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Celebrating Black History Month: Harrison Fitch a UConn Trailblazer During a Difficult Time

(L-R) CHD employee Yvonne Fitch, UConn basketball player Tyrese Martin, Yvonne’s Uncle Harrison Brooks Fitch Jr., and UConn player RJ Cole.

In February of 2022, almost 90 years after he was subjected to an outrageously racist incident, Harrison “Honey” Fitch was inducted posthumously into the basketball Huskies of Honor program at UConn.

Fitch, the first Black basketball player at the university, is the grandfather of Yvonne Fitch, a direct care staff member at CHD’s Adult Mental Health-Springfield.

 Yvonne said her heart swelled when Honey Fitch joined the ranks of such Husky basketball greats as Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Jim Calhoun, and Diana Taurasi. “Being his only grandchild, I am above proud,” she said. “It is a great honor to him and his family. He was a very loving and family man.”

On January 27, 1934, the UConn team—then known as the Connecticut State Aggies—traveled to New London, CT to play the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, but officials from the Academy informed the Aggies and referees that they would refuse to play if Fitch participated. Nearly half the Academy’s cadets were from the segregated South and claimed they had never played against a Black player—and vowed that they wouldn’t that day.

After a delay filled with arguments and negotiations that even involved the players, the game was played, but Connecticut’s coach, John Heldman, did not put Fitch in the game, even though he was in uniform.

Afterwards, UConn students were furious, protesting the decision and calling for Heldman and Athletic Director Roy Guyer to be fired. Heldman resigned the following year, and Guyer left the university in 1936.

Harrison Fitch

Fitch went on to a long career as a researcher with the Monsanto Corporation. He married, had four children, and was an active volunteer with youth groups and as a youth basketball referee.

“He was one of his 10 siblings who did big things,” said Yvonne of her grandfather. “His brother was a sparring partner for Joe Louis and was the first black probation officer in New Haven CT. One of his brothers played minor league baseball, and another brother was the first black postman/bondsman in Wilson, NC.”

Honey Fitch’s grandfather, William Henry Singleton, was a slave who escaped seven times and was recognized by Abraham Lincoln after he recruited 1,000 Black troops for the Union army in a unit that included freedmen who had escaped from Virginia. Singleton also wrote two books: Contraband