African American Connecticut Explored
Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools
With Selected Grade-Appropriate Essays
Over 50 essays by many of the state’s leading historians document an array of subjects about Connecticut’s African American history beginning from around 1630 and continuing well into the 20th century. The voice of Connecticut’s African Americans ring clear through topics such as the Black Governors, nationally prominent black abolitionists like the reverends Amos Beman and James Pennington, the African American community’s response to the Amistad trial, the letters of Joseph O. Cross of the 29th Regiment of Colored Volunteers in the Civil War, and the Civil Rights work of baseball great Jackie Robinson (a 20-year resident of Stamford), to name a few. Insightful introductions to each section explore broader issues faced by the state’s African American residents as they struggled for full rights as citizens. This book represents the collaborative effort of Connecticut Explored, the public history magazine of Connecticut history, and The Amistad Center for Art & Culture, with support from the State Historic Preservation Office and Connecticut’s Freedom Trail. It is a valuable guide for anyone interested in this fascinating and important aspect of Connecticut’s history.
- ISBN-10: 0819573981
- ISBN-13: 978-0819573988
Chapter Summary and Indicator Connections
Part I: Settlement to 1789
Chapter 2. “Venture Smith, from Slavery to Freedom” WITH 5TH GRADE-LEVEL ESSAY
John Wood Sweet
Venture Smith, born to a local leader in West Africa, was taken captive and sold into slavery for four gallons of rum and a piece of calico cloth around 1739. Smith endured the grueling Middle Passage as a part of the triangle trade. Most of the Africans taken with Smith were trafficked to Barbados, but Smith was brought to New England. He was owned by several Connecticut farmers and a merchant. Smith endured both violence and dishonesty while enslaved, but ultimately purchased his freedom, giving him the opportunity to raise enough funds to purchase his wife and children and, on the eve of the Revolutionary War, more than 100 acres of land in East Haddam. He published his life story in 1798 and died in 1805. Venture Smith’s story illustrates the cruelty of slavery in New England and the struggle for freedom.
Indicator Connections: Grade 5- HIST 5.2; HIST 5.5; HIST 5.8; CIV 5.2; ECO 5.2; GEO 5.1; GEO 5.3
5th grade level article: “Venture Smith from Slavery to Freedom”
See additional articles in CT Explored about Venture Smith:
SAMPLE ARTICLE–Summer 2014: State Archaeologist on 30 Years of Great Finds
“Life & Adventures of Venture, Native of Africa”
Part II: 1789 to Civil War
Chapter 22. “Sarah Harris and the Prudence Crandall School”
Barbara M. Tucker
Throughout the 1830s, anti-black sentiment grew throughout Connecticut. Several towns witnessed mob violence against African Americans, especially in response to their efforts to improve access to education for their children.This essay tells the story of Sarah Harris, an African American girl who attended Prudence Crandall’s school and was at the center of the resulting firestorm. Crandall reopened the school for black girls but the people of Canterbury mobbed the school and lobbied the General Assembly which passed a “Black Law” in 1833 prohibiting education of out-of-state blacks. Crandall was arrested, jailed, and tried. Ultimately, the school was shut down in the face of vehement resistance from Connecticut’s white population. Harris married and was active in the antislavery movement.
Indicator Connections: Grade 8- HIST 8.2; HIST 8.3;HIST 8.9; CIV 8.3
Part III: Post Civil War to World War I
Chapter 28. “Connecticut and the Aftermath of the Civil War”
African Americans across Connecticut and the nation celebrated the Union triumph over the Confederates, but soon realized the harsh reality of race relations of that time, especially as it related to the pursuit for equality in education, politics, and economics. Connecticut’s African American population faced segregation within the school systems, discriminatory hiring practices, and a muffled voice in the political arena. Regardless of these obstacles, however, members of the African American community managed to acquire small amounts of property and develop businesses, even though most lived on the economic fringes of society. During this era African Americans developed their new role as citizens while confronting social and political bias and stereotypes of Jim Crow America.
Indicator Connections: Grade 8- HIST 8.1; HIST 8.2; HIST 8.9; ECO 8.5; GEO 8.1
High School- HIST 9–12.1; HIST 9–12.2; HIST 9–12.3; HIST 9–12.4; CIV 9–12.2; CIV 9–12.5; GEO 9–12.3
Chapter 30. “The Fisk Jubilee Singers Tour the North”
Wm. Frank Mitchell
The Fisk Jubilee Singers were a group of African American youth, some born in bondage and others born free, that toured the North bringing Negro spirituals and black culture to a fascinated white audience. Their tour raised funds to build Fisk University’s Jubilee Hall. The group began their tour in Nashville in October 1871 and reached New Haven, Connecticut by February 1872. The Jubilee Singers featured an authentic view into African American culture and their performances were sometimes received with indifference and hostility. In New Haven, however, the group was well received. Ultimately, the Fisk Jubilee Singers promoted their cultural integrity and help lay the groundwork for African American empowerment.
Indicator Connections: Grade 8- HIST 8.2; HIST 8.3; HIST 8.4; CIV 8.4
High School- HIST 9–12.1; HIST 9–12.2; HIST 9–12.3; HIST 9–12.4; HIST 9–12.10; CIV 9–12.2
Chapter 31. “Ebenezer Bassett’s Historic Journey” LINK TO FULL TOOLKIT
Carolyn B. Ivanoff, with Mary J. Mycek
In addition to being the first black graduate from Connecticut’s State Normal School (today Central Connecticut State University) in 1853, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett was also the first African American appointed as a United States Diplomat. President Ulysseys S. Grant selected Bassett to represent the United States in Haiti in 1869, a position he held for both terms of the Grant Administration. Bassett’s heritage included both Pequot and African slave ancestry. Bassett’s accomplishments are a hallmark to both self-determination and the efforts of black activists of the early to mid-nineteenth century.
Indicator Connections: Grade 8- HIST 8.1; HIST 8.2; HIST 8.4; GEO 8.1; Eco 8.1
Chapter 32. “Charles Ethan Porter”
In October 1869, Charles Ethan Porter, from Rockville, Connecticut, broke the color barrier when he enrolled at the National Academy of Design in New York City. Born in Hartford in 1847, Porter’s family moved to the mill town of Rockville, where the young man attended high school. Living during what is known as the “nadir,” or low point, of race relations in the United States, Porter returned to Hartford to establish an art studio where he created work for the region’s wealthy and middle class. Porter was a master painter of still-life and completed many works including an enormous panoramic view of Niagara Falls.
Indicator Connections: Grade 8- HIST 8.1; HIST 8.4; HIST 9–12.2; HIST 9–12.3; HIST 9–12.13
Part V: Between the Wars
Chapter 34. “Black Southern Migration and the Transformation of Connecticut, 1917-1941” WITH LINK TO HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL ESSAY
Beginning around the time of World War I, thousands of African American Southerners, black immigrants from the Caribbean, and Cape Verdeans moved to major urban areas kicking off the “New England Migration,” a period of human movement which has been considered the first instance of the “Great Migration.” Working-class blacks fled the Jim Crow South to forge communities and fill the labor shortage in Connecticut’s tobacco fields. In Hartford and New Haven, African Americans were concentrated in areas plagued with overpriced, substandard housing. Despite these challenges the African American enclaves laid the groundwork for culture, community, political power, and economic opportunity, which was especially important during the Great Depression. Inspite of the economic downturn and continuing discrimination, African American communities sustained local black businesses and social ties within the state’s largest cities.
Indicator Connections: High School- HIST 9–12.1; HIST 9–12.2; HIST 9–12.3; HIST 9–12.10; HIST 9–12.11; CIV 9–12.2; CIV 9–12.3; ECO 9–12.1; ECO 9–12.2; GEO 9–12.1; GEO 9–12.2; GEO 9–12.3; GEO 9–12.4
Link to the story “Southern Blacks Transform Connecticut,” Fall 2013
Part VI: World War II to Civil Rights
Chapter 40. “‘I Wanted to Fly’: Connie Nappier, Jr.” WITH LINK TO HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL ESSAY
Connie Nappier, Jr. grew up knowing that he wanted to fly airplanes, but he did not know that a world war would provide that opportunity. Nappier grew up at a time when enlistment in the military was blocked for African Americans based on societal views and biased studies. Following a 1941 court case, the Army Air Corps was opened to African American citizens and by July 1941 the Tuskegee Experiment was under way. Although Nappier was still a student at Weaver High School, he rushed to enlist. Nappier and others were placed in a segregated unit. Nappier’s experience in the Army illustrates the importance of the Tuskegee program in desegregating the military and disproving the discriminatory racial ideology of the era.
Indicator Connections: High School- HIST 9–12.1; HIST 9–12.2; HIST 9–12.11; CIV 9–12.1; CIV 9–12.2
Link to story “Tuskegee Airman: ‘I Wanted to Fly’,” Fall 2011
Chapter 50. “The New Haven Black Panther Trials” WITH 2 HIGH SCHOOL LEVEL ESSAYS
In the summer of 1970, the people of New Haven, Connecticut, braced for the start of what local journalists billed as the trial of the century, the legal proceedings against members of the New Haven chapter of the Black Panther Party for the murder of a twenty-four-year-old New York Panther named Alex Rackley. This incident set off a chain of events that led to the Governor to deploy the Connecticut National Guard, Yale University to provide a refuge for protesters, and a melee of publicity. The trial revealed a web of infiltration, wiretaps, and multiple alleged accessories to the murder. The legacy of the trial for the Black Panthers is mixed, but highlights the ability for the New Haven chapter to mobilize support for justice at the local and national levels.
Indicator Connections: High School- HIST 9–12.11; CIV 9–12.1; CIV 9–12.3