Previous Site of the Month: April 2011
William Best House
377 Hayden Station Road, Windsor, CT 06095
William Howard Best was born May 11, 1924 and was a lifelong Windsor resident. His family has owned property and made a living in Windsor since the 1870s when his great-grandparents, James and Charlotte Thompson, purchased the land in Hayden Station. His great-great-uncle, Virgil Simmons, was a Civil War soldier. His grandfather, Charles Howard, was a hostler for a local farmer, caring for horses. His mother, Florence, was a pianist and a hairdresser.
William Best was the source for African American history in Windsor with most of the information stored in his memory and in photographs that he preserved of the town, his neighborhood and local African Americans. He wanted to make sure that black history, as part of Windsor’s story, was documented and acknowledged. He generously shared his extensive and invaluable knowledge with researchers and others who were interested. Bill and his wife Jean were active members of the Windsor Historical Society, and he served on the Board of Directors. He participated in the National Conference for Community and Justice, Conversations on Race and found pleasure and meaning in revealing his confrontations with racial issues in town and in the United States Marines during World War II.
In his life, Best challenged the limitations that had been placed on blacks in this society. He worked for Colt Industries for several years before and after enlisting in the Marines, but left when working with plastics was harming his hands. Following Preston Pope’s success at obtaining a job as the first African American to drive a commercial bus in Connecticut, he got a job as another early African American bus driver. He then set his sites on becoming a policeman. In spite of high scores on the tests, it took three tries before he was accepted on the Windsor Police force in 1951, becoming Windsor’s first black policeman. He was on the force for eighteen years until an injury received on the job resulted in his having to retire.
Politically, he was proud of the time he recruited local blacks to register to vote so that they could contribute to town government. A reflection of his lifelong efforts to bridge the gap between whites and blacks was his selection as one of the first recipients of the Bridge-Builder Award, an award sponsored by Citizens for a United Windsor and the Windsor Human Relations Commission in 1994.
Following his retirement from the police force, Bill took a long-time personal hobby, and created a successful company, Wil-Bes Printing. Among his customers were insurance companies (including Aetna and The Hartford), banks, the telephone company and Windsor Board of Education. A member of the Board of Directors of the local Lupus Foundation, Best also donated a lot of his printing services to them.