Little Liberia (known as Ethiope, then Liberia in the 1800s) was a seafaring community of free people of color. It boasted a luxurious seaside resort hotel for wealthy Blacks (cited in a letter to Frederick Douglass), Bridgeport’s first free lending library, a school for colored children, businesses, fraternal organizations, and churches. Of about 36 structures that comprised Little Liberia, only the Freeman Houses survive on original foundations. Mary Freeman (1815–1883) and Eliza Freeman (1805- 1862) were accomplished business women. When Mary Freeman died, the only Bridgeporter of greater wealth was legendary showman P.T. Barnum. The Freeman Houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places for their significance to African Americans and Women. Join the Greenwich Historical Society in welcoming Maisa Tisdale, President and CEO of The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community as she details the story of Little Liberia and shares the expansion of ongoing efforts to restore and preserve this historic community.
Maisa L. Tisdale has advocated for the preservation of the Mary & Eliza Freeman Houses since 1994, and founded the Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community in 2009 after coordinating a successful movement to save the homes from demolition. Ms. Tisdale led the Freeman Center as a volunteer until 2019 when she became the Freeman Center’s first professional staff member. Over the past ten years Ms. Tisdale not only focused on the restoration of the Freeman houses, but has worked to create a safer and healthier “built” environment in Bridgeport’s South End – focusing on historic preservation, community development, and climate change.
Maisa Tisdale was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her parents, James and Loyse Tisdale, were educators and civil rights activists. Their dedication to civil and human rights – and love of history – remain Ms. Tisdale’s strongest influences. She also studied African and African American arts and culture in Bridgeport at Youthbridge, Inc: A Theatrical Arts Workshop from the age of 10 through her early college years. Six generations of Maisa Tisdale’s family were born or have lived in Bridgeport.
Ms. Tisdale strengthened her background in African American Studies during her undergraduate years at Yale University, where she earned a BA in Asian Studies. She also studied sociology and history as a postgraduate special student at Columbia University. Maisa Tisdale went on to work as a private contractor for the US Department of State’s Bureau of Education & Cultural Affairs (ECA) for many years; and has worked as: Executive Director of The Ocean Classroom (Bridgeport, CT); Assistant Director of Admission at Fairfield University (Fairfield, CT); and Manager of Sponsorships and Grants, Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center (Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation).