EHS, Wesleyan Partner in Racial, Injustice Research
While February may be about to end, the Essex Historical Society (EHS) invites the community to focus more on Black American history with a “Lecture and Conversation with Dr. Demetrius Eudell” on the issues of race, industry, and injustice in the Connecticut River Valley.
The institution has partnered with the Essex and Ivoryton libraries to jointly host a “special presentation in honor of Black History Month” at the Essex Library at 33 West Avenue on Thursday, March 2, according to a release from the EHS. The event will be led by Demetrius Eudell, a professor of history and the Dean of Social Sciences at Wesleyan University and a leader of the university’s investigative Carceral Connecticut Project (CCP).
The research initiative “relates contemporary dynamics in racial hierarchy to their historical origins,” according to the EHS, and encompasses a multitude of topics under that mission, including “the history of policing, the rise and development of 19th-century industrial capitalism, incarceration policy,” and several other areas.
According to EHS director Melissa Josefiak, the institution is offering to the CCP its archives for research and investigation into the impact of racism and injustice in the Connecticut River Valley and to illuminate overlooked parts of its history.
“The importance is to re-look at our history in terms of different viewpoints, and among the ones that we need to re-look at is in terms of racial justice,” said Josefiak. “In many cases, there have been underrepresented voices that have not been heard yet and many historical narratives. And the Carceral Connecticut Project provides that framework to study that intersection.”
Josefiak elaborated on the relevance of the CCP’s work and the presentation of Ivoryton’s past in regard to racial injustice and 19th-century industry. One of the most significant aspects of that history is in the village’s own name.
“Ivory comes from the tusks of elephants, and to procure the ivory, you need, first of all, to extract it from the elephants and take it from Africa,” said Josefiak.
The director said that “as the Americans entered the market at the beginning of the 19th century, along with their brokers from Western Europe,” the hunt for elephant tusks that drove deep into the African continent gave way to the enslavement of local peoples.
“Once enslaved individuals from deeper into Africa brought the ivory to the [east] coast [of Africa], then the Omani traders would sell them into enslavement,” Josefiak said.
The procured ivory was then imported to the industrialized area of the Connecticut River Valley and was the choice material for the piano keys and action that were produced by local manufacturers Comstock, Cheney, & Company and Pratt-Read.
“Against that global backdrop, that is the commercial and trading background to getting the ivory into Ivoryton,” Josefiak said.
Josefiak said the EHS archives maintain a few documents to support a history of slavery in the greater Essex area, which are among other materials the institution has opened up to Eudell and his team.
As part of the presentation, Eudell will outline the three-year mission of the project and how it traces the intersecting history of “race, capitalism, and violence in the Connecticut River Valley,” according to the EHS. Following this informational introduction, Eudell will turn to the audience for the conversational component of the presentation to find out “how he can further their understanding...tying the past and the present” on the intertwining forces of race, justice, and industry in the Connecticut River Valley and their legacy, said Josefiak.
The director said that Ivoryton’s participation in the project is merely one step along the way of the CCP’s three years of broader research across the state.
“We’re a small fish in a very large pond, [be]cause they’re going all over the Connecticut River Valley,” said Josefiak. “Essex, Deep River, and Chester are part of that...but they’re going up to Springfield [Massachusetts], too.”
The EHS said participants should anticipate a thought-provoking conversation on several historical themes” when they attend the presentation, which will begin at 7 p.m. at the Essex Library.
For more information, visit essexhistory.org.