Connecticut ‘Takes the Wheel’ on Education Reform: Project Concern

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Amanda Gurren–Trinity College

Connecticut ‘Takes the Wheel’ on Education Reform:

Project Concern

Early Student Participants of Project Concern Project; Source: Hartford Times 1968, Hartford Public Library

Conventionally, students attend school in the district where they live, but the option to choose other educational alternatives has been a part of Connecticut’s state policy for years. One of these educational alternatives included Project Concern, one of the first voluntary busing programs in the United States executed in 1966, which granted Connecticut students residing within city limits the ability to attend suburban schools. In 1998-99, Project Concern was supplanted by the Project Choice (also known as Open Choice) program, which enables the two-way movement of urban and suburban students in the areas neighboring Connecticut’s three largest cities (Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven).

The Concern that Prompted ‘Concern’

In the mid 1960’s, the quality of education in Hartford’s public schools was greatly compromised. Studies concluded that the students who attended the public schools in the low-income areas of Hartford were racially segregated, testing far below both the state and national averages, and dropping out at unforeseeably high rates. Parents, students, and school faculty members were outraged and demanded government intervention immediately. Unsure of what should be done that would most effectively address and resolve the issues at hand, the city requested the aid of Harvard University to examine and essentially assess Hartford and its respective public schools. The findings of Harvard University’s study of Hartford were later published in what is known today as the “Harvard Report.” The Report presented Hartford with a number of suggestions the city could undertake to improve the disastrous conditions of its schools. Although many of these propositions were never implemented due to the lack of sufficient funds, the idea of a state-funded provincial busing program looked hopeful and most importantly–affordable.

En Route to Change: The Beginning Years 

Map of Hartford and its Surrounding Suburbs that Agreed to Participate in Project Concern; Source: Hartford Times 1968, Hartford Public Library.

Project Concern, one of many desegregation social experiments, was put into effect during the sweeping idealism of the 1960s in Connecticut. Hartford responded to Harvard University’s findings by experimenting with busing a randomly selected group of its inner city children to schools of five surrounding suburbs. Considering that more suburbs strongly opposed this desegregation program than volunteered to participate during its early years, the project leaders hoped that the anticipated success of the experiment would encourage more suburbs to join the effort. During this two-year experimental phase, extensive records were kept of the academic and social progress of the 260 student program participants, and were compared to control groups of children remaining in the Hartford public schools.The results of the testing convinced ten other towns and white middle class areas of Hartford to partake in the project and admit target area children into their schools.

Conclusions of ‘Concern’

Men looking at urban-suburban school integration (busing) report; Source: Hartford History Center, Hartford Public Library

Project Concern symbolizes the paradoxical nature of school desegregation efforts around the nation as it has produced a number of both positive and negative outcomes.

The Successes

In 1982, approximately 700 of the former program participants were interviewed and surveyed for the Final Evaluation Report, after having finished secondary school. It was determined that attending the suburban schools significantly reduced high school dropout rates, increased adult socializations between whites and nonwhites, and increased the number of blacks choosing to live in interracial housing. Additionally, it was found that the program participants had fewer complications with police, observed less discrimination in colleges and in their respective jobs, and were more likely to excel in college.

The Failures

In spite of the apparent successes, Project Concern was widely criticized by the public. Many argued that the one-way busing program did not produce anything close to integration. In fact, the burden of busing was placed solely on minority students, rather than two-way desegregation.  Furthermore, critics of the program claimed that the number of program participants was a relatively small percentage of the total number of Hartford students. Even during the program’s highest enrollment years, Project Concern students never made up more than eight percent of any participating district’s student population. The limited number of student participants consequently made it difficult to determine the legitimacy of the final evaluation report’s findings.

Watch Me!

Learn More:

Crain, Robert L., and Jack Strauss. School Desegregation and Black Occupational Attainments: Results from a Long-Term Experiment., July 1985.

Crain, Robert L., and Others. Finding Niches: Desegregated Students Sixteen Years Later. Final Report on the Educational Outcomes of Project Concern, Hartford, Connecticut., June 1992.

Harvard University Graduate School of Education. Center for Field Studies. Schools for Hartford. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1965.

Iwanicki, Edward F, and Robert K Gable. “Hartford Project Concern Program. Final Evaluation Report, 1982-83.” (August 1983).

“When Good Will Is Not Enough; Desegregation Project at Heart of Hartford School Suit – New York Times.” New York Times, n.d.

Hartford’s Great Migration Johnson’s Eyes

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Charles S. Johnson

Source: Perspectives in American Literature

During the years 1910 to 1930, there was a huge shift in the demographics of Northern cities. This period known as the Great Migration was a period of mass movement for Southern African Americans in search of job opportunities and a renewed life. Charles S. Johnson a prominent African American sociologist published several reports on the African American populations in different cities across the United States. Johnson wrote a report entitled “The Negro Population of Hartford, CT in 1921. Through his eyes, we can see why African Americans migrated to Hartford, the challenges they faced, and how they made the communities they lived in their own.


Between the years 1910 to 1920, Hartford’s population greatly increased. According

The Negro Population of Hartford, CT 1921

Click to view Johnson's full report "The Negro Population in Hartford, CT (1921) Source: Trinity College Digital Repository

to Johnson’s report, “…within this decade the [population] increase was 140 percent one of the largest percentages of the Northern cities affected by the movement” (Johnson p.22).When African Americans initially made it to Hartford the jobopportunities, in the tobacco industry in particular, seemed promising. However, many of them discovered that jobs were not always available. The newly arrived African Americans and the Italian and Polish immigrants that settled in Hartford often competed for the same jobs, and the Italians and Polish settlers were usually more favored. The declaration of World War I brought more hope for the African American migrants. There was an increase in job openings as immigration was banned and a number of the immigrant residents of Hartford went to fight for their homeland.


The migration to Hartford was not an easy transition. The new African American arrivals faced many challenges in addition to the lack of job opportunities as they tried to settle in the North. They faced backlash from the African Americans that lived in the North prior to The Great Migration- as they tried to distinguish themselves from the newcomers and blamed them for bad things that occurred. They also felt the implications of racism. They were segregated in certain areas of the city and endured harsh living conditions. According to Johnson, “The heaviest concentration of Negroes was found in Districts IV and V, the only housing actually available for the Negro newcomers” (p. 24).The African Americans who were fortunate enough acquired the means to move, but many others were left behind.

Racial Change Map 1920 displaying the African American Population concentrated in the Northeast part of Hartford. Click on the image to see the interactive map. Source: UConn Magic


Even though the circumstances were not ideal, the African Americans who were left behind found ways to uplift their communities through churches. There were a number of different churches for different faiths, and the differences in beliefs often caused friction between the African American community as a whole. At the end of his research, Johnson concluded his report with words of encouragement and advice for the new and existing African Americans that both called Hartford home. He stated that despite the differences that seemed to draw them apart, there were a number of individual ministers who possessed strong leadership skills. If they worked to overcome their differences and collaborate, then they would be able to effectively tackle those who further oppressed and denied them opportunities for attaining a better life. The issues surrounding migration and establishing a new life for Southern African Americans were common themes that he observed through his studies on other cities across the United States. Thanks to Charles S. Johnson, we have a better sense of what life was like for African Americans in Hartford in the 1920s.

Learn More:

African-American Genealogical Resources at the Connecticut State Library

Author Unknown. “Charles Spurgeon Johnson (American Sociologist and Editor) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia Britannica.

Author Unknown. “Great Migration: The African-American Exodus North : NPR.”

Johnson, Charles. “The Negro Population of Hartford, Connecticut”. Department of Research and Investigations of the National Urban League, New York, 1921. Connecticut State Library. Available from the Trinity College Digital Repository, Hartford, Connecticut (

Race Restrictive Covenants in Property Deeds (Edited)

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“No persons of any race except the white race shall use or occupy any building on any lot except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race employed by an owner or tenant.”  This language, taken directly from a property deed dated June 10th 1940, in West Hartford’s High Ledge Homes Development, appeared in property deeds in five neighborhoods during the 1940s in West Hartford. In some places in Connecticut such barriers appeared even earlier.

These restrictive covenants, along with ones that may have existed in other Northern states, were implemented in order to prevent minorities from moving into white suburban neighborhoods.  Real estate developers, homeowners, and neighborhood associations wrote these restrictions, called housing covenants, for their developments. Discriminatory covenants excluded certain groups from housing areas not only in Connecticut but throughout the northern United States as well.

Source: UConn Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center. Click for Whole Property Deed.

Population Shift Sparks Unfair Realty Practices

The Great Migration of blacks from the rural South to work in industrial factories in the North increased the minority population in Hartford beginning in the 1920s.  Housing areas became a commodity that whites wanted to protect.  In 1937, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) issued a map rating Hartford’s neighborhoods on a scale from A-D based on the perceived risk of mortgage defaults in each. The HOLC labeled areas with a high concentration of minorities as riskier; these received a D rating.  Even a small number of minority families living in an area often resulted in it receiving a C rating.  This map vividly documents how the racial composition of a neighborhood influenced the values of homes in the area.

This process—called redlining—exposed the deep concern many whites had about minorities moving into their neighborhoods.  The influx of blacks into the North and the redlining process contributed to “white flight” into the suburbs of Hartford starting in the 1940s.  Real estate agencies and homeowners, concerned about black neighbors causing a decline in property values in their new white suburban enclaves, wrote housing covenants into their property deeds. Due to these covenants, blacks were nearly eliminated from the suburban housing market during the 1940s.

Shelley v. Kraemer: Ending Housing Covenants

Source: UConn Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center. Click image for interactive map.

In 1948, restrictive housing covenants were deemed unenforceable by law in the Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer on the grounds that such restrictions violated the 14th Amendment, which calls for equal treatment under the law for all citizens of the United States.  Privately, however, some would still abide by the restrictive covenants in property deeds, even though they could not be enforced when taken to court.  In many predominantly white areas of Connecticut, such as New Canaan, for example, “gentlemen’s agreements” not to sell homes to blacks, Jews, or other minorities allowed discrimination to quietly persist.  The Fair Housing Act of 1968 did much to discourage continuations of these practices.

Documenting a History of Discrimination

Since it is still legal to have these racially restrictive covenants in property deeds, some still remain in housing deeds in West Hartford (however, they are not enforceable).  Such clauses have been documented for five areas, including the High Ledge Homes Development, by On The Line, a public history web-book by Trinity College professor Jack Dougherty. As part of this effort, The Cities, Suburbs and Schools Project, a collaborative effort involving Trinity faculty and students as well as community members, interviewed citizens of West Hartford in 2011. They asked residents living in homes with property deeds that included race restrictive covenants their thoughts on the matter. Younger, new residents of the area were alarmed to learn that they existed. “It’s not something I would have expected in Connecticut…, “ said one. “I grew up believing that [overt racism] was in the South.” Those who had lived in their neighborhoods for a long time were less surprised. One woman reported knowing of the covenant when she purchased her home in 1970.  These covenants are more than artifacts of an earlier time. They have shaped the present-day nature of communities across Connecticut.

Readers of this article who are aware of racially restrictive covenants in housing deeds are invited to contribute to On The Line’s ongoing research by leaving a comment here. [Will Link to: :]

Learn More:

Everett, Mary. “Oral History Interview on West Hartford and Restrictive Covenants, (with Video).” Oral History Interviews (July 21, 2011).

Hansen, Susan. “Oral History Interview on West Hartford (with Video).” Oral History Interviews (July 22, 2011).

Jackson, Kenneth T. “Gentleman’s Agreement: Discrimination in Metropolitan America.” In Reflections on Regionalism, edited by Bruce Katz, 185–217. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press, 2000.

Walsh, Debra. “Oral History Interview on West Hartford.” Oral History Interviews (July 21, 2011).

“Federal HOLC “Redlining” Map, Hartford Area, 1937.”University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center – MAGIC . Web. 19 June 2012.

“Race Restrictive Covenants in Property Deeds, Hartford area, circa 1940.” University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center – MAGIC . Web. 19 Jun. 2012.

“Racial Change in the Hartford Region, 1900-2010.”University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center – MAGIC . Web. 20 Jun. 2012.

Shelley V. Kraemer (Syllabus), 100 U.S. 1 (U.S. Supreme Court 1948).


Sheff v. O’Neill Settlements 2003,2008

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Sheff vs. O’Neill Settlements (2003, 2008).

Background: In 1989, Milo Sheff, then a fourth grader, and 17 other children, filed a lawsuit through their parents, addressing the inequalities within Hartford’s segregated schools. The lawsuit’s goal was to give the children in Hartford an equal educational opportunity. Finally, after years of deliberating, a decision was made; in 1996 the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3, in favor of Sheff. The court stated that the separation of suburban students and Hartford students violated the segregation clause in the Connecticut Constitution and ruled that the state was obligated to provide equal educational opportunity for all students. With that, the court urged the State to find ways to promote desegregation, but without any specific goals or timetables.

To learn more about the Sheff case, click below to watch an oral history video interview of Elizabeth Horton Sheff, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Sheff vs. O’Neill 2003: After the ruling in 1996, the Sheff plaintiffs were dissatisfied; they saw no real change or efforts done by the state officials. As a result, the Sheff plaintiffs filed a proposal in 2000 and in 2003 a legal settlement was declared. The settlement had a timetable of four years, and it called for 30% of Hartford minority

January 23rd, 2003. Hartford Courant

students in reduced-isolation settings, which are schools with fewer than 75% minority students. Another goal of this settlement was that the Project Choice program, a voluntary transfer program for Hartford students to attend schools in the suburbs, would have 1,600 students enrolled by 2007. One outcome of the settlement was that 22 magnet schools, which are public schools with themes and an application system, were created. These schools were created to attract a diverse body of students; however, the racial composition in these magnet schools varied immensely. While some of the magnet schools met the criteria of fewer than 75% minority students, others had too few or too many minorities. Additionally, many of the minority students of these magnet schools were not even Hartford residents; they were instead residents of the surrounding suburban towns. Even though there was an increase in magnet schools during this time, the main goals were not met of the settlement; only 17% of Hartford minority students were in reduced-isolation settings and only 1,070 students were enrolled in Project Choice.

Sheff vs. O’Neill 2008: Since the goals were not met in the first settlement in 2003, another settlement was negotiated. This time a focus was made on the percent of students applying to go to a reduced-isolation school rather than just looking at the percent of students enrolled in reduced-isolation schools. With that, two goals were created; a goal of 80 percent of Hartford students applying to go to a reduced-isolation school would be able to and a goal of 41 percent of minority students from Hartford would be enrolled in a reduced-isolation school. Both goals did not have to be met; however, the goal was that one was met. In addition to this, the settlement included a descriptive plan for schools such as magnet schools and those schools that participated in Project Choice to follow. The due date for these settlement goals was the 2012-2013 academic school year.

Actual and Legal Process toward Sheff I & Sheff II Goal, 2003-2013 Chart – Data Source: Dougherty et al. “Sheff v O’Neill: Weak Desegregation Remedies,” Figure 5.1, p. 111; Thomas. “State Falls Short on School Desegregation Requirements | The Connecticut Mirror.”

Update on Progress of 2008 Settlement:  The 2008 settlement goal of 41% minority students from Hartford being enrolled in a reduced-isolation school was not met by the 2012-2013 due date; only 37% minority students from Hartford were enrolled in a reduced-isolation school. Because they did not meet the goal, state officials and the Sheff plaintiffs will be meeting to negotiate a new settlement. The date and goals of this new settlement have not been set yet.

Learn more:

Dougherty, Jack, Wanzer, Jesse, Ramsay, Christina. “Sheff v. O’Neill: Weak Desegregation Remedies and Strong Disincentives in Connecticut, 1996-2008.” In From the Courtroom to the Classroom, edited by Claire Smrekar and Ellen Goldring, 103-127. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Education Press, 2009.

“Sheff Movement.” Sheff Movement: Quality Integrated Education for All Children, n.d.

Mozdzer, Jodie. “Sheff Vs. O’Neill: A Timeline.”, n.d.,0,105112.flash.

Thomas, Jacqueline. “State Falls Short on School Desegregation Requirements | The Connecticut Mirror.” CT Mirror, November 15, 2012.

Works Cited:

Connecticut Superior Court. “Sheff Vs. O’Neill Stipulation and Order (Phase I, 2003).” Archival Documents, January 22, 2003.

Connecticut Superior Court. “Sheff Vs. O’Neill Stipulation and Proposed Order (Phase II, 2008).” Archival Documents, April 4, 2008.

Dougherty, Jack. “part 4: challenges of desegregation & choice.” On The Line, October 18, 2011.

Are Racial Demographics in the Hands of Realtors?

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A Closer Look at Racial Steering and Blockbusting in the Hartford area
Throughout the past 50 years, real estate agents played a prominent role in racial segregation through the practices of steering and blockbusting in housing. In Connecticut, these practices had a clear impact on the racial composition of the greater Hartford area.The map of Racial Change in the Hartford region from 1900-2010 illustrates a non-white population appearing isolated in the city center of Hartford. Over time, the non-white population in Bloomfield grew, beginning in the 1970s. The composition of the area was affected by realtors in beginning in the 70s, and continue to move in the direction sparked by those brokers. Bloomfield’s non-white population percentage grew over time as whites left and minorities moved to this suburb to relocate from their isolated placement in the center of Hartford.
Blockbusting: An Illustration
Blockbusting practices were one of the determinants to Bloomfield’s racial composition throughout the late 60s and 70s. Roy Litchfield, a white resident of a Bloomfield neighborhood, bought his home in 1968. In the Hartford Courant, Litchfield reported calls from agents urging him to sell his home at a lower rate as non-whites moved into the area. Real estate agents scared white residents, claiming integration would lead to decreased property values; this tactic led to “panic selling.” In turn, the agent would sell the home above market value to black homebuyers. Agents maximized profit by buying low and selling high, due to the small supply of homes where blacks could live without being harassed or even legally restricted.
Racial Steering
Related to blockbusting, racial steering involved real estate agents directing people of certain races to specific areas. One white homebuyer, John Keever, reported an agent’s behavior to the Hartford Courant. Keever explained how the agent praised about Avon and West Hartford. In contrast, the agent talked negatively about Bloomfield and its schools systems. Keever claimed that the agent may have been afraid to insult clients by taking them to integrated neighborhoods. The stereotypes real estate agents have and perpetuate in their selling behaviors led to racially isolated neighborhoods as seen in the map below. Racial steering was a large factor of racial segregation in the past and continue to impact housing situations present day.
Impacting Today
Racial steering and blockbusting practices, though illegal, remain present today. A 2003 article in the Hartford Courant discussed implications of racial steering occurring today. Jacobs, a former member of the town council in Windsor, reported seeing a house go through many inhabitants but never shown to white residents.. A quarter of the affluent black population of the Greater Hartford area live primarily in six adjacent geographical units. The past existence of these real estate practices started the patterns of racial segregation, but continuous steering practices prevent integration. In 2003, the Hartford Courant discussed tests using black and white volunteers posing as potential homebuyers with 17% illustrating preference for the white homebuyers. Blockbusting and steering today continue to contribute to the racial segregation and limited opportunities available to non-white populations.

Click for interactive feature and original source.

Click for interactive feature and original source.

Learn more:

Jack Dougherty and colleagues, “Preview Chapter,” On The Line: How schooling, housing, and civil rights shaped Hartford and its suburbs. Web-book preview edition. Hartford, CT: Trinity College, Fall 2011,

Ross, James. “Bloomfield Officials Lead Fight To Keep Town’s Housing Open.” The Hartford Courant (1923-1986), February 24, 1974.

Ross, James. “Realty Agents Blamed for Shift In Bloomfield’s Racial Pattern.” The Hartford Courant (1923-1986). Hartford, Conn., United States, February 24, 1974.

Swift, Mike. “Home Buyers Suspect Racial Steering.” The Hartford Courant, September 8, 2003.

University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information Center – MAGIC. (2012).Racial Change in the Hartford Region, 1900-2010. Retrieved from