Capital Community College (CCC) is the recipient of a $149,426 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant focusing on the history and people of Hartford’s historic Talcott Street Church and Black School.
The Humanities Initiative award, part of Capital’s Hartford Heritage Project, will support place-based learning in Black history for students at the college and Capital Preparatory Magnet School (Capital Prep) in partnership with nearby museums. Capital Community College is one of 7 institutions out of 66 applicants nationwide to receive a Humanities Initiatives grant at Hispanic Serving Institutions in 2020.
The project will develop 12 courses at Capital Community College and three subjects at Capital Prep. An exhibition is planned to support pedagogy and commemorate the historic site of the church. The grant will support the inauguration of an annual public lecture called The Pennington Lecture, named after Talcott Church pastor James W.C. Pennington and themed on understanding race issues through the lens of the humanities.
Professor Jeffrey Partridge, Ph.D., Chair of Humanities and Director of the Hartford Heritage Project will lead the project.
Talcott Street Congregational Church was built on the corner of Talcott and Market Streets in 1826 where today the dilapidated Talcott Parking Garage, now slated for demolition, stands. The site is next door to the the Capital campus that has been housed in the transformed former G. Fox & Company building since 2002.
Under the leadership of the Rev. Pennington in the 19th century, the church actively participated in the Amistad Trial as it took place just three blocks away in the Old State House by befriending and raising money for the African captives, according to Professor Partridge.
“Pennington’s biographer claims that in certain periods of his tenure at the church, fugitives from enslavement escaping from the south on the Underground Railroad came to the doors of Talcott church daily, doors that are now largely forgotten,” said Partridge. “This project aims to change that unfortunate fact and turn this site into a place of remembrance and inspiration.”
The activities funded by the grant spring from three Capital students and a student from Trinity College who worked in the Liberal Arts Action Lab in the Spring 2020 semester with Partridge. The student team created a digital exhibition on the Talcott church and school that led to the plan for new courses, an exhibit and an annual Pennington Lecture. The Action Lab is an educational partnership between Capital Community College and Trinity College established to strengthen the city and its role in the region, spark social innovation, and support civic engagement and sustainability.
The Talcott Church led by Rev. Pennington was not only the site of the first Black church in Hartford and the first school for Black children but it was also for much of the nineteenth century the center of community for Black and some Native American Hartford residents, an educational hub for Black uplift, and a safe haven for fugitives of enslavement finding their way north on the Underground Railroad.
The grant was developed in response to heightened concern on campus over Black Lives Matter protests last spring and the killings of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor which led to a June virtual convocation on how to address institutionalized racism and injustice impacting CCC students and community, according to Capital CEO G. Duncan Harris.
Harris praised Partridge and community partners, including Faith Congregational Church which is a descendant of the Talcott Street Church, for helping to empower students through an understanding of Black history in Hartford.
“Capital Community College and its Humanities division have been widely recognized for place-based learning over the last decade through the Hartford Heritage Project,” Harris said. “The exhibit and Black History project will further enhance the humanities curricula with content that will inform and inspire our diverse student population.”
Hartford Heritage Project partners also expressed support for the new Black history initiative.
“Capital Community College’s Hartford Heritage Project leads in the effort to tell stories that don’t often get told, particularly of the histories around communities of color in the city of Hartford,” said Brenda Miller, executive director for culture and communications at Hartford Public Library. “This recent NEH award is so well deserved.”
“Trinity College and the Liberal Arts Action Lab are excited to see this project come to fruition, in order to recognize and share the local and national significance of Hartford’s vibrant Black history. Abigail Williamson, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy. Williamson is Director of the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.
About the National Endowment for the Humanities
Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov.
About Capital Community College
Capital Community College is an urban, two-year institution enrolling 3,000 students in Connecticut’s capital city. The college offers 60 academic programs in accredited studies preparing students for associate degrees, certificates and transfer, while its non-credit offerings prepare students for the immediate needs of the Connecticut workforce. Capital, one of New England’s most diverse campuses, was the first college in Connecticut to be designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution. The Capital Community College experience revolves around its historic eleven-story, Art Deco building in the heart of downtown Hartford, which offers unprecedented access to the city’s cultural and employment offerings.