SOUTH WINDSOR, CT (WFSB) -- February is Black History Month, and Connecticut has a long list of African American men and women who have contributed to making the world a better place and deserve recognition.
Joenette Mansel Franklin has lived in Connecticut for 66 years.
She was born July 9, 1936, in Greenville, South Carolina.
It was a time when the Jim Crow Laws were in full effect.
“If you were of light complexion you were alright, if you were brown complexion you could stick around, but if you were black you had to stand back,” Mansel Franklin said.
African Americans weren’t allowed in some hospitals, but her mother, who had a light complexion from Irish relatives, was admitted.
“But when I was born, I did not look like my mother. I looked exactly like my father and then they said to her ‘how dare you’ and ‘we are going to kill you’,” Mansel Franklin said.
Her mother escaped, and there was no record of Joenette ever being born.
By the time she was 4 years old, her family had to leave town.
Her father, already targeted for marrying a light skinned woman, had gone to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread.
Joenette said he waited for an hour and a half in line because the rule was no African American man could be served until all others were helped.
“My father spoke up and said I’m next. And someone else in the store said ‘boy, what did you say, and who do you think you are?’ And someone else said, ‘well you know him he’s the one that’s with that…’ speaking about my mother. Then another voice said, ‘we are paying you a visit tonight’,” Mansel Franklin described.
“When my father heard that he knew exactly what they meant. They were going to lynch him, my mother and me because I’m living in the household,” she added.
The family found sanctuary in a Catholic church further south in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I can close my eyes and still remember the room in which the nuns made the little palette for me to sleep on to save my life,” Mansel Franklin said.
During World War II, at 6 years old, Joenette, along with her brother, sister and parents, moved up to Cleveland where they had family.
Ironically, her father found work as a baker at the National Biscuit Company.
However, they still experienced the same segregation and discrimination at school and even church.
“St. Timothy’s was the name of the church. I couldn’t go there. It was in my backyard, but I couldn’t go there,” Mansel Franklin said.
She still learned, flourished, and found fun roller skating.
“These were the last roller skates my momma bought me when I was 14 years old and I used to dance on these roller skates,” Mansel Franklin said.
She developed a passion for dancing and went to New York City to pursue ballet.
“I loved to dance, so when I graduated to high school I came to New York to study at the Katherine Dunham Dancing School at 125th Street,” Mansel Franklin said.
The aunt she lived with in Harlem didn’t approve of her late nights, so at 17 she went to visit family in Hartford in 1953.
They tried getting her work in the tobacco fields, but she had other plans.
“I became an exotic dancer and did nightclub work,” she said.
She danced in some of the hottest clubs throughout New England until she met her husband.
“His name was Hubert Bump Franklin,” she said, adding that she married him at the age of 20.
She worked at Pratt and Whitney for a bit and then started a 24-year career at the Southern New England Telephone Company, also known as SNET.
In 1969, the couple wanted to buy a home in South Windsor but encountered more discrimination.
“We went to the real estate lady and she said ‘oh no, I can’t sell the house to you’,” Mansel Franklin said.
So, a white woman that Joenette had befriended at the phone company bought it and sold it to them.
“She lives in Florida now, she’s still around, we still good friends and we talk about it,” Mansel Franklin said.
When ‘Bump’ died from pancreatic cancer in 1999, and she found comfort at church in the choir.
When they traveled to New Orleans she met another man, Cleveland Horton, a jazz musician that brought music back to her heart.
“His name is ‘Cleveland’ but I don’t call him Cleveland, I call him ‘Star’. He said he was going to be in my life. He’s in my life,” Mansel Franklin said.
Over the years, Joenette Franklin has won dozens of awards for her work in the church, community, and built relationships with people of all different colors and backgrounds.
While she says times have changed, it’s important to remember what people have gone through.
“We’re in the 1960’s, when the civil rights movement was in effect, and when they had the phrase that came out that said ‘black is beautiful,’ it was the happiest moment that could happen to me,” Mansel Franklin said.