Stetson Readies for MLK Keynote

Danielle Campbell | January 15th, 2024

Stetson Readies for MLK Keynote

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  |  Education & Youth  |  New Haven Free Public Library  |  Libraries



Former New Haven Mayor Toni Harp reads from "Ruby Bridges: A Brave Child Who Made History." Danielle Campbell Photos.

The second graders from Lincoln Bassett Community School  listened intently as former New Haven Mayor Toni Harp read from a small book. The cover featured a little brown girl who looked a lot like many of the students in the two classes.

The story Harp read was about Ruby Bridges, the first Black American to desegregate an elementary school in the United States after the passage of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. 

Bridges is now a 69-year-old civil rights activist and she will be the keynote speaker at Yale University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration event, which will be held Jan. 24, 2023 at Woolsey Hall. (Click here to register.)

“There were people against this,” Harp said to the students as they sat gathered at her feet on a Tuesday morning at the Stetson Library to hear about Bridges’ historic act of desegregation. “Some of their signs said ‘Race mixing is communism!’ and ‘Keep schools segregated!’”

IMG_4144The reading event, known as the Ruby Bridges Story time Citywide Reading, was kicked off at  the Stetson Branch with Harp as its inaugural reader.

A collaboration between the New Haven Free Public Library, the Boys and Girls Club and Yale’s planning committee for the upcoming MLK event, there will be at least three more readings before Bridges makes her address at Woolsey Hall. on Jan. 24.

The next reading for children will be Tuesday, Jan. 16 at the Ives Branch downtown at 10 a.m. Mitchell and Fair Haven will host their readings on Jan. 17 and Jan. 22, respectively, at 10 a.m. 

But thanks to the work of the students' teachers Anthony Reid and Darlene Walden, the students knew about the concepts of segregation, integration, protesting and even a more obscure civil rights activist, Claudette Colvin, who was arrested at 15 for attempting to desegregate a public bus in Montgomery, Ala. by refusing to give up her seat to a white woman as the laws of that state, at the time, required.

Harp gushed over how knowledgeable the students were about topics that more recently have been found by some states to be too controversial for school-aged children.

“In this day and age, where people are trying to hide the real history. It’s so wonderful to see teachers who are actually teaching that history,” Harp said. “ And that children can understand  it and integrate it and it’s not threatening to them and actually makes them all stronger.”


Students each left with a book about Ruby Bridges to take home.

Reid said he and Walden don’t shy away from difficult subject matter but they do try to make it accessible and age appropriate for the students.

“We try to make sure that the kids are aware of their surroundings, and we teach them history, but we teach history honestly,” he said. “We teach it about blacks and about whites. We don't segregate it. We try to tell the truth with it, and the kids really enjoy it.

 “And we always make sure that we preface it with that there’s always good and bad in every race. Not just one race is bad, or the other race is good, or anything like that,” he added. “But we can all coexist together.”


Diane Brown with students as they make their crowns.

The story time is the brainchild of longtime Stetson Librarian Diane Brown and Risë Nelson, director of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility at Yale University Library & Collections, and it is a precursor to joint ventures to come.

Harp served as the kickoff event’s special guest reader in her capacity as the president of the New Haven Chapter of The Links Inc.

After the reading portion and an acknowledgment of Harp as a champion for the Stetson Library’s new building, the children participated in a special arts and crafts project where they decorated crowns that affirmed that though they are young, like Ruby Bridges, they are capable of great things. 


Two Lincoln Bassett students show off their crowns.

“I am brave like Ruby Bridges.”

“I am beautiful like Ruby Bridges.”

“I am kind like Ruby Bridges.”


From left to right: Darlene Walden, Lincoln Bassett teacher; Tamika Hollis, Yale Center for Clinical Investigation and New Haven Chapter of The Links Inc.; Diane Brown; Robert Kinney; Toni Harp; Lincoln Bassett teacher Anthony Reid; and Shana Jackson, Yale University School of Law Lillian Goldman Law Library.

Newly  appointed NHFPL Public Service Administrator Robert Kinney looked on proudly while the students crafted their crowns.

“I think it's really good for our community to invest in our history,” he said.  “It's important that we know our history and the reading was fantastic. And I just love what Diane is doing in the community.”