Judge Motley’s Chester Home is Newest Site on Freedom Trail
Known for her perseverance, courage, intelligence, and integrity, Judge Constance Baker Motley helped to change the trajectory of civil rights in the United States. Because of her influence and involvement in shifting history, her summer home on Cedar Lake Road in Chester will be dedicated as an historic site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.
Inclusion on the Freedom Trail is a state designation that places the former Motley property among a select few sites that celebrate extraordinary African Americans whose efforts worked to expand freedom and opportunity for all Americans. Read more about the dedication in “Judge Constance Baker Motley” on page 29.
“We are thrilled about this dedication,” said Dori Dumas, the president of the Greater New Haven NAACP. “Judge Motley was a civil rights icon and we all have the highest respect for her. This event will recognize her legacy and we are proud that her summer home will be part of the Freedom Trail.
“Judge Motley grew up in New Haven and attended Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church,” Dumas added. “This is where she was first encouraged, because of her brilliance, to pursue a career in law. Today many members of her family still attend the church.”
Motley, the 9th of 12 children, lived in Chester part-time from 1965 until her death in 2005. She had a distinguished legal career that molded not only the history of civil rights in the U.S. but also women’s rights and American jurisprudence. She spent two decades in the South as an NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney who worked with Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King and played an integral part in the integration of southern schools after the ruling of “separate but equal” Brown vs. Board of Education landmark Supreme Court decision.
She was the first African American women to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court and won all 10 of her cases there. She was also the first black woman state senator in New York. She received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, was inducted into the National and State Women’s halls of fame.
“This is a really big deal for our town,” said First Selectman Lauren Gister. “She was amazing and a wonderful person who changed history for the better.”
Motley spent her free time at her Chester home with friends and family, doing what she loved most: cooking, gardening, and spending quality time with her husband and son. However, her nature wouldn’t allow her to be a simple resident of town; she volunteered with and was a lifelong member of the Chester Historical Society and an active member of the Chester community.
In 2016, the Chester Land Trust purchased Motley’s land across from her home. Land trust volunteers cleared the land space near the street to create a parking area with a picnic table for the public to enjoy, along with a kiosk that highlights and provides photos of Motley’s career and her time living in Chester. It is now known as the Constance Baker Motley Preserve and its 6.7 acres connect to Cockaponset State Park.
According to Chester Land Trust member Pete Yhasz, land trust members Marta Daniels and Jenny Kitsen put together an application for the property to be listed on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
“It was a very detailed application, almost like a college thesis. They put a lot of time and effort into their research and filing the application,” said Yhasz.
On Nov. 14, 2018, the Connecticut Freedom Trail Committee, under the state’s Department of Economic & Community Development, approved the application and the preserve as well as Motley’s private home (which is now privately owned by new owners) to be listed on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
“Judge Motley was such a talented, amazing women who worked so hard to change history in such an important way, we are all so excited to have her home in Chester be recognized for such a prestigious dedication,” said Yhasz. “She was completely unique and totally humble. They wanted to dedicate a federal court building to her in New Haven and she declined, so to be able to have her home be part of the Freedom Trail is very special. She deserved it.”
At the dedication, Connecticut Freedom Trail officials will award two plaques: one to the Chester Land Trust for creating the Judge Constance Baker Motley Preserve and the other to the new owners of her former home, located directly across the road from the preserve at 99 Cedar Lake Road. The Motley family will receive a third plaque.
The public is invited to the special dedication ceremonyat 99 Cedar Lake Road at 2 p.m. Light refreshments will be served and the Motley home will be open for a brief tour.