These 20 historical “game-changers” herald Connecticut’s untold stories
Connecticut Explored, a non-profit history magazine, wants to tell the stories of mainstream history left behind, and stories from communities that have been unheard, oppressed, or repressed. The nonprofit has named 20 “game-changers,” contemporary historians whose methods and topics go where traditional historians have not gone before.
“We are a history magazine. We want to tell the full story of Connecticut history. We are excited to include people who have not previously been listed and to represent our state’s diversity both geographically and in terms of individuals and institutions,” said Dr. Cathy Hermes, the magazine’s executive director and publisher.
“They’re doing new things and by doing new things, they’re getting the history that will be the future of the historic institution in Connecticut.”
Every “game changer” – people, organizations, projects, writers – will be featured in free public programs in the coming months. All of them will get a feature in the magazine. A gala in October will celebrate their contributions to local traditions.
Hermes said that many honorees recount “a difficult history.
“A hard history makes people uncomfortable,” she said. “History of enslavement, conquest, national oppression, and stories of mental illness. It is the stories of the immigrant experience that do not follow the pattern of “everyone who is successful and does better than their father and grandfather.”
The Game Changers initiative reflects a national discussion about bringing more untold stories — stories about race, gender, class, immigration, battles, mental health and land grabs — into education efforts.
We have to face these uncomfortable realities. Hermès said it is much more interesting in many ways than the delightful stories on Wikipedia, such as the biographies of masters.
Fiona Vernal, associate professor of history and African studies at UConn, chaired the panel that reduced 120 nominees to 20 honoraries.
Vernal said the commission wanted to recognize unannounced projects that not only told new historical stories, but also sparked debate and invited the community to get involved.
“These people are making Connecticut history more accessible and inclusive, and are making a concerted effort to generate public dialogue and public participation,” Vernal said.
Below is a list of “game changers”. For details and general programs, visit ctexplored.org/game-changers/
London’s New Black Heritage Trail A memorial plaque was unveiled in October 2021 honoring Adam Jackson, a man who was enslaved at Hempstead House in the 18th century. The track now contains 15 panels representing the high and low points of the state’s black history, such as the sidewalk where the Amistad was pulled, the site of the Frederick Douglass lectures and the site of race riots in the early 20th century. visitnewlondon.org/black-heritage-trail/.
Ocean Vuong’s fictional memoir “On Earth We’re Brilliant For A Briefly” It tells the story of the experience of Southeast Asian immigrants in Hartford in the late twentieth century. The story deals with trauma after the aftermath of the Vietnam War, LGBT, domestic violence, opioid addiction and illiteracy, as well as the experience of agricultural workers in the Connecticut Shed Tobacco fields in Windsor.
Elena Rosario He is a Hartford resident and public historian focused on immigration, identity formation, and work. Rosario is studying for her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and is writing her thesis on Puerto Rican immigration and settlement in Connecticut from the 1940s to the 1970s. While conducting her research, she combines traditional archival studies with the oral history of community members.
Connecticut in World War I It is a project launched in 2014, the centenary of the war, by the Connecticut State Library. The project held public programs, art exhibitions, and an oral history project that digitized family collections of World War I memorabilia and recorded stories of World War I memories. In 2019, 15 teens traveled to Seicheprey, France, to clear and reclaim trenches occupied by Connecticut soldiers. ctinworldwar1.org
East Bekot Archaeological Field School In North Stonington it is run by the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation and the UMass Boston Department of Anthropology. Studies by community members, professors, and students have documented thousands of years of Eastern Pe’ history. The philosophy of the project, unlike previous historical studies, is to respect the culture and sovereignty of the tribe. Easternpequottribalnation.org.
Ethnic Heritage and Walking Center It combines the work of five New Haven historical societies—Jewish, African American, Italian, Ukrainian, and Irish—to preserve the stories of those communities, with archival material and oral history. Their work has produced four books and five self-guided tours of the Historic Cultural Districts of Downtown, Worcester Square, Lower Dixwell, Downtown North, and Grand Avenue. walknewhaven.org.
Pablo Delano, Professor of Fine Arts at Trinity College, published a book in 2021, “Hartford Scene,” a collection of pictures of the city. Rejecting what he called the “chamber of commerce aesthetic,” Delano focuses on working-class homes and businesses, occupied by cross-generational residents, some dilapidated, all of which reflect the city’s history and its multi-ethnic communities. pablodelano.com.
Witness Stones مشروع Project It began in Guilford in 2017, when teacher Dennis Coleton wanted to establish the history of slavery in his town. The Culliton program involves researching life, teaching their stories and setting up brass signs where people live, work or worship. The project extended to New York, New Jersey and southern New England, including 39 cities in Connecticut. Stones Project witnesses
Student activity for the age of the Palestinian Authority 19-12 Honors young people who helped advance legislation to require the teaching of African American, Black, Latino, and Puerto Rican history in public schools beginning in the 2021-22 school year. The activity was led by Students for Educational Justice and Citywide Youth Coalition in New Haven, Hearing Youth Voices in New London, Connecticut Students for DREAM and activist Benny Enzombo.
Mary and Elisa Freeman Center for History and Society In Bridgeport honors two mixed-race sisters who were the center of a multi-ethnic community in the nineteenth century, Little Liberia. The only remaining remnants of Little Liberia are the Freeman Sisters’ Homes, the oldest African-American homes in the state. The homes were saved from demolition in 2009 and will be the site of a cultural center. freemancenterbpt.org.
Land Grab CT, based in UConn, was inspired by the Land Grab U, a research project that collects data on the Morrill Act of 1862, which gave land to states to build universities, often taking that land from indigenous peoples. The project aims “to inform viewers of UConn’s resulting involvement in building colonial systems of higher education,” according to ctexplored.org. landgrabct.org
Ancient Earth Burial Association It is an alternate reading of Old Hartford Burial Ground, on Main and Golden Streets. People who died in Hartford between 1640 and the early 19th century were buried there, including many Africans, African Americans, and Native Americans. Searching in their lives is choppy. The association seeks to learn as much as possible about it and publish this information on africannativeburialsct.org.
Connecticut Historical Society She was honored for her current exhibition, “Joint Struggle, Individual Experience: An Exposition on Mental Health”. Vernal described the exhibition’s historical focus as “an important step in removing the stigma of mental health.” The association was also honored for the exhibits “A Brief History of the Connecticut LGBTQ Community” and “Work Must Be Done: Women of Color and the Right to Vote.” chs.org.
On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs is an open access book written by Jack Dougherty and Trinity College contributors. It tells the story of how government officials, businesses, and white residents have worked for decades to distance themselves from people of color, and about coalitions fighting to erase the resulting inequalities. ontheline.trincoll.edu.
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Hartford Heritage Project It was launched in 2011 at Capital Community College in Hartford with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, to highlight the untold stories to be found in the city. In 2021, the project launched the Black Heritage Project to study the city’s black community in the nineteenth century centered at Talcott Street Congregational Church, which stood where the college is now. Capitalcc.edu/hhp.
MLK at CT / Summers of Freedom It is a project undertaken in 2010 by students of Simsbury High School and teacher Richard Curtiss, to research visits to Simsbury by young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , who worked in the tobacco fields in the city. The project resulted in a documentary called “Summer of Freedom: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Connecticut” and a memorial in the city library. The film can be viewed at mlkinct.com.
Steve Harris and Charles Tell Sr. They are retired Hartford firefighters who did extensive research on William Henry Jacqueline, who was Hartford’s first black firefighter, from 1898 to 1914. Harris and Tell also researched other aspects of Hartford’s black history and communities. Till co-chaired the committee that established the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial and wrote four biographies of local black residents.
“sisters” It was a play produced in 2020 by the Keeler Tavern Museum & History Center in Ridgefield. The play, written by Royal Cherie, a black woman, and Joanne Hudson, a white woman, tells the story of Anna Resigi, a white hotelier, and Phyllis Dubois, a black woman who worked there in the 19th century. Keeler reinterprets storytelling to focus on inclusivity. keelertavernmuseum.org.
Steve Thornton He founded the Shoeleather History Project in 2005. The project focuses on “Stories from Hartford’s Grassroots,” which are stories about working-class men and women of all races whose lives were never mentioned in mainstream history books, from the colonial era to the COVID pandemic. Thornton published a book, and conducted walking tours around the state and workshops. shoeleatherhistoryproject.com.
Hartford History Center, located in the Hartford Public Library, collects written, oral, and pictorial materials on life in Hartford from the 1630s to the present. It creates programs that take advantage of and celebrate the city’s multicultural communities and histories. Recent projects are barbershops in Hartford, the history of hip hop music in Hartford, the multicultural communities that make Hartford home, and women’s suffrage. hhc.hplct.org.
Susan Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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