African American Connecticut Explored

Edited by Elizabeth J. Normen  with  Katherine J. Harris, Stacey K. Close and Wm. Frank Mitchell

(Wesleyan, University Press, $40, 452 pages)

Who is this author?

Elizabeth J. Normen is publisher of Connecticut Explored, the nonprofit magazine of Connecticut history, which is created with input from 30 heritage, arts and educational organizations across the state. She lives in West Hartford and holds degrees from Smith College and Trinity College, and has worked in arts management for Hartford area museums, including the Wadsworth Atheneum and Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington and the nonprofit arts-funding Ann T. Roberts Foundation.

On Wednesday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m., Normen and Stacey Close, professor of History at Eastern Connecticut State University, will give a free Director’s College Series talk at Farmington Library, 6 Monteith Dr., Farmington. Advance registration is required: 860-673-6791 or

What is this book about?

Did you know that in the nearly 400 years of its existence, Connecticut allowed slavery for 205 years, until abolishing it in 1848? That is just one of the myriad facts you will learn in African American Connecticut Explored, a book of essays by prominent state historians and others. The subjects include the Black Governors of Connecticut, nationally important black abolitionists such as clergymen 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. Singer Marion Anderson and author Ann Petry, as well as business people, community leaders, educators and others are profiled.The book also documents the daily life of African Americans over time, including communities that formed in the early1800s. This book is a collaboration of Connecticut Explored and the Amistad Center for Art & Culture, with support from the State Historic Preservation Office and Connecticut’s Freedom Trail.

The contributing writers are Billie M. Anthony, Christopher Baker, Whitney Bayers, Barbara Beeching, Andra Chantim, Stacey K. Close, Jessica Colebrook, Christopher Collier, Hildegard Cummings, Barbara Donahue, Mary M. Donohue, Nancy Finlay, Jessica A. Gresko, Katherine J. Harris, Charles (Ben) Hawley, Peter Hinks, Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Eileen Hurst, Dawn Byron Hutchins, Carolyn B. Ivanoff, Joan Jacobs, Mark H. Jones, Joel Lang, Melonae’ McLean, Wm. Frank Mitchell, Hilary Moss, Cora Murray, Elizabeth J. Normen, Elisabeth Petry, Cynthia Reik, Ann Y. Smith, John Wood Sweet, Charles A. Teale Sr., Barbara M. Tucker, Tamara Verrett, Liz Warner, David O. White, and Yohuru Williams.

Why you’ll like it:

Here in one volume, told in many different voices, is an aspect of Connecticut’s history too long unknown or ignored by many of its residents. African American Connecticut  history is, of course, everyone’s Connecticut history, as events and issues concerning that community did not arise in a vacuum. Some readers may know some of the facts and stories in this book, but it’s likely that few know all of them. Readers in Connecticut or in any state, for that matter, will learn a great deal from this richly researched and well-told account.

What others are saying:

“African American Connecticut Explored is an ambitious and important book that covers the broad arc of Connecticut’s African American history from the colonial era through the mid-twentieth century. This is a welcomed addition to early African Americana,” says Erica Armstrong Dunbar, associate professor of black American studies and history at the University of Delaware.

Says historian and author Jeremy Brecher:  “This is the first publication that brings the entire arc of Connecticut African American history together in a single volume based on serious scholarship and a comprehensive, social history-oriented perspective. It is a rich compendium of information and insight.”

When is it available?

This book is available at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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