Vermont’s Museum of Black World War II History will be relocating to Stamford once they can secure a building in the city. On Wednesday, representatives from the Museum talked with residents at the to begin to get Stamford informed and excited about their work.
Founder and curator Bruce Bird is an avid collector and World War II historian who always wanted to start a museum.
“In my opinion, humans didn’t descend from apes, we descended from packrats,” Bird joked.
Bird had been studying World War II since the 1950s, but only in the past decade did he become aware of the 1.2 million African Americans who served in World War II.
“I thought, “They’ve been cheated and someone ought to do something,”” Bird said. “The thing is, when you say that, you’re always the someone.”
Bird took an early retirement and sold his house to get his idea off the ground. He found an old school house in Bennington, Vermont and began work on his museum. Because he’d sold his house, Bird also moved into his museum.
“I’m the security too,” he laughed.
In moving to Stamford, Bird hopes that the Museum can grow in its impact and attract more visitors to learn about the untold stories of the African Americans serving in World War II.
“They faced a tremendous amount of racism and they did it anyway — you can see why someone would say “To heck with this!” — but they were so patriotic,” Bird said.
Stamford native Mabel Jorgensen joined the museum’s board in 2008 and currently serves as its president.
“I read about a white man who had a black museum in Vermont, I thought, “What on earth is he doing?”” Jorgensen said. “I asked him if he had any black board members and he didn’t, they put me on the board right away.”
Jorgensen grew up in Stamford and went to school in New York City before returning to her hometown. Growing up before the time of Civil Rights, Jorgensen, whose parents came from Georgia, had an eye-opening experience in high school when she was sent to visit her relatives.
“They sent me to Macon, Georgia. I had never been in the south before. One day my cousins and I went to the store for bananas, when we got there, my cousin told me, “You can’t go in there!” I said to her, “This is the United States of America, I can go anywhere! That’s what they taught me in school!””
Looking back, Jorgensen recognizes the risk she took by defying the policies, but enjoys the courage and sense of justice she already had at a young age.
“I went up to the counter and they said, “You aint’ from around here,” and I said, “No I’m not, I’m from the north, I’m from Stamford Connecticut!”" she said. "I got my bananas and I told my cousins, “You’ve just got to be a little more aggressive!””
Jorgensen had her father wire her money to take the train back home, although she would be seated in the front of the train where she ended up covered with soot.
“When we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, it was like I was able to be an American again,” Jorgensen said. “When I got back to my high school, that’s when I started on my quest for this history.”
Jorgensen‘s brother served for 23 and a half years in the US Military — enlisting just out of high school. The more she has learned about the history, particularly the African American women who served, the more determined she is to bring this knowledge to the masses.
“I am interested in African American history...the young people don’t know about it,” Jorgensen said. “This is the first museum like this.”
“The history books just swallow them up," Bird said. "People need to know how much happened and how little is recorded."
Save the date for a jazz concert on May 6 at 3 pm at that will benefit the Museum of Black WWII History. The concert will feature the Giants of Jazz and special guest vocalist Lynn Dimenna.