Maisa Tisdale has advocated for the preservation of the Mary and 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 Center’s first professional staff member. Over the past ten years Maisa 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 – stressing the importance of historic preservation, community development, environmental justice, and climate change.
Maisa was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Her parents, James and Loyse Tisdale, were educators and civil rights activists. They received national awards for their success registering Black voters as NAACP Youth Council advisors in the early 196o’s. They also successfully challenged discriminatory laws, public policies, and social practices in the areas of education, housing, and employment, both in Connecticut and on a national level. The dedication of her parents to civil and human rights – and their love of history – remain Maisa’s strongest influences. Six generations of Maisa’s family were born or have lived in Bridgeport.
Maisa Tisdale studied African & African American arts and culture at Youthbridge in Bridgeport from the age of 10 through her early college years. In 1968, after the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., her mother Loyse Tisdale – along with actors June Havoc and Paul Newman – founded Youthbridge, Inc: A Theatrical Arts Workshop, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. Pearl Primus, Percival Borde, Katherine Dunham, Derek Wolcott, Walter Nicks, Amandina Lihamba, Wole Soyinka, Barbara Ann Teer, June Havoc and Paul Newman were among her instructors.
Throughout her life, Ms. Tisdale has volunteered for the United Nations Association and the Fairfield County Internat ional Hospitality Committee. Influenced by Tanzanian professor Amandina Lihamba and United Nations observer Ruth Steincraus Cohen, Ms. Tisdale earned a BA in Asian Studies from Yale University and studied abroad in Taipei and Beijing. Maisa also strengthened her background in African American Studies at Yale, through coursework with Dwight Andrews, John Blassingame, Bill Ferris, Henry-Louis Gates, Jr., Ishmael Reed, Willie Ruff, Robert Farris Thompson and others. She studied Sociology and History as a postgraduate special student at Columbia University, advised by Professor James P. Shenton.
Maisa Tisdale worked 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); Assistant Director of Admissions at Fairfield University; and Manager of Sponsorships and Grants at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. Ms. Tisdale’s assignments with ECA strongly reinforced her lifelong belief that arts and culture can indeed precipitate lasting and systemic change for the better, between nations and between diverse groups of people.
ECA was established by the Fulbright-Hays Act in 1961. Its mission is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange that assist in the development of peaceful relations.” In this capacity, Ms. Tisdale traveled to 49 of the 50 United States and several tribal nations with 500 emerging leaders from 100 countries. In 1994 Maisa Tisdale became the first American to address high school students of the former East Germany, in their classrooms, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She spoke about the role of Black children and youth in the United States Civil Rights Movement. Maisa Tisdale believes in the transformational power (and wonder) of Art & History.
Selected Honors and Accomplishments
Member, Community Advisory Board (CAB) Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network
Trustee, CT Trust for Historic Preservation
Scholarship Recipient, Preservation Leadership Training ©: Capstone, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Featured in documentary, “African-Americans in Connecticut: Civil War to Civil Rights”
Keepers of the Flame Award (for promoting & strengthening African-American culture in greater Bridgeport), Calvary Seventh Day Adventist Church
Professional Mariner Training, Chapman School of Seamanship
Deckhand and Docent, aboard Sailing Ship PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II
Speaker, African-American Studies Lecture Tour of Denmark and Germany (Danish Association of Teachers of English and USIS)
Letter of thanks and recognition from the US Ambassador to Germany (national Civil Rights history study tour for German teens)
Recipient, Herman Ausubel Memorial Prize for Achievement in History, Columbia University