Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

CT Humanities funds Eastern documentary on tobacco farms and civil rights

Published on January 12, 2022

CT Humanities funds Eastern documentary on tobacco farms and civil rights

‘Stepping Into the Shade,’ an untold story of Connecticut history

Cricket Hall of Fame
Documentary host June Archer (left) speaks with representatives from the Cricket Hall of Fame in Hartford during the filming of "Stepping into the Shade." 

Eastern Connecticut State University has been awarded $35,000 by Connecticut Humanities to produce a documentary about Connecticut’s shade tobacco industry and its connection to the civil rights movement. “Stepping into the Shade: Tobacco’s Connection to Civil Rights” will be a six-part mini-series hosted by Connecticut entertainment producer June Archer.

Filmmakers Kristen Morgan and Brian Day, theatre professors at Eastern, are at the beginning stages of the production process and seeking information from anyone with family connections to tobacco farms in Connecticut. They are hoping to speak with migrant workers or relatives of the students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who came North for summer work on the farms. The most notable such worker was Martin Luther King Jr., who spent a summer on a Simsbury farm in the 1940s through a program with Morehouse College in Georgia. Those with information should contact or

While King’s experience will tie the series together, the filmmakers say the documentary is a story about the people who worked on the tobacco farms. “Everyone has seen the tobacco sheds,” said Day, “but not everyone considers the historical relevance of the sheds to culture and civil rights.” Morgan added: “Working on this project has revealed some of the more complicated facets of Connecticut history; the documentary will cover a lot of things that people don’t know (about our state).”

Day and Morgan
Co-directors Brian Day and Kristen Morgan, faculty members in the Theatre Program.

Each 30-minute episode will follow host Archer as he tours the state, having candid conversations with historians and community members about Connecticut’s tobacco legacy. Scholars from Eastern, Morehouse and the University of Connecticut, members of the Pequot Nation, Jamaican immigrants and others will share information and first-hand experiences with Archer as he pieces together this untold chapter of Connecticut history.

“(Archer) will guide viewers through the history of tobacco farming in the Connecticut River Valley, the lasting impact that migrant labor has on the culture of the region, and the HBCU work program that inspired future civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” wrote Morgan.

CT Humanities
CT Humanities is providing project implementation funding for "Stepping into the Shade." 

“’Stepping into the Shade’ is, for Connecticut Humanities, the sweet spot for how we connect academic humanities with public humanities around great Connecticut stories,” said Jason Mancini, executive director of Connecticut Humanities. “Connecting the histories of our communities and our economies helps us to understand who we are as a state, better connects us across our differences, and encourages us to learn from and about each other.”

The concept for the documentary is an extension of Eastern’s 2021 experimental film production of “Cultivating Dignity,” which follows King’s summer farming in Connecticut. What would have been a traditional, live theatre production was adapted for film due to the pandemic.

The faculty researchers and producers quickly realized the magnitude of the show. “There was a bigger story than could be told in one performance,” said Day, “so we started looking for grants.”

Production of “Stepping into the Shade” will occur over the next two years. For more information, contact or

Written by Michael Rouleau