From Texas to Connecticut, Dr. Camesha Scruggs pursues a new path in history


By Amy J. Barry

Central professor Dr. Camesha Scruggs has a big-picture mission with a close-up focus: To impart the lessons of history through the lens of regular folks, whose oral storytelling traditions inform and enlighten our understanding of the past.

“I’m a proud sixth-generation Texan native,” she says, attributing her knowledge of her own community to her grandparents and great-grandparents.

A first-generation college graduate, Scruggs came to Central as a visiting professor two years ago, after receiving her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees at Texas Southern University and her doctorate in Public History at University of Massachusetts Amherst. 

She interviewed for the position at Central on the recommendation of a colleague who thought it would be a good opportunity.

“I’m now two years at Central, an assistant professor, and on the tenure track, she says. “I knew my academic trajectory would be [best served] at a teaching institution, such as Central, where I’d have a greater outreach.” 

Her classes include 20th-century U.S. history, African American history, public history, and Gender and Empire Studies.

Scruggs recalls how it felt to discover that her office would be in the Ebenezer D. Bassett Hall, named after the first African American graduate of the university. 

“The opportunity to be in that space — it brought tears to my eyes,” she says.

Now and then

What she most wants to impart to her students, Scruggs says, is that history and historical characters are complicated. 

“And it’s OK to be uneasy with that and to bring in questions and thoughts,” she adds. “In all my classes, I tell my students, yes, we’ll look at Lincoln and other famous figures, but let’s also look at the non-name-brand people. Because at the end of the day, history is ordinary people doing not so ordinary things that just happens to have a date attached to it.”

Considering Central’s racially, socially, and economically diverse student body, she says, “We have to navigate that. I use my own experiences to inform my lectures. It fosters an open environment of understanding and empathy and builds resilience.”

Among Scruggs’s plans is to learn more about African American communities in Connecticut.

“I always want to learn more about where I am,” she says, “and how we can tell those stories of individuals if their stories aren’t being told. How can I use my training and expertise, in addition to a love of telling those stories? Perhaps by doing something as small as an audio tour of a historic neighborhood.” 

She is also working on a book project based on her dissertation that looks at black maids in Texas in the 20th century and how their jobs were impacted by interventions from various organizations and institutions. 

“It’s an academic love letter to my elders,” she says.

Rewarding research

Scruggs is on a research team that is working on a project titled “Finding Your Place: Teaching the History of People of Color in Connecticut” and conceived by Central History professor Dr. Leah Glaser. The project was awarded a $60,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create curriculum and resources on communities of color for K-12 educators. 

“My role in the project is to ensure that educators can find resources and explore historic sites like the Connecticut Freedom Trail,” she explains. 

“I think the project compliments CT Public Act 19-12,” she adds. “We are providing additional tools to educators’ tool kits.”

CT Public Act 19-12 is a new law in Connecticut that requires high schools to offer electives in African American and Latino studies.

Scruggs recently joined a panel of fellow historians at the New Haven Museum to kick off Black History Month and celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the book, “African American Connecticut Explored.” 

Although she has extensively studied African American history, “The Northeast was somewhere in that top corner of the map,” she jokes. 

She says she has learned a great deal being here in Connecticut, particularly through the Witness Stones Project, an educational initiative aimed at restoring history and honoring the humanity of enslaved people who helped build local communities. The project has partnered with Central to support its research and curriculum development.

Scruggs also recently joined a panel of fellow historians at the New Haven Museum to kick off Black History Month and celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the book, “African American Connecticut Explored.” 

“The book was sort of a housewarming, a welcome to Connecticut for me,” she says.