By William S. Colman lll
The Worcester Citizens of Color Honor Roll Monument that is at the intersection of Belmont Street and Lincoln Street, across from the Worcester Police Station, is there to honor the service of Worcester citizens of color, who in 1941, enlisted in the United States Military Services – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines – to fight for our country at the beginning of World War II.
The establishment of this Honor Roll came after our citizen soldiers were not able to march both white and black to Union Station to go off to bootcamp to prepare for serving the United States of America back in the early 1940s. All armed services were segregated, and black soldiers were told they could not march with the white soldiers. That’s just the way it was, and they would have to wait another day or hours after the white soldiers hit march to go off to Union Station.
The colored citizens of Worcester Honor Roll Momument stood from 1942 until 1958, when it was removed along with other monuments that were in the path of the construction of the Route 290 highway in Worcester.
In 1958 it was promised that when Route 290 was completed, all monuments were going to be re-established and put up. All the monuments were – except for the one that honored the Worcester citizens of color. It was told to our black community that it was placed in storage in 1961.
Some in the Worcester community remember seeing it be put into a dumpster and being hauled away, never to be seen again.
In 1976, I worked in Washington DC as a legislative aide to Mass United States Senator Edward W. Brooke, the first African American elected by popular vote to the United States Senate.
Being from Worcester and on an internship from my studies at Worcester State College, Senator Brooke gave me a letter of introduction and sent me to meet with Worcester city officials and clergy from Worcester’s Black churches to dicuss and report back on the status of the missing monument.
Back in 1976 more than 70 members whose names were on the Honor Roll shared their storis of pride they felt for our communities of color.
There was never much of a rallying cry from the Black church and the community to find the Honor Roll. This was the 1960s, and around the country we had the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Women’s Movement and a City that did not see the issues of our Black community as a priority, as shared with me by church and black community leaders.
I met with the then Worcester City Manager Francis R. McGrath and presented him with my letter of introduction from Senator Brooke requesting a formal investigation into the missing Colored Citizens Honor Roll. The city manager responded that he would look into it and get back to Senator Brooke … . My time as an aide to Senator Brooke ended in 1978, and I returned to Worcester to complete my studies at Worcester State College.
I would meet with World War II Black Veterans who would say to me: What ever happened to the Honor Roll? I would respond that the City of Worcester is still looking for it!
Through many City Councils and City Managers I would file petitions and speak in Black churches asking for help – over 40 years! – for the re-establishment of the Honor Roll.
It was not until I filed a petition in 2015 that the community and our present day city manager, Edward M. Agustus Jr., took note. Augustus said: I want to help. Along with City Councilor Morris “Moe” Bergman and the support of veterans from across Worcester County the monument was rebuilt – the story was told!
Then the Central Mass AFL-CIO committed to funding the project for replacing what was once put up. The AFL-CIO conditioned that the students of Worcester Technical High School be a major part of this project. So, after nearly 60 years of the Colored Citizens of Worcester Honor Roll gone missing, the City of Worcester, on December 7, 2017, unvailed a new Worcester Citizens of Color Honor Roll. The ceremony is availible to see on the city’s video website.
Recently, a suggestion has been made to add the names of our Black Veterans who were not on the original Honor Roll – to give them the respect they deserve for their service to our Country.
I say YES to this idea!