20 for 20: Innovation in Connecticut History
(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Fall 2022
To mark our 20th anniversary, the Board and staff of Connecticut Explored decided that instead of looking back (though you’ll find a story about how we came to be on page 14), we would look forward and explore the future of Connecticut history. We launched an initiative, supported by a Connecticut Humanities planning grant, to find 20 people who, and projects that, are advancing the way we study, interpret, and disseminate Connecticut history.
We appointed an advisory team led by Dr. Fiona Vernal, UConn associate professor of history and Africana studies, that served as an independent jury. Team members included artist, producer, and Hartford History Center program manager Jasmin Agosto, co-founder of Akomawt Educational Initiative Chris Newell, executive director of New Haven Museum Margaret Anne Tockarshewsky, and Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History 2021 National History Teacher of the Year Nataliya Braginsky of Metropolitan Business Academy in New Haven. Dr. Clarissa Ceglio, assistant professor of digital humanities in the Digital Media & Design Department at UConn and CTExplored board member, rounded out the team as board liaison. We are immensely thankful to this team for its thoughtful and insightful work.
From a pool of 120 nominations submitted by members of the public in Fall 2021, the advisory team recommended the 20 Game Changers listed below. The work of the Game Changers will be highlighted in a variety of ways: in the pages of CTExplored, on the Grating the Nutmeg podcast, or via one of four public programs.
Read on to find out who and what is leading us toward the future of Connecticut history.
Former New London City Councilor Curtis K. Goodwin and researcher Nicole Thomas unveil the first Black Heritage Trail plaque on October 7, 2021. The plaque is dedicated to Adam Jackson, who was enslaved at the Hempsted House in the mid-18th century.
Unveiled in October 2021, New London’s Black Heritage Trail is a collaboration between the City of New London, New London Landmarks, former City Councilor Curtis Goodwin, and researchers Laura Natusch, Lonnie Braxton II, Tom Schuch, and Nicole Thomas. The trail chronicles 15 individuals whose voices and experiences connect New London with broad themes in U.S. history, including the struggle for equal rights, political representation and civic engagement, access to education and housing, connections to the abolition movement, and the rise of religious and benevolent organizations. The trail covers a wide swath of time and examines New London’s connections to the globe and the diverse origins of the city’s communities of color. It is well organized and easily accessible to the public via QR codes on bronze plaques at each site on the self-guided trail linking to a full description at visitnewlondon.org.
The trail has sparked important public dialogue and has been featured on Fox, NBC, and NPR and in the New London Day. 20 for 20 Advisory Team lead scholar Dr. Fional Vernal said, “The initiative is an important part of the move to create more inclusive stories of Black and Brown communities, which is moving us toward engaging equity, freedom, and justice in the telling of history. Multiple municipal and institutional collaborators came together to put time, money, and energy behind the project.”
Visit visitnewlondon.org/black-heritage-trail/. A story will appear in the Winter 2022-2023 issue.
Ocean Vuong. photo: Peter Bienkowski, courtesy Penguin
Vuong’s 2019 On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press) offers a rich portrayal of Greater Hartford in the late 20th and early 21st century and expands our understanding of the Vietnamese American experience in Connecticut. The book was chosen as the 2020 Mark Twain American Voice in Literature honoree and received the 2020 Connecticut Book Award.
Part novel and part memoir, the book is based on Vuong’s life. The story takes readers from the neighborhoods of Connecticut’s capital city, across the Connecticut River to East Hartford, north to the tobacco fields of Windsor, and south to the peach orchards of South Glastonbury. Vuong weaves in important events in history, including the Vietnam War and its aftermath, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, domestic and child abuse, and intergenerational trauma. He explores the opioid crisis and LGBTQ and race issues with nuance, complexity, and compassion.
“The goal of memoir is to arrive at historical truth,” Vuong explained during the book’s launch at The Strand bookstore in New York City, “and the novel begins with truth and is realized by the imagination.” Connecticut Explored acknowledges the power of this work to reveal to readers the historical truth and, beyond that, a deeper understanding of the human experience.
An excerpt from On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous will appear in the Spring 2023 issue.
Courtesy Elena Rosario
Hartford’s Elena Marie Rosario is an emerging scholar and public historian. Educated at Connecticut College and currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, her scholarly interest in histories of migration, identity formation, and labor emerged early and stems directly from her family’s story. Starting in middle school, Elena began to question why Puerto Rican history was largely missing from the United States history curriculum. She is writing her dissertation about Puerto Rican migration and settlement to Connecticut beginning after World War II and ending in the mid-1970s. Advisory Team member Jasmin Agosto calls Rosario a “consistent, persistent, community-engaged scholar” and lauds the depth of Rosario’s research, which pairs traditional archival research and more community-centered approaches like oral histories and public engagement projects in order to center Puerto Rican contributions to Hartford and the state of Connecticut. In Rosario’s approach community members are not simply the subjects of research or the audience but rather active participants throughout the process.
Rosario will be featured in conversation with Pablo Delano on September 21 at Park Street Library @ The Lyric, 603 Park Street, Hartford, and in a Grating the Nutmeg podcast to be released January 1, 2023.
Connecticut and French students at the World War I Memorial, Seichprey, France, 2019. photo: Erik Johnson
Connecticut in World War I is an ongoing commemoration of the state’s role in World War I at the Connecticut State Library (CSL). The project began at the start of the war’s centennial in 2014 and has featured a Twitter campaign using archival material from The Hartford Courant, public programs and lectures, art exhibitions, and an oral history project with the Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) journalism department.
Three programs in particular demonstrate how Connecticut in WWI put our state at the forefront of the nation’s commemorative efforts. “Remembering World War I: Sharing History/Preserving Memories,” an award-winning community archiving program, held 46 events in towns across the state in which family-held WWI collections and stories were recorded and digitized. [See “Remembering World War I,” Spring 2017.] CSL also hosted a red-carpet world premiere of the animated feature film Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero in New Haven. [See “Stubby’s Story: Letting Slip the Dogs of War,” Spring 2017.] Third, CSL’s award-winning “Digging Into History” brought 15 Connecticut high school students to Seicheprey, France in 2019 for a life-changing experiential education program. Working alongside 16 French students, the group cleared and restored trenches occupied by Connecticut soldiers during the first German offensive against American troops. [See “The Cave-Dweller’s Life,” Winter 2020-2021.]
Visit ctinworldwar1.org. Connecticut in World War I will be featured in a Grating the Nutmeg podcast to be released November 1.
(l) Tjamel Hamlin II and (r) Derrick Strong, both Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation members, and (center) Lan-Huong Nguyen, an undergraduate student at Connecticut College, screen for artifacts during excavations on the Eastern Pequot reservation as part of the Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School, offered by the University of Massachusetts Boston, July 2018. Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation.
The Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School formed in 2003 as a collaborative venture between the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the department of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts Boston. This community-engaged archaeology project developed to advance Eastern Pequot initiatives in cultural and historic preservation, land management, education, community development, and heritage activities. The project takes place on the Eastern Pequot’s historic reservation in North Stonington, one of the oldest in the U.S., which has been continuously occupied by the Eastern Pequot since before the reservation was established in 1683.
Over the last 20 years Eastern Pequot community members (including elders, youth, and tribal government officials), archaeology professors, and more than 120 university students have conducted extensive archaeological surveys and excavations on the reservation, documenting Native life both during the reservation period and for thousands of years prior. Contrary to exploitative archaeological practices of the 20th century, this 21st-century Indigenous archaeology project has centered on and respected Eastern Pequot land, culture, voices, needs, and sovereignty. Results of this research—which has appeared in scholarly articles, books, master’s theses, exhibits, and video (see youtube.com/watch?v=CsJ2znR-Wq8)—have demonstrated this Indigenous community’s cultural persistence and its often under-appreciated role in Connecticut history from the 17th century to today.
Visit the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation website, easternpequottribalnation.org. The project will be featured in a story in the Spring 2023 issue.
The Ethnic Heritage Center (EHC) in New Haven comprises five ethnic historical societies—Jewish, African American, Italian, Ukrainian, and Irish—that have worked together for more than 20 years to save irreplaceable archival and oral history collections. The center has sponsored many cross-cultural exhibitions. Its latest project, Walk New Haven Cultural Heritage Tour, takes students, residents, historians, and the general public into the neighborhoods to see the layered history of change and the stories of iconic buildings such as the Black jazz club The Monterey.
Although some of the buildings described are no longer standing, their stories remain. The self-guided walking/biking/driving tours tell the pre-1970 stories of the experiences, contributions, and hardships faced in New Haven by five of the cultural and ethnic groups that have enriched the community. The tours were developed using archival material and oral history interviews. Students from SCSU assisted with the research for the Inner Grand Avenue tour, and New Haven Public Schools students were trained to lead the tours. A major goal of the EHC is to stimulate an interest among the many additional cultural groups in New Haven to form historical societies to preserve and share their histories and to add new sites to its tours.
To date Walknewhaven.org contains maps and site information for five self-guided tours. Four books have been published and may be purchased on the website. Free brochures are available at the Ethnic Heritage Center on the campus of SCSU, 270 Fitch Street, New Haven.
Visit walknewhaven.org and ethnicheritagecenter.org. The Ethnic Heritage Center and Walk New Haven will be featured in a story in the Spring 2023 issue.
Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community
The mission of The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community in Bridgeport is to restore, preserve, and ensure the viability of the historic Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses, the last extant examples remaining from Bridgeport’s Little Liberia community, c. 1822, and the oldest houses built by African Americans in the state of Connecticut. The center uses the houses to teach the history of Connecticut Blacks, revitalize the surrounding South End community, and facilitate the preservation and revitalization of other African American and greater Bridgeport historic/preservation communities.
According to the site’s National Register Nomination, sisters Eliza Freeman and Mary Freeman were born in Derby in 1805 and 1815, respectively. In 1848, while living and working in New York, they purchased adjoining building lots in Bridgeport’s Little Liberia, a prosperous maritime community of free Blacks and Native Americans, as rental property. Eliza moved to Bridgeport around 1855, and Mary joined her just before Eliza’s death in 1862. The sisters profited from expanded land holdings and were respected members of the community.
The Freeman Houses were saved from demolition by the City of Bridgeport in 2009 by a widespread and diverse community movement. Subsequently, community stakeholders asked that a center for history and culture be established there. Work is ongoing to carry out the center’s mission.
Visit freemancenterbpt.org. The Mary and Eliza Freeman Center will be featured in a Grating the Nutmeg podcast to be released September 1 for Connecticut Freedom Trail Month and in a story in the Spring 2023 issue.
Pablo Delano, Museum of the Old Colony, installation in Pope Park, Hartford, 2021. Courtesy Pablo Delano
Pablo Delano, a visual artist, photographer, and educator, is recognized for his use of Connecticut and Puerto Rican history in his work, including his 2020 book of photography Hartford Seen (Wesleyan University Press), a Connecticut Book Award 2021 “Spirit of Connecticut” finalist. [See “Visually Breathtaking Hartford Explored,” Summer 2021, and Grating the Nutmeg episode 123.] Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Fine Arts at Trinity College in Hartford. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions in museums and galleries in the U.S., Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
Over the course of 20 years Delano amassed a substantial archive of artifacts related to a century of Puerto Rican history. Using this material, including three-dimensional objects, newspaper clippings, and photographs, he created The Museum of the Old Colony, a dynamic, site-specific art installation that examines the complex and fraught history of U.S. colonialism, paternalism, and exploitation in Puerto Rico. The title is a play on words, referencing both the island’s political status and Old Colony, a popular local soft drink. The work is also deeply personal, a means for Delano to better understand and come to terms with the troubling history of Puerto Rico. In the end, he says, the work liberates the story of a people from the limitations and blind spots of history, traditional museums, and popular culture.
The Museum of the Old Colony is an ongoing project. In 2021 it was installed outdoors in Hartford’s Pope and Colt parks via a long banner produced by the Photoville Festival in New York City. The installation was co-sponsored by Connecticut Institute for Community Development Puerto Rican Parade Committee/Hartford Puerto Rican Parade and the Center for Caribbean Studies at Trinity College.
Visit pablodelano.com. Delano will be featured in conversation with Elena Rosario on September 21 at Park Street Library @ The Lyric, 603 Park Street, Hartford, and in a Grating the Nutmeg podcast to be released January 1, 2023.
[Witness Stones Project.jpg, caption:] Students from the Foote School, New Haven, gather the community to install a Witness Stone for Pink Primus at the Pardee-Morris House on June 2, 2021. Witness Stones Project
The Witness Stones Project is a K-12 education initiative started by Dennis Culliton, a retired social studies teacher, to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities. Witness Stones is currently working with more than three dozen communities across Connecticut.
The project provides research assistance, professional development for teachers, and an innovative classroom curriculum to lead students through a study of the history of slavery in their community. Students explore the lives of enslaved individuals through primary source documents, create biographical sketches of the forgotten enslaved men, women, and children, and share those stories through essays, art, poetry, and films.
A culminating event is a public installation ceremony to place “Witness Stones,” permanent brass markers that memorialize these individuals where they lived, worked, or worshiped. Students, faculty, administrators, historians, public officials, local clergy, and the larger community gather to remember and honor the forgotten through music, poetry, oration, and reflection. The hope is that the students’ work and the public memorials inspire communities to learn their complete history, dismantle current inequities, and build a just future.
Culliton and The Witness Stones Project have received The Guilford Preservation Alliance Charles Hubbard Award (2016), Connecticut Council for the Social Studies’s Special Project Award (2019), and Shore Publishing’s Beacon Award (2020).
Visit WitnessStonesProject.org. The project will be featured in a story in the Winter 2022-2023 issue.
Student Activism to Enact PA 19-12
Students from across the state rallied for passage of legislation requiring the teaching of African American, Black, Latinx, and Puerto Rican history in the public school curriculum (Public Act 19-12). Several student organizations worked for the act’s passage, including Students for Educational Justice (SEJ) and Citywide Youth Coalition in New Haven, Hearing Youth Voices in New London, and the statewide Connecticut Students for a DREAM.
This game-changing student activism is represented by writer and activist Benie N’sumbu. While in high school, N’sumbu joined SEJ, where she taught her peers about the political process and organized for passage of PA 19-12. She is co-founder of the Liberation Table, a Black diasporic tradition that offers Black people an opportunity to host family and friends over a traditional meal with African roots during Black History Month and on Juneteenth to reflect upon a shared history of innovation, strength, and overcoming oppression. N’sumbu’s goal, she states, is for her work to inspire people to heal, connect, and change the world.
SEJ rallied people to support the bill, held town halls, and taught political education to other high-school students, including providing advice and assistance with writing testimonies. The SEJ leadership team traveled to the state capitol to meet with state legislators, including Representative Bobby Gibson, who introduced the bill. Along the way students learned about the legislative process first-hand and shared that knowledge with others. Though the legislation enacted fell short of their larger goals, only requiring high schools to offer an elective course, student advocacy was instrumental to the passage of the first-of-its-kind legislation both in Connecticut and in the country (according to a CNN story, December 9, 2020).
For more information about PA 19-12 visit pa1912.serc.co/about/, and for more about Students for Educational Justice, visit students4edjustice.org. A story will appear in the Winter 2022-2023 issue.
Steve Thornton created the Shoeleather History Project in 2005. The project documents and promotes what he calls “history from below,” that is, “the stories of ordinary people who are the real makers of history.” The project includes walking tours, a robust website, workshops, and public events.
Thornton has been a tenant organizer, union leader, nonviolence trainer, and anti-racism activist. Throughout his life he has helped build multi-racial coalitions for economic and social justice. Using history to teach new lessons from old stories, Thornton has spoken on picket lines, in breweries, at universities, in church basements and town halls, and with people living on the streets. He is the author of A Shoeleather History of the Wobblies: Stories of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Connecticut (Red Sun Press, 2013), Wicked Hartford (The History Press, 2017), and Good Trouble: A Shoeleather History of Nonviolent Direct Action (Hard Ball Press, 2019). For CTExplored he has written “African American Greats in Connecticut Baseball,” Summer 2018, and “Hartford’s Union Brew,” Summer 2017.
Visit shoeleatherhistoryproject.com. Thornton will be featured in a story in the Winter 2022-2023 issue.
“Mapping the Impact,” a conceptual rendering from the Land Grab CT website, Landgrabct.org.
Land Grab CT, based at the University of Connecticut, was inspired by the Land Grab U project, which extensively collected and mapped land data tied to land-grant universities—of which UConn is one—and the 1862 Morrill Act. The group of students and faculty researched and created a website that provides a localization of the data from Land Grab U and an expansion of that work in a larger colonial context. Land Grab CT details UConn’s acquisition and control of the land it currently resides on and—unknown to many of us—the parcels of land outside Connecticut from which it also benefits, a vestige of its land-grant university status. The project aims to inform viewers about UConn’s resulting participation in the construction of colonial systems of higher education. As the project’s website explains, “In 1862, the United States government passed ‘an Act donating public lands to the several states and territories which may provide Colleges for the benefit of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts,’ known as the Morrill Act. These public lands were established by the systematic and often violent dispossession of Indigenous people by the United States government. Land Grab CT invites us to interrogate our assumptions about these systems and their impact on Native communities.”
Land Grab CT is produced by UConn’s Greenhouse Studios in conjunction with the Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) and Native American and Indigenous Students Association (NAISA), and the Dodd Impact initiative at the Human Rights Institute.
Visit Landgrabct.org. A story will appear in the Spring 2023 issue.
Ancient Burying Ground volunteers in action. Courtesy of Ancient Burying Ground Association
Uncovering their History: African, African-American, and Native-American Burials in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground, 1640-1815 is a project designed to identify African, African American, and Native American burials in Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground. The graveyard is located at the corner of Main and Gold streets and maintained by the Ancient Burying Ground Association.
The burying ground is Hartford’s oldest historic site. Anyone who died in town between 1640 and the early 1800s, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnic background, economic status, religious faith, or whether they were free or enslaved, was buried there—as many as 6,000 people, including an estimated 500 Africans, African Americans, and Native Americans. Unfortunately, records were inconsistently kept in the past, leaving gaps and incomplete information.
The research by Central Connecticut State University Professor of History Katherine Hermes sought to identify as many African, African American, and Native Americans buried there as possible. Findings were then added to a publicly searchable website that includes profiles and narratives about some individuals, a description of the research methodology, a downloadable research report, a history, and a bibliography. The site uses Relationship Tree, a proprietary program designed by Hermes and developed by computer science students at CCSU that incorporates important non-family connections—such as enslaver and enslaved person. [See “Unburying Hartford’s Native and African American Families,” Fall 2019, and Grating the Nutmeg episode 78.]
In addition to the website, programming is regularly scheduled and new research has been commissioned to uncover ties of people in the burying ground to the West Indies and Black, White, and Indigenous women’s stories.
Visit africannativeburialsct.org. New discoveries will be presented at a public program on September 14 at New Haven Museum with Grove Street Cemetery Association and in a Grating the Nutmeg podcast to be released March 1, 2023.
CHS Common Struggle
The Connecticut Historical Society’s current exhibition, Common Struggle, Individual Experience: An Exhibition About Mental Health, on view through October 16 and available as a virtual tour, is a timely look at the history of mental health in Connecticut. In reviewing this nomination Dr. Vernal noted, “Taking mental health as a legitimate subject of historical inquiry is one of the major contributions of this exhibition to equity and social justice [and]an important step in destigmatizing mental health.”
“Understanding how people have struggled with mental health throughout history,” the CHS exhibition description notes, “helps us support ourselves and each other today. This exhibition explores how society has sought and continues to seek care for the mind and mental health. Letters, photographs, and other artifacts share the experiences of Connecticans from the past.” In addition to the historical material, compelling oral history interviews recorded in 2020 and 2021 share the perspectives of people today.
The CHS is also recognized for A Brief History of Connecticut’s LGBTQ Community and The Work Must Be Done: Women of Color and the Right to Vote. In 2019 the CHS worked with CCSU Assistant Professor of History William Mann, CCSU students, and the university’s LGBTQ archive to develop a traveling exhibition and digital timeline (available online, chs.org/lgbtq). [See Grating the Nutmeg episode 119.]
The Work Must Be Done is a project led by Dr. Brittney Yancy of Goodwin University in Hartford and CHS’s Dr. Karen Li Miller. The project, available online at research.chs.org/women-of-
Visit chs.org. CHS is recognized with a story in the Fall 2022 issue (see page XX) and a Grating the Nutmeg podcast episode to be released September 15.
On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs is a digital-first, open-access book-in-progress by Jack Dougherty and contributors at Trinity College. It is available online, and a finished manuscript is under contract with Amherst College Press. The book combines historical narrative, interactive maps, and video interviews to tell the story of schooling and housing boundaries that shaped American metropolitan life during the past century, along with the civil rights struggles of families and activists to cross over, redraw, or erase these powerful lines. Set in the City of Hartford and its emerging suburbs, it explains how this metropolitan area became one of the most racially and economically polarized regions in the northeastern United States. The story highlights how government, business, and white middle-class families drew lines to distance themselves from others, and the evolving coalitions that have sought to reform the relationship between private housing and public education. [See “The Federal Government and Redlining in Connecticut,” Summer 2019, and Grating the Nutmeg episode 43.]
Visit OnTheLine.trincoll.edu. On The Line will be featured in a story in the Spring 2023 issue.
Capital Community College students visit Connecticut’s Old State House as part of CCC’s Hartford Heritage Project. Courtesy of Hartford Heritage Project
The Hartford Heritage Project at Capital Community College in Hartford is a place-based education initiative launched in 2011 with the help of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The aim of the HHP is to engage students in the rich mosaic of historical and cultural content in the City of Hartford in order to deepen learning in courses, connect them with museums and other cultural institutions, and inspire civic attachment and civic engagement. The HHP encourages faculty to include museums in their curriculum, supports faculty through workshops, consultations, and networking with museum educators, creates institutional memberships to remove access barriers to museum admission, and develops fully place-based courses housed in museums to give students a deep dive into archival work and interaction with museum staff.
In 2021 the HHP received its third NEH grant, this time to launch the Black Heritage Project, aimed at bringing to light the history of the 19th-century Black community centered at Hartford’s Talcott Street Congregational Church and school that stood next to the current site of the college. This project features Black Community Formation, an exhibition at CCC curated by Dr. Frank Mitchell that explores the history of the church—the city’s first place of worship for Black congregants and the site of the first school for Black children. It was founded in protest against discrimination against Black citizens in general and in other Hartford churches in particular. The exhibition examines the central role of the church and school in the history and evolution of Hartford’s Black community. The project will also produce place-based curricula in a variety of courses and an annual public lecture.
Visit capitalcc.edu/hhp/. CTExplored’s support will focus on the Black Community Formation exhibition and Game Changer Steve Thornton’s “Justice & Faith Hartford Walking Tour,” October 15, 10 – 11:30 a.m. See page 20 for details.
MLK Memorial, Simsbury. Courtesy of Richard Curtiss
In 2010, student researchers at Simsbury High School, guided by social studies teacher Richard Curtiss, completed The Summers of Freedom Project about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in Simsbury.
The young MLK worked in tobacco fields during the summers of 1944 and 1947. In 1944 King was a freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
The focus of the research was twofold: to search local and national archives for information about King’s time working tobacco in Connecticut and to conduct oral interviews with those familiar with the Morehouse College program that brought students to Simsbury. With support from the Simsbury Free Library, the students shared their research by producing a documentary film, Summers of Freedom: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Connecticut, that received local and national attention.
In 2011 the students formed the MLK in Connecticut Committee to establish a website and to design and raise funds for a memorial to Dr. King. The students found inspiration in King’s experience as a student discovering himself and the world. The students wrote on the project’s website, “He was a young man figuring out who he wanted to be. We hope visitors to this memorial will be educated, engaged in self discovery and self correction and inspired to live a life of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance.” The memorial, located on the grounds of the Simsbury Free Library, was dedicated in 2021.
Visit mlkinct.com, where you’ll also find a link to the documentary. This project will be featured in a story in the Winter 2022-2023 issue.
Steven M. Harris (R)
Charles Teale Sr. (L)
Steve Harris and Charles Teale Sr. are retired Hartford city firefighters who, like many others, are examples of passionate avocational historians. Both have contributed to researching and raising awareness of Hartford’s first Black firefighter William Henry Jacklyn, among other projects. Jacklyn was a volunteer firefighter from 1898 to 1914 who refused to be part of a department that didn’t allow him to sleep in the same quarters as his white peers. The Hartford Fire Department hired its first Black firefighters in 1948.
Teale served as a member of the Hartford Fire Department from 1982 to 2010, the last decade as chief. He has researched and documented the many accomplishments and contributions of the H.F.D. to the fire-service profession throughout its 221-year history, including locating the gravesite of Jacklyn in Spring Grove Cemetery, where he placed a headstone.
In September 2021 Hartford Public Library (HPL) partnered with North End resident, HPL board member, and former fire captain Harris to create a mural honoring Jacklyn on the Phoenix Society Inc. building, part of its Hartford Changemakers program. The Phoenix Society was founded in 1966 to maintain the history and generational support of Black firefighters in the city and beyond [see page 48]. Dr. Vernal notes, “Steve Harris is the unofficial ambassador for Hartford history. Ever since he returned to the city after his military service, he has been engaged in indefatigable efforts to promote the history of Hartford and that of its African American residents. Harris is keen to offer up his life history as a template for understanding the Black experience in Hartford. He and Chief Teale have been collecting stories of the black community in Hartford’s North End.”
Teale co-chaired the committee that created the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial in 2005. He has served on various nonprofit boards, was a TEDxHartford speaker, and has written four biographies of local figures. For Connecticut Explored he wrote “I Called Him Mr. Hurley,” Fall 2015, and “My Summers at Camp Courant,” Summer 2010.
Harris and Teale will be featured in a Grating the Nutmeg podcast to be released December 1.
A 2020 production of Sisters, Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center. Courtesy of Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center
Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center (KTM&HC), founded in 1966 and located in Ridgefield, is a four-acre historic site and history museum that features tours, rotating exhibits, and scenic grounds and gardens. The site is in the midst of an NEH-funded reinterpretation project aimed at ensuring its storytelling is more inclusive, relevant, and interactive.
SISTERS is an award-winning project that includes an original play, Sisters, commissioned by the museum in 2019, and related public and school programs. Sisters is the story of two historical figures connected to the site: Anna Resseguie, the white owner of what was then called the Resseguie Hotel, and Phillis DuBois, a Black woman who worked there in the mid- to late-19th century. It explores the complicated dynamics of the women’s relationship and was co-written by Royal Shirée and Joanne Hudson, directed by Kimberly Wilson, and choreographed by Sharece Sellem. Though informed by historical records in the museum’s archives, the play moves beyond the historical record in that it is also based in the lived experiences and imaginations of its playwrights: Shirée is Black and Hudson is white. Sisters was first staged for school and public audiences in 2020 (virtually, due to the pandemic), accompanied by programming and lessons for students and a community talkback for the public. Sisters won both the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award of Excellence and a Connecticut League of History Organizations Award of Merit in 2021.
Visit KeelerTavernMuseum.org. A story will be featured in the Spring 2023 issue, and CTExplored will support KTM&HC’s presentation of Sisters in April 2023 for students and the public.
Hartford History Center
L to R: Elena Rosario, Ph.D. candidate and frequent HHC researcher, Jasmin Agosto of HHC, and Ray Alvarez-Adorno, Trinity College student, review archival photographs published by The Hartford Times of the Puerto Rican community for the center’s summer Public Humanities Collaborative project.
photo: Nick Caito
The Hartford History Center at Hartford Public Library is a non-circulating, multimedia collection that reflects community life in Hartford from the 1630s to the present. The center opened in May 2008 in a climate- and light-controlled space in the downtown library. As the official repository for the Hartford city and town clerk archives, it includes nearly 400 years of governmental records among its chief holdings.
The center is a game changer for the way it works with community partners to create programs and exhibitions that speak to Hartford’s rich cultural history, such as its intergenerational Hartford Changemakers summer program, which lifts up Hartford’s historical Black, Latinx, and Indigenous heroes as a way to inspire people to be history-makers in the present day; its Encounters partnership with UConn, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, and Connecticut’s Old State House, which engages academics, students, and community members across the state in small group discussions about major issues and texts of our history and contemporary experiences; and educational workshops with high school and college educators and their classes that introduce students to researching in an archive. Recent projects have explored Hartford barbershops, Hartford’s Hip Hop history, African American, West Indian, and Puerto Rican communities making Hartford home, the women’s suffrage movement in Hartford, and the library’s own institutional history of its neighborhood-serving branch system.
The center’s collection includes published books about Hartford or by Hartford authors, substantial collections of imprints, pamphlets, photographs, and other materials relating to Hartford, and bound sets of pamphlets compiled by Noah Webster. A significant digital archive is accessible through the Connecticut Digital Archive.
Visit hhc.hplct.org. The Hartford History Center will host a public program featuring Game Changers Pablo Delano and Elena Rosario in conversation on September 21 at Park Street Library @ The Lyric, 603 Park Street, Hartford.
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