Wrong picture of African American nursing pioneer used on Meriden Hall of Fame plaque

Wrong picture of African American nursing pioneer used on Meriden Hall of Fame plaque

reporter photo

MERIDEN – The Meriden Hall of Fame Association will be replacing the plaque for inductee Martha Minerva Franklin after including the wrong photo, which was mislabeled on a black history museum’s website. The resident who nominated Franklin pointed out the mistake after photos from the ceremony were published online Sunday night.

“It was a mistake. It was not our fault because it was wrong on that website,” said Hall of Fame Association President David Swedock. “We’ll correct it and that’s it.”

Franklin founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses and served as the organization’s first president in 1908. Born in New Milford, Connecticut in 1870, Franklin graduated Meriden High School in 1890 and was the only African-American in her graduating class, according to a biography featured on the Connecticut Hall of Fame website. She went on to receive a nursing degree at the Women’s Hospital Training School for Nurses in Philadelphia before returning to Meriden to work as a nurse. She moved to New Haven near the turn of the century and became an activist for women of color in nursing. She is buried in Meriden’s Walnut Grove Cemetery.

City resident Colleen Cyr nominated Franklin to the Meriden Hall of Fame and while she did not attend the induction ceremony at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center Sunday she noticed the mistake when an article about the event was posted online that night.

Cyr said she spent all Sunday night researching the subject and determined the photo wasn’t of Franklin, but Eva Beatrice Dykes, who was the third African-American woman to be awarded a PhD.

“I’m upset. I’m disappointed. I thought it was long overdue that (Franklin) got in the Meriden Hall of Fame,” Cyr said this week. “I’m a nurse myself. I was historian for the NAACP and I worked very hard to research our local black history, civil rights history to make sure it was documented and disseminated because it hadn’t been before. I wanted that acknowledgment, her place in the history books and I don’t want her plaque up in City Hall with a picture of a woman that is not Martha Franklin.”

Plaques cost about $240 each, Swedock said. 

“Nothing was intentional here,” Swedock said. “We’re just coming to realize that now the problem we have is that there are no living relatives of Martha Minerva Franklin and there was no way to verify this other than the use of the web search engines which are highly inaccurate at times because they do tend to mix things up.”

City Corporation Counsel Michael Quinn, who serves as a board member on the association, said Monday another image of Franklin was initially submitted to Barker Specialty Company, which made the plaque. The photo was low quality, however, and would have appeared pixilated, so another photo was submitted.

“I don’t think it was anything that Barker did. I think it may have been something that we did in Googling her name and came up with another picture and that picture may not actually be her,” Quinn said. “The long and the short of it is if we have the wrong picture. We absolutely will correct it.”

The photo was taken from the website of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Melissa Samson, database manager for the museum’s archives, confirmed Tuesday the photo on their website was of Dykes, not Franklin.

“We sincerely apologize for the error and thank you for bringing the misidentified image to our attention,” Samson said in an email. “We will correctly label the photograph.”

Cyr also took issue with a line inscribed on the plaque, which states Franklin moved to Meriden in 1875 “during a time when there were few free blacks living in the city.” The line is factually inaccurate, Cyr said, as slavery was abolished in 1864 and therefore “any person of color living in Meriden in 1875 was of course free.”

Quinn disputed the sentence’s inaccuracy, but agreed it could be misinterpreted.

“You can read that sentence in a couple of ways and certainly we were not trying to convey that slavery still existed at the time she moved to Meriden because we clearly know it did not,” Quinn said. “If the plaque is going to need to be redone to correct the picture there certainly wouldn’t be a problem with altering the text to make it clearer.”

Franklin’s plaque was accepted by Katherine Tucker, president of the Southern Connecticut Chapter of the Black Nurses Association. Tucker could not be reached for comment, but at the ceremony Sunday praised Frankiln as a trailblazer in her field.

“She did this in the early 1900s, when it wasn’t easy to speak up in general for a person of color, let alone a woman. She was unafraid, undeterred,” Tucker said at the induction ceremony. “Her mission was to improve the professional status for black nurses all over the United States.”


Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ


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