Previous Site of the Month: June 2012
The People's Center
37 Howe Street, New Haven, CT 06511
Built in 1851, The Peoples Center, located at 37 Howe Street in New Haven, Connecticut was purchased by a group of mainly Jewish, immigrant workers who fervently believed that their new homeland should be a model of peace and social and econimic justice. The tradesmen and artisans who had grown up speaking Polish, Yiddish and Russian, envisioned for their families a center of social and cultural life. They contributed 25 cents per week to the Center.
The Peoples Center's doors were always open. During the 1930's, 37 Howe Street housed the Unity Players, the first black/white intergrated drama organization in New Haven. The New Haven Redwings, the city's first black/white basketball team, also originated there. The first city celebration of International Women's Day took place at 37 Howe Street.
As the Great Depression closed in upon the nation, The Peoples Center gave its rooms over to the unemployed to organize for jobs, to keep their homes, and to work for the unemployment insurance and social security laws that many now take for granted. Organizing the Connecticut CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) began here. During this period Woody Guthrie sang a benefit concert for the Peoples Center. The very first anti-fascist, anti-nazi meetings in the city were convened at 37 Howe Street. Volunteers for the Abraham Lincoln Brigades were sent off from the Peoples Center to fight for the Republic in Spain's Civil War, and the survivors welcomed back.
During the 1940's, the chart of the Peoples Center initiated activities included rallies against lynchings, organizing to end segregated baseball leagues, and campaigns to integrate the jobs of bus driver and railroad worker.
To fulfill the need of workers to advance their education, New Haven's first evening college was conceived at 37 Howe Street. It became the evening division of New Haven State Teachers College on nearby Legion Avenue, now Southern Connecticut State University.
The Cold War marked another era for 37 Howe Street. A new climate pervaded the community: Progressives and whoever refused to join assaults on them were branded traitors. Threats on the life of Paul Robeson, rallied organizers from the People's Center to send a bus full of supporters to protect him and his September 1949 concert at Peekskill, New York.
Throughout the 1950's and '60's activities at the Center turned largely defensive, sheltering the gains that working people had achieved in the previous two decades and guarding labor and other progressive leaders from attacks by Senator McCarthy and his followers. Despite these hardships, local coordination for Martin Luther King's 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington and later in the decade, support of a fair trail for members of the Black Panther Party coalesced at 37 Howe.
By the early 1970's McCarthyism and its most devastating scars had become history, yet activities at the People's Center barely recovered. In 1973, to revitalize the Howe Street structure and preserve its half-century tradition Progressive Education and Research Associates bought the site.
For the first time in many years New Haven again had a place to celebrate May Day, recalling our great - grandparents' seminal struggle for the 8-hour workday; annual African American History Month celebrations were established; weekly potluck suppers brought together Peoples Center neighbors with activists from a variety of causes. The John and Milada Marsalka Library was opened and dedicated to the extraordinary efforts of two long-time, remarkably energetic New Haven progrssives.
In the 1970's, 80's and 90's the Peoples Center provided affordable (often free) space to working men and women organizing for better wages, for health care, for weekends off, for paid vacations; machinists at Winchester (now U.S. Repeating Arms), hospital workers at Yale-New Haven, health care providers at the Jewish Home, New Haven teachers, Yale, Harco, Circuit-Wise workers, - just as it had made room in decades past for Connecticut tobacco workers, clothing workers, and Sargent Company employees.
Most recently, the 140 year-old 37 Howe Street opened its doors as a Drop In Center for homeless individuals who had nowhere to go to escape the cold. Managed by We The People, the Center kept them warm while they played checkers or chess, watched television, took literacy classes, met with medical personnel and social service providers, read, or slept.
The high volume traffic, low rents and absence of a paid building superintendent left the Peoples Center desperately needing rehabilitation. Recognizing the significance of saving this historic institution, the community rallied.
With an outpouring of supportive letters, critical testimony at public hearings and backing from sympathetic New Haven Alderpersons, The People's Center won Community Development Block Grants for renovation. To these were added many generous individual donations, volunteer professional services and donations of supplies, labor from the Innovative Homeless Program, Living Wages Jobs Program, Youthbuild, and special help form the Haymarket People's Fund and Architecture Theatre Prometheus.
After a two-year break, the new New Haven Peoples Center is again providing for the people's needs. With continued support of its friends, the Center history will extend into the future, advancing labor and peace and justice issues, guaranteeing space and shelter, and inspiring us with the great good work done within its walls.
.Source: New Haven Peoples Center