Writer takes a look back at Black History
(Editor's Note: The following was written by Fran Smith of New Milford about blacks in New Milford in recognition of February as Black History Month.)
It is a privilege to write about two New Milford families.
Her father was a white English settler who moved to Sherman and married an Indian of Pequot, Narragansett and Scaticook descent.
Birth records indicate Mildred Heacock's color as white.
She was educated in New Milford and was one of the first of "color" to graduate from Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. She went on to become a registered nurse.
Because of how light her skin color was, she was seated in an all-white class.
After graduation, she moved to Falls Village.
Mrs. Heacock died Nov. 11, 1972, and was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in North Canaan.
Martha Minerva Franklin was born Oct. 29, 1870, in New Milford, to Henry and Mary E. Gauson Franklin.
She attended New Milford schools and graduated from Meriden Public High School in 1890.
Five years later, she entered the Women's Hospital Training School for Nurses in Philadelphia, where she was one of a few black women to attain access to such a nursing program.
The vast majority of nursing schools either restricted or totally prohibited the admission of black women. This widespread system of racial discrimination and exclusion compelled many African-Americans to find a separate black network of health-care institutions and nurses training schools.
The sole black student in her class, Mrs. Franklin received her diploma in December of 1900. She found employment as a private-duty nurse at a hospital staff or at a public health nursing facility, which was seldom available to black nurses.
Mrs. Franklin worked in Meriden and later in New Haven.
As a graduate nurse, she was confronted by the unjust treatment of black nurses.
The denial for admission to hospital nursing schools limited the number of black, trained nurses and those few who did graduate were denied membership in the American Nurses Association (ANA).
Membership in a state nurse's association was a prerequisite to membership in the ANA. All the southern state associations barred black women.
In 1906, Mrs. Franklin launched an investigation of the status of black graduate nurses and discovered widespread dissatisfaction among black nurses.
Out of this meeting emerged the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN), with 26 charter members.
Mrs. Franklin was unanimously elected president and was reelected in 1909.
The members designated her honorary president for life and made her NACGN's permanent historian.
She was employed as a nurse in the New York public school system.
She died Sept. 26, 1968.
Fran Smith is a resident of New Milford and a student of black history.