The settling of New Haven in 1638 offered English Puritans the promise of relief from religious and political oppression and the opportunity for a better life. Whether its original name was New Haven, as suggested by Henry Blake in
Chronicles of the New Haven Green, 1638-1862
, or New Haven, meaning both a harbor and place of refuge, the goals of economic, social, and spiritual improvement were clear to those who gave the city its name.
In its 350-year history, New Haven has become the home for many groups of new arrivals: first the English Puritans, who settled and lived in relative homogeneity for almost 200 years, then in more rapid succession, Germans, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Italians, Negroes, and now Puerto Ricans. Almost any resident of the city today experiences this phenomenon personally, either as one whose life is affected by the influx of newcomers, or as one of the newcomers, living the experience of cultural and economic upheaval and resettlement.
The purpose of our project is to discover and organize a general history of blacks and Italians in New Haven. Our choice of these two groups does not imply that their experience is more significant or totally different from that of other groups. Rather, we have chosen them because they are the two largest ethnic groups in the city at this time, and because most of our students are of Italian or Afro-American descent.
We do not propose to write a detailed analysis of any particular facet of black or Italian experience. We feel it is more appropriate to develop a general historical and social framework that teachers can use to relate, compare, and contrast the ethnic experience of the two groups in New Haven. We intend to cover the Italian and black communities from their beginnings through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. For blacks this period begins in the very early 1800’s and for most Italians around 1890. We have chosen to end the narratives with the decade of the 1930’s because by that time both communities had clearly established their major institutions. By 1939 both groups had found an established, though inferior, economic and social place in New Haven.
We recognize that our history stops short of major developments occurring in each community after World War II. For blacks it excludes the period of mass migration which has seen their percentage of the total population go from three to thirty-five percent; for Italians our narrative ends before their dramatic ascendancy in city politics. It was not within the scope of a project of this size to cover the entire history of both groups. Rather, we feel that the recent history and present place of both can be explored tentatively in our classes and might properly form the basis for another research project.