The Suffield Historical Society’s Zoom meeting on Tuesday, May 11, at 7 p.m. will feature Kevin Johnson, who will dramatically reenact the historic figure of Jordan Freeman, an African-American servant of John Ledyard and the body servant of Col. William Ledyard in the Revolutionary War. Johnson, who has worked for many years in the Connecticut State Library’s History and Genealogy Unit, will base his presentation on extensive research in the collections of the State Library and the Museum of Connecticut History opposite the State Capitol in Hartford. Known state-wide for his captivating performances, Johnson will be giving his first program since the pandemic outbreak. Jordan Freeman was a native of Old Lyme. He served in the Battle of Groton Heights, the largest Revolutionary War battle in Connecticut. Historians estimate the number of black soldiers and sailors in the Revolutionary War was approximately 5,000, serving in militias, seagoing services, and support activities.
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Come join us when students from the Searching for Slavery class, the UCC Norfolk, and the Norfolk Historical Society honor the life and legacy of James Mars by placing a Witness Stone down in his honor in front of the Norfolk Congregational Church this Saturday, May 1st, 2021 at 2:00 pm.
CTExplored (https://www.ctexplored.org/) is another great resource for Connecticut educators who want to provide a platform for local history topics and public history projects. Their excellent magazine provides timely topics that coincide with major commemorative events as well as deep dives into these regional African American and Native American topics that have their roots in our communities. Along with their magazine, order this great text for your school library, which is a compilation of great African American historic topics as well as a testament to their commitment to find and share important moments in history that help highlights systemic racism and shore the resilience of great local figures who fought for social justice throughout the centuries.
Elizabeth Normen’s book on Venture Smith weaves this important African American narrative and provides the history of colonial Connecticut, including the history of Native American tribes. It is for middle school Social Studies Teachers, designed for the State of Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks for grade 5, “Early United States History;” suitable for grades 5 – 8. https://venturesmithcolonialct.org/
Join our blog today and post questions, insights, projects, and ideas for future public history topics for CAIS History teachers.
What Forgotten Patriots Need to be Discovered in Your Community?
James Loewen’s insight helps us as history teachers to design one local history unit with this multidimensional benefit. “Telling the truth about the past helps cause justice in the present. Achieving justice in the present helps us tell the truth about the past.” Moreover, as we approach Memorial Day, are there African American and Native American veterans in your community who served in the Revolutionary War in your community? Can we trace and create public history monuments explaining the colonial contributions of African Americans and Native Americans? The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution published a document [large pdf; wait a moment for it to download] in 2008 to help descendants research the lives and sacrifices of their ancestors. Can your class use this document to launch a local history unit to research the lives of African American and Native American veterans who served in this colonial conflict?
Once you discover African American and Native American veterans in this document who served for your community, how do you begin researching their lives? How do you help your students with the disciplinary elements of this public history and tap into the benefits of project-based learning? One way to start is to appreciate the collaborative benefits of #PBL. When we learn together, we learn topics deeper. In this spirit, some CAIS students and teachers who began this process earlier in the year would like to host an asynchronous discussion regarding the new documentary titled, Black Patriots, with host and producer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Available on the History Channel website as well as other streaming sites: Apple I-Tunes, History Vault, and Amazon (for $2.99).
Down the line, you can then utilize your town hall’s documents, resources on Ancestry.com and Fold3, which most likely can be accessed online through your local library, school library, or by signing up for a free library account at our State Library in Hartford.
Take a step forward and have your students enjoy the process of doing history; then you can assess what your class learned and refine your process as you create a cycle of production within your classroom community. We can help with this iterative aspect of project-based learning.
Join our asynchronous discussion about the value of this documentary. Click here to join!
Take a deeper dive during this educator’s workshop with Dr. James Loewen. Do you want to learn how to direct your students to discover Native American history in your community? Are you interested in organizing primary source documents to help your students understand the contributions enslaved people made in your colonial community? Do you want to have students explore the legacies of slavery and broaden their understanding of the systemic racism incorporated in Connecticut’s Redlining and Sundown Town policies? Sign up today and share this with colleagues so that you can put aside the textbook behind and turn your students into historians.In the wake of the “double pandemic” our nation is facing (i.e., the COVID pandemic and racial inequities,) many teachers are adjusting their social and emotional learning approach, putting social justice front and center. Both in terms of content, as well as in how we ask students to engage with the material, many teachers are asking ourselves: what shifts (both small and significant) can we make to better address issues related to inequality? How can we center the voices of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) individuals as we address these issues?Advocating for social justice since he began his teaching career at the predominantly Black Tougaloo College in Mississippi after graduating from Harvard in 1968, Dr. James W. Loewen has spent his entire career helping educators ditch the US History textbooks, which often include false narratives and misrepresentations of BIPOC individuals. Author of Lies My History Teacher Told Me, Dr. Loewen also sincerely enjoys guiding teachers on how they can expose their students to the myths and biases of “white” history, as well as find ways to get students excited to engage in local history.
James Loewen taught race relations for twenty years at the University of Vermont. Previously he taught at predominantly black Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He now lives in Washington, D.C., continuing his research on how Americans remember their past. Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong came out in 1999. The Gustavus Myers Foundation named his book, Sundown Towns, a “Distinguished Book of 2005.” In 2010, Teachers College Press brought out Teaching What Really Happened, intended to give K-12 teachers (and prospective teachers) solutions to the problems pointed out in Loewen’s earlier works.As the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War approached, Loewen asked thousands of K-12 teachers in workshops and audiences about its cause(s). Depressed at their replies, he recruited a co-editor and published The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader (University Press of Mississippi, 2010), which sets the record straight in Confederates’ own words.His other books include Mississippi: Conflict and Change (co authored), which won the Lillian Smith Award for Best Southern Nonfiction but was rejected for public school text use by the State of Mississippi, leading to the path breaking First Amendment lawsuit, Loewen et al. v. Turnipseed, et al. He also wrote The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White, Social Science in the Courtroom, and Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus.He has been an expert witness in more than 50 civil rights, voting rights, and employment cases. His awards include the First Annual Spivack Award of the American Sociological Association for “sociological research applied to the field of intergroup relations,” the American Book Award (for Lies My Teacher Told Me), and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship. He is also Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians and Visiting Professor of Sociology at Catholic University in Washington, DC. In 2012 the American Sociological Association gave Loewen its Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award, for “scholarship in service to social justice.” He is the first white person ever to win this award. Also in 2012, the National Council for the Social Studies gave Loewen its “Spirit of America” Award, previously won by, inter alia, Jimmy Carter, Rosa Parks, and Mr. Rogers.Registration Fee: $25 per person Check out the full listing of Professional Development Offerings on the CAIS PD Hub:http://www.caispd.org Follow us on Twitter: @caisct Visit the CAIS Educator’s Blog
Diane Brewer Director of Programs and Services Connecticut Association of Independent Schools P.O. Box 614 Mystic, CT 06355 (860) 572-2950 (860) 415-0835 (fax) www.caisct.orgConnecticut Association of Independent SchoolsP.O. Box 614 Mystic, CT 06355 860-572-2950
Gowing up going to Catholic school for nine years and a Jesuit school for three, I learned a lot of history, but it was rarely Black History, and never Black History in my home state state. I’ve found that looking at slavery in this way is enlightening. Throughout all my research the man who had the most profound impact on me was James Mars: particularly how he was able to stay so faithful to God even when he was born into bondage at the hands of a man of God. When I read Mars’ autobiography – an accomplishment on its own – the back page was illuminated by a poem Mars’ wrote,
“God never made a slave…
All men are equal in his site
The bond, the free, the black, the white:
He made them all, them freedom gave
God made the man, man made the slave!”
I suppose it was all those years of schooling that made me immediately obsess with this angle of Mars’s life culminating with this event on May 1st. I have been in contact with most, if not all of the local representatives including state senators to invite them to come to this civic event in Norwalk, CT.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, Rep. Maria Horn, Dr. Dennis Powell of the Berkshire Taconic chapter of the NAACP, and Talcott Street Church’s Rev. Cleo Graham will help celebrate this amazing man’s life by placing a “witness stone” with the help of Mr. Dennis Culliton.
James Mars was man of many talents and gifts, but above all else, he was a man of faith. Mars was quite literally a groundbreaking member at the Talcott Street Congregational Church in Hartford. He was a fierce defender of Black folks – even assisting in the legal efforts of the captives from the Amistad. He arranged for the legal defense of a fugitive slave girl. He helped stand up one of the states’ first Black school for children. He was a deacon and a shining example of what a Black man could accomplish at a time when they weren’t even afforded civil liberties placing the odds squarely against them.
Furthermore, James’s poetry reflects his views about God when he writes: “God never made a slave.” This quote particularly struck me because at a time when there was so much hatred toward Black people, he made the accurate reflection that slavery was not God’s plan. He not only wanted the institution to end, he also wanted so much more for other Black people in Connecticut.
I am incredibly proud of the work we are doing and hope to continue it further after this event and invite all to help and participate.
My journey in this class ties into the notion that “everything happens for a reason”. It was not on my schedule when I initially stepped on campus, and it wasn’t until a week in that I finally joined, and I am extremely happy that I did.
I can confidently say that this class has been one of the most unique and informative classes that I’ve taken my whole life. In the first trimester, I began to look into slavery in Haiti and how it relates to Connecticut. While I found it interesting, ultimately, it wasn’t the right topic for me. Coming into the second trimester, I decided to switch gears and take a look at the James Mars story. Immediately, I felt a change to my drive to work and my will to learn. I found it amazing how we were studying a history that has practically been relatively untouched for years on end. The opportunity to be one of the few to take a deep look at this history and give it the respect it deserves, excited me.
Over the course of the winter, some of my classmates and I have been constantly sharing the information we have learned with people across Connecticut, but we are not stopping there. We are creating the first Wikipedia page for James Mars and an interactive timeline. Most importantly, we are planning a “James Mars Day” on May 1 to honor his life and contributions with a Witness Stone. This makes up for a very exciting third trimester that I am looking forward to.
To tie back to my starting statement of “everything happens for a reason” I believe it was meant for me to be in this class. At the beginning of the school year, as a school, we spoke about “windows” and “mirrors”. A “window” is a story or circumstance that does not relate to you but that you can understand regardless. A “mirror” is a story that you understand and that can relate to you to an extent as well. Up until this point, most of my experiences in school have served as “windows” up until this class. This is the first class that has served as a “mirror” for me because, although my difficulties aren’t as extreme, I can relate to some of the hardships the enslaved faced with being black in America. These stories also help define what it means to be black in America as well. This class has been the first to serve as a “mirror” for me and I find that amazing.
Because of horrific events like the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, we’ve learned this year that there has been a lot of interest in this history. One of the big themes of this course is to uncover the hard Black history of our country in order to understand our past better and help build a better future.
This trimester we were approached by a media company who was interested in doing a story about our work. They asked the class to do a “sizzle reel” to help them decide if they wanted to produce a story. Mr. Mokriski explained the offer. I was immediately on board with this project.
A sizzle reel is a brief (preferably around 90 seconds) trailer video to pitch an idea like a movie or tv show, to a larger group like a new company to pick up. I started doing research on successful reels, noting what aspects of the videos really drew me in, and plotted about how I could accurately convey how interesting and important our class is on video. Once I had a vision and a solid couple pages of notes, I grabbed a camera and got to work. My classmate, Conor, was the editor and by my side throughout the entire process.
For the next two weeks, we would grab classmates and had them expound on what they were working on, how they were doing research, or just about anything they could say about the class for a couple minutes each. We’d also go around the library taking candid shots (B reel) of my classmates discussing, working, and researching. When we felt the footage was sufficient, we uploaded it to the computer.
Then Conor started editing. I sat by his side just in case there was footage that needed to be reshot – which there frequently was. Then Conor worked his magic
Turning in this video wasn’t like turning in any other assignment in school. It doesn’t even feel like an assignment. This work was fun, it’s important, and it’s something that I want to keep exploring. As a matter of fact, later today we’ll be premiering it to a group at the Norfolk Congregational Church and I can say that while there’s a bit of nerves, I’m super excited. As a black man, doing this work resonates with me in a way that I’ve never felt in school, and it sure feels good.
We really care what you think. Let us know what you think after watching.
The Cesar Women (L to R): Olive Cesar Peters, Nancy Cesar, Nancy Cesar, Mary Cesar Lassiter, and Mathilda Cesar Willams (ca. 1947ish).
Jake Brink ’21
This year my class and I have been collaborating with Cesar family descendant, Katherine Overton, to research and learn more about the community roots of this local family. Recently, I had reached a plateau and I was having trouble finding an angle that would be different from my classmates. So, I looked at the data we collected through a new lens and began to realize how remarkable the Cesar family women were!
I reached out to Ms. Overton to explore how the Cesar women used education to overcome the racism and discrimination of their time.
The reality for rural, Connecticut, African American woman was that they could really only be a domestic worker – a nursemaid a server or a cleaner. As I read and found out more about the Cesar women, I was struck by the importance of education in their lives. From here, I learned about the amazing opportunities Historic Black Colleges and Universities gave Black women. Ms. Overton sent me a lot of information and introduced me to Ward Cesar and his wife Nancy and their extraordinary daughters who overcame the social discrimination and used education to change their lives.
Ward K. Cesar was born and raised in Sharon, Connecticut in 1857, where he fathered 3 boys and 4 daughters: Matilda Eleanor Cesar, Olive Cesar Peters, Mary Cesar Lassiter, and Eleanor Cesar (who unfortunately passed away at a young age).
Olive Cesar was the third born, and she excelled in school achieving honors each year. She was often featured in different newspapers such as, The New York Age and the Connecticut Western News. Olive’s daughter gave Ms. Overton a letter that Olive’s mother Nancy Cesar wrote to her on her 24th birthday that congratulated her on all her academic achievements and for graduating college. Olive would later move to North Carolina where she accepted a position as a teacher in a preparatory school and later taught at Howard University.
Mary Lassiter was the youngest daughter of Ward and Nancy Cesar, and she was also an honor roll student and also often featured in the newspaper for her academic achievements. She attended Hampton university and eventually pursued a career in teaching and was attained a Master of Arts.
Matilda Cesar was the 2nd born child, and she gave birth to Rae Elinor Williams (Ms. Overton’s mother). She unfortunately was unable to go to college because she had to work as a domesticin order to raise her daughter and send her to college.
Rae was also lauded for her academic achievements and which were featured in the newspapers. She attended Howard University and graduated in the class of 1942 with a BA in Social Work.
These women all worked extremely hard to both support their families as well as move up in society. Because they were both black and women, they had all the odds stacked against them. Despite that, many of them completed college and were able to live long, fulfilling, and productive lives; but until now, only their family knew about them. They were simply overlooked. I am hoping my classmates and I can change that. They endeavored too hard and overcame impossible odds to simply have their history ignored. These women are so remarkable, they refused to remain voiceless. By using education, they achieved the impossible. Hopefully we can now shine a light on the extraordinary Cesar women and share their history.
Titus Kent was an enslaved individual who lived in Suffield, Connecticut from 1733-18xx. His Owner was Elihu Kent who was also an officer in the town’s militia. Titus served in the American Revolution for the Connecticut militia. We do not have any documents describing the relationship that Titus had with Elihu. Nevertheless, we do have documents showing Titus’ first enlistment in the Connecticut State Militia and other regiments throughout the entire Revolutionary War.
Titus appeared in Samuel Kent’s 1772 probate record when Samuel Kent, father of Elihu, bequeathed Titus and Cato to his son Elihu. Elihu was a captain at the start of the Revolutionary War and led Suffield’s large contingency to the Lexington alarm in 1775. He later became a major.
Suffield’s nineteenth century town historian, Hezikiah Spencer Sheldon, interviewed older residents in the late 19th century who recalled Old Ti, Titus Kent’s son, and learned that Titus married Rose, who was a slave for the minister, Reverend Ebenezer Gay. Titus Kent and Rose had three children who were manumitted in 1814 by Reverend Ebenezer Gay’s two sons, Reverend Ebenezer Gay jr. and William Gay.
Titus Kent fought throughout the American Revolution, and our preliminary research discovered him serving in the Third Regiment and was notably getting paid for his service. This is an interesting fact because we do not have any documented evidence of his freedom. Did he keep this money for himself or was he obliged to give some or all of the money to the Kent family? Did he earn his freedom, and if so, when did he earn it?
George Washington, a significant leader during this colonial time period, captures most of the attention and light written in history books throughout the years. He was the symbol for our country, and at this time Titus Kent was enslaved by the Kent family in Suffield. When George Washington passes through Suffield in 1775 on his way to become General of the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Titus Kent likely attended this parade through town if he was not already serving in Massachusetts. Titus Kent must have been impressed with Washington’s height, manner, and presence as many of his fellow colonists were at the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia when the appointed Washington to lead the army. Was this encounter a factor that motivated Titus Kent to join the fight on the Patriot side? What inspired Titus Kent to fight along side of other African Americans in his units for the Patriot cause? Or was he fighting for his freedom?
The class hopes to curate documents from Fold3 that will help tell Titus Kent’s Narrative. https://www.fold3.com/