As Downton Abbey’s final season closed with the year 1925, Mary assumed managership of the estate’s agricultural production and Edith took over editorship of the magazine inherited from her beloved paramour, in the process having to dismiss its blustery entrenched male editor. Both were unimaginable roles for women at the time of the series’ outset barely a dozen years earlier.  

The period between the World Wars was surely one of profound social change. The library and historical society’s very popular annual series, now in its ninth year, has addressed that fact head-on with a fascinating set of programs, the final one to be held on April 3 on folk music and social concerns in the 1930s.  

The session two Sundays ago on the Jazz Age featured Wilton’s own widely acclaimed guitarist Bob Riccio, joined by two of his fellow highly gifted jazz professionals, Bob Kolb and Greg Detroy on sax and piano, to illustrate the evolution of their medium as a matter of history and music theory with performance of pieces from before, during and after the 1920s-30s. Riccio moved from the roots of jazz in African-American spirituals and other music of slave times through the marginalized venues for jazz performance in a segregated nation post-slavery, to the time when jazz became mainstream in America.   

Earlier in the series, Prof. James Goodman addressed the Scottsboro Boys, using his novel techniques of historical research to present for these eight boys, aged 12 to 15, how people of their era perceived them. In the South, the fact that they actually got a trial was heralded as an enormous accomplishment when the “justice” norm for blacks accused of raping white women was immediate lynching. Consequently, white Southerners actually found it hard to understand why the trials weren’t received with equal enthusiasm in other parts of our nation (and the world) notwithstanding that they occurred within mere days of the youths’ arrest and were replete with witnesses whose testimony was later established to be perjured. The cases went twice to the U.S. Supreme Court and through no fewer than four retrials, and one of the Scottsboro Boys was imprisoned more than 20 years even after the fact of perjured testimony was confirmed in subsequent retrials.  

The most recent series’ session this past Sunday brought back the enormously popular Prof. Matt Warshauer speaking on WWI and the Future of America: From Isolation to World Policeman and the Foundations of 9/11.  Warshauer, a regular in this annual series, is gifted at drawing together complex subjects in American history and illuminating them brilliantly. He focused on how America learned from its virulent isolationism in the first third of the 20th Century how much it had to lose from non-involvement with the rest of the world and then moved out forcefully in the opposite direction, thrusting itself into the fray around the world first to fight Nazism, then Communism, and now terrorism. Thus, from American disgust with being dragged into World War I very ironically came the seeds of America’s role as world policeman in the modern era. Warshauer gave a carefully considered analysis of the tension between isolationism and interventionism, neither of which seems to work very well in the world we face now.

This month also saw the single-session continuation of the annual interfaith series at Wilton Library co-sponsored by the Wilton Clergy Association, the library, and Wi-ACT. This year the subject was things that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have in common. Moderated by the Rev. Mary Grace Williams, it centered on a panel discussion among Islamic Institute leader Dr. Kareem Adeeb, Rabbi Rachel Bearman, and Pastor Dr. Jason Coker. It was a magnificent evening in every respect and underscored how important community-building is for us all in a way that really resonated with Warshauer’s perspective on a sadly dysfunctional world.

Even as the panelists stressed community-building, they also emphasized the importance of our differences that allow us to experience the richness of varying perspectives as we together explore the infinite that is God. The panelists took an illuminating discussion of the role of Abraham in each of these faiths as a jumping off point for a discussion of fundamental principles that transcend the boundaries of each individual faith and link them all. They stressed the role played by ventures that link our different faiths in work together to help others. These ventures successfully build deep community based on the living out of core beliefs across religions.  And that, as Warshauer’s presentation underscored, is one of the most profound needs of our own time.