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Blumenthal, Murphy, & Himes Announce $750,000 Federal Grant to Preserve African American Civil Rights History

Funding will help restore Connecticut’s historic Eliza Freeman House

[HARTFORD, CT] – Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) and U.S. Representative Jim Himes (D-CT) announced a $750,000 federal grant for The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community to help with historic preservation and restoration of the Eliza Freeman House. The funding is awarded through the National Park Service as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program, which supports the preservation of sites and stories related to the struggle of African Americans to gain equal rights.

The Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses are the last surviving structures of “Little Liberia”, a settlement of free African Americans in Bridgeport that formed in the pre-Civil War era. The Freeman sisters were born into freedom in Derby, and both became successful landowners. In 1848, they purchased adjoining building lots in "Little Liberia" and used their homes as rental property while they worked and resided in New York. The Freeman Houses are now part of the National Register of Historic Places and Connecticut’s Freedom Trail.

As part of the restoration project, the Freeman Center plans to turn the Eliza Freeman House into a community resilience center that will feature exhibits on environmental literacy and social justice.

“The Freeman Houses are symbolic of Connecticut’s civil rights history and the fight for freedom. Despite facing significant obstacles as Black women in 19th century America, Mary and Eliza Freeman were highly successful property owners that hold a lasting legacy in Bridgeport. This funding is critical to keep the storied legacy of the Freeman sisters alive and allow the Center to continue to serve the community,” said Blumenthal.

“As the last two standing houses in Bridgeport’s Little Liberia, the Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses tell an important story about Black history and the struggle for civil rights. The Freeman Center has done a phenomenal job highlighting the national significance of this piece of Connecticut history, and I’m so glad to see the National Park Service recognize the value of their project. This federal funding will ensure the Eliza Freeman House and its history will be preserved for all to learn and experience,” said Murphy.

“The Mary and Eliza Freeman homes represent a tremendous amount of history – the thriving Black and Indigenous American community in 1800s Bridgeport, Connecticut’s role in the Underground Railroad, and our national struggle with civil and human rights. After working with the Freeman Center and Bridgeport community for many years, it’s wonderful to see this prestigious federal grant from the National Park Service go toward renovation and restoration of the Eliza Freeman house. Stories like Freeman sisters’ too often get erased from history, and I am grateful to everyone at the Freeman Center for their dedication to making sure these historic homes and the legacy of “Little Liberia” live on for years to come,” said Himes.

“Because the Eliza Freeman House continued to stand for 175 years, Little Liberia and its significance to this country’s march toward civil and human rights, for all, was rediscovered. With assistance from the National Park Service, we are proud to highlight this Connecticut story, and the achievements of Bridgeport’s 19th century Native and African Americans in the very place it unfolded, while building a climate resilient future for the community. We can’t wait to start construction,” said Maisa Tisdale, President & CEO of The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center.

Congress appropriated $21 million in funding for the African American Civil Rights Grant Program in fiscal year 2022 through the National Park Service, as part of the Historic Preservation Fund (HPF). The Freeman Center is one of 37 projects in 16 states to receive this grant, and the only awardee in New England.