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The African-American Experience in Nineteenth-Century Connecticut

Benevolence and Bitterness

Theresa Vara-Dannen

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Paperback
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The African-American Experience in Nineteenth-Century Connecticut examines and analyzes the African-American experience in Connecticut as it was through primary sources. Theresa Vara-Dannen analyzes the language of real nineteenth-century Americans expressing the complexity of their thoughts and feelings about the racial issues of their times in a small state with very small communities of people of color. This book highlights the attitudes of ordinary people whose voices emerged, sometimes heroically, through their daily newspapers. The meshing of these voices regarding their race-related experiences provides a nuanced account of a long-gone past, but also gives us an understanding of twenty-first-century Connecticut, which leads the nation in the educational and economic gap between urban and nonurban citizens and has one of the most segregated school systems and residential patterns in the nation. « less more »
Lexington Books
Pages: 234Size: 6 x 9
978-0-7391-8862-0 • Hardback • March 2014 • $84.00 • (£54.95)
978-1-4985-5639-2 • Paperback • March 2017 • $44.99 • (£29.95)
978-0-7391-8863-7 • eBook • March 2014 • $41.99 • (£27.95)
Theresa Vara-Dannen teaches English and American studies as adjunct faculty at the University of Connecticut and the University of Hartford.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: Researching Race and Region......................................................................1
Chapter I- The Limits of White Memory: Slavery, Violence and the Amistad Incident in
the Press and in History ...................................................................................................31
Chapter II- Letters of Protest: Responding to Racial Prejudice against Frederick Douglass and Others in Connecticut................................................................................................. 79
Chapter III- Uplift through Education: The Dream of a Negro College in New Haven and Prudence Crandall’s School for Little Colored Misses....................................................130
Chapter IV- Marrying Up? Interracial Marriages in 19th Century Connecticut ............177
Conclusion.......................................................................................................................223
Appendix..........................................................................................................................235
Bibliography....................................................................................................................250
Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………268
About the Author……………………………………………………………………….269
Using mostly newspaper sources, Vara-Dannen reconstructs a key period in the development of the state of Connecticut, particularly as it related to the African American presence and role in the region. The author's reliance on the plethora of newspaper accounts enabled her to reconstruct the African American experience, and also show how people viewed, acted, and reacted to the African American presence in the state. Vara-Dannen discusses the social and geographic setting in detail, and in the context of New England and the nation. To conclude that Connecticut was largely a tolerant place could be determined only when comparing the state to other places. While it may be true that much tolerance existed, the many wrongful events that did occur does not justify the negative effect that it had on people. The author provides an important insight not before recorded in one document. The complex topic of African Americans in the US will greatly benefit from this contribution, with the book providing the background to help readers gain a deeper understanding of the African American condition today. Other primary sources and a rich scholarly bibliography complement this important contribution to the literature. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.
CHOICE


Theresa Vara-Dannen’s Benevolence and Bitterness provides a fresh perspective on the experiences of African Americans in 19th Century Connecticut, a state largely ignored by historians of race in the United States. Concise and well-written, this study deftly weaves literary analysis of texts with solid archival research. The limits of white benevolence are depicted most clearly in Vara-Dannen’s re-working of the Amistad case from its immediate Connecticut perspective, and in her examination of the class and gender fears that shaped violent white resistance to integrated schools. Vivid depictions of shopkeeper William Saunders, teacher Selah Africanus, and church member William Williams show these African Americans to be exemplars of New England values of piety, respectability, and industriousness, who gave public voice to the injustices and iniquities faced by all people of color in 19th Century Connecticut.

Steven J. Niven, Harvard University


Based on extensive original archive research, Benevolence and Bitterness enriches our understanding of nineteenth-century race politics in New England by examining reports on, and discussions of, African American life in the pages of Connecticut newspapers. Using local newspapers as a viewfinder for exploring larger questions about collective memory and slavery, Vara-Dannen recovers a number of compelling stories from the archive that complicate prevailing views about Connecticut's relationship to racial oppression in the nineteenth century and beyond.
Rachel Farebrother, Swansea University


The African-American Experience in Nineteenth-Century Connecticut is well-written, carefully researched, and theoretically sound. The author manages to weave a complex narrative without losing focus on the sharply defined thesis—a regionally focused study of nineteenth-century African-Americans through the lens of state-based newspapers. This book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the African-American experience in northern states.
James Carroll, Iona College


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