What a spring and summer this has been! Thanks to your continued support the Society has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in new ways that have expanded our historical mission and kept people safe. Some of the other articles on the website highlight these efforts. I’d like to share my perspective on a different topic, and how it relates to our work and our future.
Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, reflecting on the future of the abolitionist cause, once concluded that,
“I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
Both Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Barack Obama famously paraphrased these lines. I believe them to be true, as did they. I also believe, as I think all three of these moral leaders would have acknowledged, that this outcome is not assured and will not likely occur without hard work and constant struggle.
When we were kids in fifth grade U.S. history class, it seemed like the American story was a foregone conclusion, that the present state of our nation was the inevitable result of a series of pre-ordained events. Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth. Our history is full of people taking risks, struggling against long odds, and conflict – people fighting for what they believed to be right despite the uncertainty of the outcome. It is a story that includes celebration and joy as well as hardship, cruelty, and pain. It includes examples of both justice and injustice, and of people constantly trying to bend that arc ever closer to their vision of a morally just world.
Such a time is upon us today. The widely viewed cell phone video depicting the brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in May has re-ignited longstanding issues of racial injustice in our country. While immediate concerns focus on inequities in the law enforcement and judicial systems, systemic racism exists in every facet of our society – education, finance, government policy, and yes, history.
Those visionary citizens that founded Windsor Historical Society in 1921 did so out of concern that their history – manifested in artifacts, images, structures, and stories – would soon be lost if they did not act to preserve it. They feared that the tidal wave of societal and technological change would wash away the vestiges of the Windsor they loved, and with it the legacy of Connecticut’s first town. They had a bold vision. They worked hard to create an institution and began collecting and sharing evidence of Windsor’s past.
As the Society’s work continued, however, it became clear that many people, many stories, and many voices had not yet been included in this vision. Even as the Society’s doors opened more widely to the public over the past 20 years, some did not come inside. Some did not feel welcomed or included, and did not find their personal stories – their joys and hardships – reflected here.
Now it is our turn to help bend the arc. Today we understand that a town historical society that gives voice to only some of its residents is not fully representing the town’s history, and is not fulfilling its core purpose. Long before I was hired, the Society’s leadership recognized this and voiced a commitment to becoming a more inclusive organization. This commitment was one of the paramount reasons I sought this position.
This spring the Society’s Board of Directors formed an “Inclusion Team” to lead our efforts in this direction. This team, made up of residents, board members, and staff, is working with a nonprofit called the Minority Inclusion Project to better understand what it means for the Society to become a more inclusive organization, and will form a plan to get there.
To be clear, the events of the past year, while very important, are not motivating this effort. Like injecting fuel into a carburetor, the death of George Floyd has ignited widespread anger and accelerated people’s commitment to shaping a more just society. This is good. We at WHS are part of this. However, after the fuel is spent, after the carburetor begins to sputter and some people’s commitment to racial justice stalls, Windsor Historical Society will continue its work to become the inclusive organization that this community deserves.
We don’t yet know exactly what this will look like, but with our hundredth anniversary coming up in 2021, you can be assured that becoming a more inclusive organization will be central to our vision for the Society’s next century. I hope you will join me in being a part of this effort. I hope we will be able to say that, together, we helped bend the arc just a little closer towards justice.
By Doug Shipman, executive director, 2020