STRATFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – “This started from my mom who grew up in Camden, South Carolina in the 1930s,” says Jeffrey Fletcher, noting that his mother, Ruby, collected bric-a-brac that represented African American life.

To escape Jim Crow, Ruby came north, meeting her husband, Calvin, in Colchester. They continued collecting together.

“When she passed, I was the torch to carry on this story,” says Fletcher.

Now, a historic home in Stratford holds the Ruby & Calvin Fletcher African American History Museum, the first of its kind in the state.

What started as a traveling exhibit for school children is now a space of 12,000 carefully curated pieces.

“It’s been quite a journey for me to do this,” says Fletcher, a retired New Haven police officer.

The walk through the museum begins in Africa in the hull of a slave ship.

“When you come into this space, it’s usually pitch dark,” says Fletcher.

Visitors then move into a plantation.

“These were the objects placed on Africans to enslave them and to control their behaviors and bound them,” says Fletcher. “It’s an alarm system. When an enslaved African person ran from a plantation, this would be locked around their neck and rattle.”

It is difficult and impactful to see. The museum allows visitors to witness bravery and resilience.

“Determination, especially to overcome some of the most heinous acts of human unkindness,” says Fletcher who knows the museum can be heavy to digest.

So, he ends the tour on a hopeful note.

“When you come to this space, I say it’s cathartic, therapeutic and uplifting,” he explains, pointing out the pictures of leaders who have surpassed obstacles to succeed.

The room also holds his mom’s records and his father’s guitars.

The museum opened in 2021 and to this date has welcomed 9,000 people. Fletcher knows his parents would be so happy to share their life’s work in this public way.

“I think they would be – I think they are – looking down, I call them my angels,” he says. “I think they would be very proud of what’s taking place now.”

The museum – which is soon becoming part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail – will be moving to a permanent location in Stratford in the next few years.