While it may be true that no one in Westport has ever been denied a seat on a bus because of skin color, racism in more subtle forms has existed just below the surface. And it has served to inspire some of our area’s more gallant residents to stand and be counted as members of the civil rights movement.
In the 1960s and 1970s, our country’s Constitution was tested, and Westport was not spared. In 1961, unable to sleep through a new American Revolution, a group of town residents opened an activist bookstore dubbed the World Affairs Center. The bookstore created a firestorm of controversy as liberals and conservatives squared off on the war in Vietnam, nuclear arms and civil rights.
A few years later, the implementation of school desegregation laws, coupled with gross violations in voting rights for blacks in the South, brought the civil rights movement to a crisis level. In 1964, artist Tracy Sugarman, along with several other Westporters, joined the ranks of the Mississippi Summer Project to register black voters and set up freedom schools in Ruleville, Mississippi. This was the same year that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was invited by Jerome Kaiser to speak at Temple Israel, Westport’s only synagogue at the time. Shortly thereafter, the temple’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, was arrested along with King during a protest march in Birmingham, Alabama.