Belonging: The Augusta Loomis Project
Adrienne Billings-Smith, Esq. and Community Leader-in-Residence at UCONN, started this project in 2020. Below, she shares a bit about the origins of the project.
In 2020 I set out to make a difference in my community. I didn’t know if that change would be a small dent or a massive New England pothole. I didn’t care—I just knew something needed to change. And that change had to include Black joy, Black stories and Black healing. The question was how I to do that and what that looked like.
When I was recognized as Community Leader in Residence for the UCONN History Department I felt like I finally had a direction and foundation of what those elements of Blackness could look like. As a Black woman from the South, knowing my stories from the not-so-distant past and not knowing any before that, I was determined and inspired to dig into the history of slavery in New England; specifically Connecticut and how slavery affected and affects the modern day Black citizen. But as I said, my original purpose was to show Blackness in a way that other non-Black people who have failed at telling our stories have not. This meant it was imperative that real people must tell these stories, whether through oral narratives, genealogical research, or some other method that was authentic and personal to the Black experience.
So my research took a turn––an amazing turn that set me on a path I never imagined. As I set out to do census research and migration patterns of Black folks (enslaved and free), I began to wonder about the stories behind these names. This was an original part of my project except I hadn’t planned on going about it the way that the Belonging project happened. That was by divine intervention, the universe’s power of creating pathways and my ancestors telling me there is a story right in front of your eyes so do everything you can to tell it. This is where my friend, Mark Kittrell and his great-great grandmother, Augusta Loomis come into the picture. I haven’t looked back since. Mark’s story and history have the making of a Lifetime movie, but instead, he got stuck with me and my partner Christine Pittsley (CT. State Library). Together, we piece together a family’s history that spans beyond the transatlantic slave trade, a family not recognized in textbooks, but a family that planted their roots in central and southern CT, a family with a story that needs to be told so generations that come after Mark know their history, know their story, know that they…Belong.