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get ready for an engaging and thought-provoking experience like no other – Conversations at Noon

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Every 4th Tuesday, we dive into the rich history of Connecticut’s Freedom Trail by featuring diverse guests, including bestselling authors, celebrated historians, museum educators, and descendants of first families. Conversations at Noon is your gateway to discovering the fascinating stories and legacies behind some of the most significant historical sites in the state. 

Join us as we explore the intricate connections between the past and the present and shed light on the remarkable achievements of those who have come before us. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to enrich your knowledge and from accomplished individuals. 

Digital Reconnaissance: Re(Locating) Dark Spots On A Map

The Mary and Eliza Freeman Houses in Bridgeport serve a critical role in the history of Bridgeport and of the Black community in Connecticut. Their homes became the center of Little Liberia – a neighborhood of free people of color that included a luxurious seaside resort hotel for wealthy Blacks, Bridgeport’s first free lending library, a school, businesses, fraternal organizations, and churches. From this community, only the Mary and Eliza Freeman homes survive. Join the Connecticut Freedom Trail and Maisa Tisdale, President and CEO of The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center, who has advocated for the preservation of the homes and the former Little Libera neighborhood in Bridgeport’s South End since 1994. Ms. Tisdale will discuss Digital Reconnaissance: Re(Locating) Dark Spots on a Map on Tuesday, April 26th 2023 at 12 pm focusing on the preservation efforts and tools used to recreate the history of the Freeman Houses and Little Liberia with Connecticut Freedom Trail Outreach Director Tammy Denease.

Beyond Reservation: The Hidden Histories of Indian New England 

Join Dr. Jason Mancini, historian and Executive Director of CT Humanities for this talk on Native New England History. Over nine million acres of Indian Country in southern New England and adjacent Long Island was reduced to less than 30,000 acres by the American Revolution. Indians across the region adjusted in different ways to this rapidly changing world. Colonial censuses reveal Indian invisibility as well as diaspora. This talk connects 17th century Indian wars with 20th century Indian casinos and addresses the changing nature of Indian land tenure, tribal citizenship and racial boundaries, Indigenous labor, mobility, and migration, as well as political and legal agency in the face of unrelenting settler-colonial acquisition. 

Mapping our Roots: The History and Purpose of the Connecticut Freedom Trail 

The February public presentation from the CT Freedom Trail series will be a conversation with the Honorable Toni N. Harp and Alfred Marder. Alfred Marder is the “”Architect”” of the Connecticut Freedom Trail.  

It was Al’s idea and vision to bring together people and institutions from all corners of the state to commemorate and designate sites connected to history related to slavery, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans in Connecticut. Toni N. Harp has led a life of public service, serving as an elected official for over thirty years. Toni Harp has served on the New Haven Board of Alders, served twenty years as a member of the Connecticut State Senate (representing the 10th District), and finally served 6 years as the 50th Mayor of the City of New Haven. In 1995, then Senator Harp introduced the legislation to formally create the CT Freedom Trail. Freedom Trail founder, Al Marder affectionately refers to Mayor Harp as the “”Godmother of the CT Freedom Trail””. Both Alfred Marder and Toni Harp will be joined by Charles Warner, chairman of the Connecticut Freedom Trail. Harp, Marder, and Warner will share their efforts and experiences surrounding the creation and formal establishment of the CT Freedom Trail. They will also discuss the importance of the past, present, and future work of the CFT, and some highlights of the CFT. CT Freedom Trail Outreach Director, Tammy Denease, will moderate the program. 

The Legacy of the Canterbury Female Boarding School 

In 1832, Prudence Crandall, the white principal of the Canterbury Female Boarding School, was approached by a young Black woman named Sarah Harris asking to attend the academy. When residents protested the school’s integration and parents threatened to withdraw their daughters, Crandall closed her school and reopened in 1833 for non-white students. Her students came from several states. Connecticut responded by passing the “Black Law,” which prevented out-of-state Black students from attending school in Connecticut towns without local town approval. Crandall was arrested, spent a night in jail, and faced three court trials before the case was dismissed. In September 1834, a nighttime mob attack closed the school. Years later, many former students became nationally-renown educators and reformers. Crandall v. State of Connecticut impacted two U.S. Supreme Court cases and a Constitutional Amendment.  
Join Joanie DiMartino, Curator & Site Superintendent at the Prudence Crandall Museum, site of the Canterbury Female Boarding School and a National Historic Landmark, for a presentation on the successes and legacy of the Canterbury School. This talk will focus on the lives of several of students after they left Canterbury, and the legal significance of Crandall v. State of CT. 

The Perils of Pennington 

Before James Pennington arrived in Hartford, Connecticut in 1840, and became the pastor of the city’s first and America’s third Black church, he succumbed to the adversities that most Black men who want to be free suffered in early America and even today. After a harrowing escape to freedom, and a segregated journey through higher education, Pennington leapt at the chance to finally become the senior pastor in a city embroiled in the Amistad trial, the nation’s first historic civil rights case. 
Join Andre Keitt, Greatheart Griot Storyteller, for an exploration on Pennington’s life, his authorship of the world’s first book on the history of the African American; and further, how he challenged the statements of Thomas Jefferson on the “inferiority of black people.”

The Importance of Venture Smith 

Venture Smith’s life and story is one of Connecticut’s most important. Enslaved here until mid-life, he became a successful Connecticut landowner and businessman.  
Karl Stofko, town historian for East Haddam and expert on the Venture Smith family genealogy, will talk about how he started Venture Smith Day (coming up in September) more than 25 years ago, and how the annual event in East Haddam has grown each year to include new scholarship and newly discovered descendants. Liz Wood, executive director of the Stonington Historical Society, will talk about the new permanent exhibition about Smith at its Lighthouse Museum which incorporates new research and findings from an archaeological dig at a site nearby where he was enslaved. Elizabeth Normen will talk about making Smith’s published life story (1798) accessible to teachers and elementary and middle school students to engage more honestly in the history of the founding of Connecticut. 

Lasting Legacies: The Story of Adam Jackson 

Join Lynette Fisher and Nicole Thomas, the Hempsted staff, for a conversation where they navigate the legacy of slavery in the Connecticut Colony. The discussion will focus primarily on the story of Adam Jackson, how his experience intersects with the Hempsted family. They will discuss the landmark court case in which Adam’s parents, Joan and John Jackson, fought for freedom. Also included in this talk will be a short overview of the Hempsted Historic District and the inclusion of the new Black Heritage Trail within the district. 

Battleground for Freedom: Middletown’s “Beman Triangle” and Connecticut Abolitionism, 1823-1865 

Join our guest speaker, Jesse Nasta, Executive Director of the Middlesex County Historical Society in Middletown and professor in Wesleyan University’s Department of African American Studies, for an exciting look into the hidden history of the Leverett Beman Historic District, or “Beman Triangle”. 
Beginning in the 1820s, free people of color in Middletown established one of the first independent Black churches and neighborhoods in Connecticut, among the first in New England. Their AME Zion Church, which will celebrate its bicentennial in 2023, became a center of African American community, abolitionism, and everyday resistance to white supremacy here in Connecticut. In this talk, Jesse Nasta will detail the history of Middletown’s remarkable African American Beman Triangle community, as well as connect this neighborhood’s story to statewide, regional, and even national Black activist networks for freedom and equality during the four decades before the Civil War.

Discover the Legacy of James L. Smith 

Join Regan Miner, Executive Director of the Norwich Historical Society, and Sandra Soucy, retired Social Studies teacher from the Norwich Free Academy and Norwich Historical Society Board Member, as they take a deep dive into James L. Smith’s life and explore the multi-faceted nature of this story of slavery, racial issues, education, political history, and religion. 
Born on a Virginia plantation, Smith escaped slavery in 1838 with the help of Norwich’s David Ruggles, a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad in New York City. Smith came to Norwich, bought a house on School Street in 1845 and worked downtown as a shoemaker. Smith is a powerful and inspirational example of how an escaped slave traveled north for his freedom and how settling in Norwich, Connecticut changed his life. His 1881 autobiography remains an important firsthand account of the era. 

Witness Stones Project: Telling the Stories of Enslaved People Across Connecticut 

Join us for a gripping presentation on the work and research being done to honor the humanity of the enslaved across Connecticut through the Witness Stones Project. Dennis Culliton, Founder and Executive Director of the Witness Stones Project, will discuss how to examine the history of slavery in Connecticut, where we can find the evidence of slavery, and how the history of slavery is brought to the classroom to empower students to write these stories in their communities through the Witness Stones Project. He will also share the successes of the project and how it can be brought to local communities. 

A Year in Review on the Connecticut Freedom Trail 

The CT Freedom Trail is home to over 160 heritage sites that recognizes extraordinary individuals whose lives made impactful strides toward equity and social justice in Connecticut. In 2022, the Trail added Center Church as its 161st site, with multiple others being investigated for qualification. It started a Conversations at Noon on the Connecticut Freedom Trail program series which highlights individual sites. And informed several private home owners throughout the state of their status on Freedom Trail. 
As we wrap up 2022, join CT Freedom Trail Outreach Director Tammy Denease, CT Freedom Trail Chairman Charles Warner, and CT Freedom Trail Coordinator Todd Levine for a retrospective look at the growth and progress on the trail in this benchmark year! The speakers will share their highlights of the year, celebrate the milestones reached, and reflect on all the work yet to be done.

Connecting the Stories in Connecticut’s Old State House 

Located in the heart of downtown Hartford, Connecticut’s Old State House served as one of the capitol buildings of Connecticut until 1878. As the seat of the state’s government, the Old State House holds many connections to several important stories related to the Connecticut Freedom Trail, including the Prudence Crandall, Amistad, and Nancy Jackson trials, the 1818 Constitution and many others. Activities that took place in the Old State House connect to every town in the state – the laws passed, court decisions handed down, and debates held in this building impacted everyone’s lives at the time and touch our lives today. Join Executive Director of CT’s OId State House, Sally Whipple, who will share some of the stories of this site. 

The Amistad Rebellion in History and Film 

In 1839, 53 captured Africans rebelled aboard the Spanish schooner La Amistad. They took control of the ship and sailed it to the northern end of Long Island, where they were captured and jailed for piracy and murder. They allied with local abolitionists to fight for, and win, their freedom in the US court system in Hartford. Their story has been researched and told countless times, but rarely from the point of view of the Africans themselves.  
Join Marcus Rediker, Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh, who will discuss his prize-winning book, The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (2012) and his prize-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels (2014), directed by Tony Buba, showing how the meaning of the event changes when we look “from below,” from the point of view of the Africans who emancipated themselves through the uprising. Prof. Rediker will also discuss the meaning of the event in its own time and in ours, when the teaching of history has become controversial. 

Lessons of the Amistad: Through the lens of an African-Centered Woman 

Discovering Amistad is a nonprofit educational organization that owns and operates the Amistad Freedom Schooner, a 129 feet re-creation of the original ship. Discovering Amistad teaches the lessons of the 1839 Amistad Uprising to advance racial and social justice today. The schooner is Connecticut’s flagship and serves as a floating classroom for children of all ages. The Amistad is a national treasure, and the only tall ship that is a monument to freedom.  
Paula Mann-Agnew, Executive Director of Discovering Amistad, will explore specific themes of the 1839 Amistad story that are still prominent and relevant today. Special emphasis will be made on resiliency, freedom, self -awareness and activism. She will share insight and cultural relevance through her African-Centered female experience. Information will also be shared about the programs of Discovering Amistad and the 2023 itinerary for ship tours through Connecticut and New York.

The Amistad Affair 

In 1839, Connecticut’s Old State House was the site of the first of the famous Amistad trials. The trials grabbed international headlines, but after the US Supreme Court resolved the case in 1841, the story faded from collective memory. In 1997, Steven Spielberg reintroduced the dramatic Amistad incident to the world, sparking new interest among historians, educators, and the public. Since then, new research has shed light on the story and corrected some of the omissions and errors in the public’s knowledge. 
Tammy Denease, Connecticut Freedom Trail Outreach Director, has studied the life journey of Margu, one of four children held captive on the Amistad. Tammy will share her research that led to Sarah Margu becoming part of her Hidden Women series. Charles Warner, Jr., Chair of the CT Freedom Trail, will then lead a discussion with Tammy and Adrienne Joy Burns, who has studied the history of enslavement in New Haven with a focus on the Pardee-Morris House. 

Bringing the Freedom Trail to Life, For Real! 

Connecticut Storyteller Andre LePelle Keitt , also known as the Greatheart Griot, tells the story of how he translated the adventures of the Mende captives of the slave schooner, the Amistad from the page to the present! Currently, Andre serves as the Consultant for Education and Programming at the Farmington Historical Society and in this role, he has been tasked to not only bring the trek of the freed Amistad Mende to life on a nine stop visit on the grounds of the Freedom Trail in Farmington, but to accomplish this by telling the story from the realistic perspective of the brown and black people who share in the heritage of said Mende men and children. Andre has asked some of his friends who are African Americans to portray and tell the story of the Mende who found themselves free and visiting the abolitionist village of Farmington CT in 1841, After their landmark acquittal in one of America’s first Civil Rights cases. In his Conversation at Noon, Andre tells the story about how he structured the new telling of the stories, giving details of maneuvering the sensitivities of politics and education in this anti Critical Thinking America!