What is the Witness Stones Project about?
The purpose of this project is to restore the memory of the enslaved who lived in Guilford, CT and other locals by conducting research, providing educational activities in schools and communities, and installing Witness Stones in front of the place where an enslaved person lived, worked, or prayed. We are spreading the project beyond Guilford partnering with other schools and historic organizations.
Where did this idea for the Witness Stones come from?
This project is inspired by the Stolpersteine project that began in Berlin. German artist Gunter Demnig created Stolpersteine or ‘Stumbling Stones’ to restore the memory of the Jews and others. The stones are placed in the sidewalk before homes and apartments where Berliners lived who were deported and murdered by the Nazis. Most were Jewish, but not all.
Doug Nygren travelled to Germany and brought back the idea of restoring the memory of those whose histories have been erased in our own country. Working with activist Cindy Kozal, they recruited Dennis Culliton, local historian and teacher to apply his research on Connecticut slavery to a project to restore the history of slavery in Guilford, CT. They hope that the stones will bear witness to those who lived, worked, and prayed in our community and are all but forgotten.
What about the American Indians and European Indentured Servants who lived there too?
Should not they be remembered?
American Indian slavery was common throughout the Eastern United States and often interwoven with African slavery. As this project spreads, we will have the opportunity to restore the memory of American Indian slaves through the Witness Stones.
Indentured servitude of Europeans was similar, but not the same as slavery. First, it was not hereditary and most commonly, there was a term limit associated with their servitude, often seven years. Finally, it was usually voluntary unless as a punishment for debts or a crime and sentenced by the courts. It too is an important part of our history that is often neglected and we hope that it too will be exposed to the light.
If the Stolpersteine project was started as a way to remember the victims of the Holocaust, doesn’t your project take away from that project by changing the subject or focus?
Before we started the Witness Stone project, we corresponded with the project leaders in Germany and let them know what our plans are in the United States. They saw no conflict of interest and wished us good luck.
We feel that there is no overlap but there are similarities. Approximately 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and 4-6 million African slaves died in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade even before they arrived in the New World. Both peoples were forcibly taken from their homes. Both groups were singled out and identified by race.
What will the stones tell us about the enslaved persons and who will decide what the stones say?
The enslaved were not always identified by name in census forms, wills, vital records, and property records. When we know their date of birth and death, that information will often be included. If we know what work they performed, we will list that. We will list their date of purchase and their date of emancipation if we have it. We may also say whether they were still enslaved at death.
Our position is that the Witness Stones need not say everything about the slave or enslaved person. We hope that project and the Witness Stones themselves will pique the interest of the researcher and viewer of the stones to cause them to find out more about the enslaved persons and slavery.
We already have Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month, why do we need another event or activity about African Americans?
In Guilford and other New England towns, we do a great job of remembering our history. Our houses are marked with the names of the original owners and when they were built. Our local history is filled with stories and names of citizens who contributed so much to the birth and growth of our community. Out of the hundreds of houses with plaques, none have the name of a person of color. Of the hundreds of names of citizens of Guilford listed in the index of the most complete history of the town, only two or three are the names of people of color. The history of the Africans and African Americans in Guilford and in the North is not evident where we find the history of the European settlers and has to be searched for, uncovered, and restored.
A small stone embedded in the sidewalk with information about a slave is what we will install. The installation of Witness Stones is not to diminish the history of those who we already remember. It is to restore the memory of the African and American Indian slaves who lived, worked and prayed there.
If a person or an organization wants to the Witness Stone Project to their community, what do we have to do?
How can I get involved with the project? How can I help?
Please go to the Getting Involved page. We will need folks to help out from time to time with this project for everything from publicity to organizing public installations. We would like all volunteers to become members of the Witness Stones Project so that we can be organized with who is willing to help for what events.
You also can also become involved by making a donation and/or sponsoring the project. This will be an ongoing activity so having members and sponsors to sustain the project is very important.
Where do the historical images and artwork come from?
We would like to sincerely thank and acknowledge THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY DIGITAL COLLECTIONS. See links and details about the images we are including on this site from here: List of Image Credits with Links.