UNION, NJ — Kean University’s reach will expand beyond the school’s Union County campus as history professors Sue Kozel and Frank Argote-Freyre were recently selected as New Jersey Public Scholars by the New Jersey Council on the Humanities.
Kozel, an adjunct history professor, and Argote-Freyre, an associate professor of Latin American history, were among 20 academics chosen for the honor. Through the program, they will give several lectures throughout the state during the next two years.
The New Jersey Public Scholars Project, “supports at least 200 public lectures per year on a wide range of topics, including New Jersey history, immigrant experiences, arts and culture, women’s suffrage and the environment,” Kean University said in a Nov. 18 release. The scholars receive a $250 honorarium for each lecture they give.
Kozel, who has been an adjunct professor for 11 years at Kean, will join the International Center for Jefferson Studies in Virginia next year on a fellowship to study the history of slavery. She will give her lecture, “Why Wench Betty’s Story Matters: The Murder of an NJ Slave in 1784.”
“Next year, I’m going to be living right next to Monticello and speaking about abolitionist quakers. And some of them worked for Thomas Jefferson,” she said in an interview with LocalSource on Nov. 19.
“When we think about the Civil War, we don’t really think about slavery in New Jersey. But we had upwards of almost 12,000 slaves in New Jersey at that time,” Kozel said, referring to the 1784 death of the slave known as “Wench Betty.”
She said she chose Wench Betty’s story because it is emblematic of the horrors of slavery and the outcome was unusual. The slave owner, Arthur Barcalow, of the village of Allentown, which was then a part of Upper Freehold, was indicted for murder but never went to prison.
“About 10 years ago, I had a grant from the New Jersey historical commission. … I found this document that said this slave woman was murdered in Monmouth County in 1784, and I wanted to know what happened to her. Back then, a coroner would put together a panel of men, and he picked mostly slave owners. So what I was thinking is, let me look at the background of these guys — and most of them owned slaves. So, I was thinking, ‘I bet they’re going to not prosecute him.’ But, they indicted him because of the brutality of the crime. She was killed because she confronted him.”
Barcalow was fined 500 pounds, the equivalent of $114,000 today, Kozel said.
Argote-Freyre will offer two talks, “Immigration: American Promise, American Menace” and “Who Really Elects the President: The Workings of the Electoral College.”
Argote-Freyre, who was an elector from New Jersey for Barack Obama in 2012, said his lectures on the U.S. Electoral College and immigration aim to bring a global perspective to his students.
“The process of the Electoral College is a mysterious thing to many people. They don’t understand how it functions,” he said in a Nov. 20 interview. “Trump and Bush Jr. were won because of the electoral college, not because of the popular vote.”
Argote-Freyre said he was unwillingly part of the process in 2012.
“I’m part of a club that I didn’t want to be a part of,” he said. “Alexander Hamilton, when they’re debating the Constitution, writing the Federalist Papers, said the Electoral College needs to be created — should the mob instincts prevail among the population. The basis of it is, people cannot decide their future, and we need experts — elites if you will — to decide for us. Whoever wins the right combination, like a jigsaw puzzle, then you win the election.”
Electors are selected by their state party.
“They don’t just put it on someone who will shift their vote. In some cases, the folks selected for the Electoral College are political insiders. They are people who are Democratic or Republican county chairs. For me, it was an issue of conviction. The likelihood of their being a massive turnover in the Electoral College is very unlikely.”
When teaching about immigration, Argote-Freyre said he points out the “fallacies” in history and tried to give his students a global perspective.
“For generations, the core curriculum of any social studies program has a section of immigration and talks about how we’re a nation of immigrants,” he said. “But, throughout our history, there has been a history of blaming immigrants for all the problems. That’s a persistent theme as these heated immigration debates take place today. This is not different from what we’ve seen in the past.”