Light & Verity

Long live the king

New Haven honors an African American city builder.

Mark Alden Branch ‘86

Mark Alden Branch ‘86

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In September, New Haven dedicated a statue in recognition of one of the people who helped build the city. Commissioned by the city government and the Amistad Committee, the statue honors William “King” Lanson (1785–1851), a free African American entrepreneur who is best known for building the quarter-mile-long extension to Long Wharf that made the city a more competitive port. Lanson owned a number of businesses and properties in the city, but he died in poverty—in part due to injustices he suffered because many whites resented his success.

California sculptor Dana King had no images of Lanson to rely on; using period dress, she imagined him in 1825 at “the height of his power.” That was just around the time Lanson got the contract to build some of the walls of the Farmington Canal. Fittingly, his new monument, between Pauli Murray College and the Yale Health building, stands right alongside the pedestrian and bicycle path that was once the Farmington Canal.

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