture.