What is the Witness Stones Project?
The purpose of this project is to restore the memory of the enslaved who lived in Guilford, Connecticut, and other locales 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 the 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 who were murdered by the Nazis The stones are placed in the sidewalk before homes and apartments where people lived.
What about the enslavement of indigenous people and European indentured servants?
Shouldn’t they be remembered?
Enslavement of indigenous people was common throughout the United States and often interwoven with the enslavement of Africans. As this project spreads, we will have the opportunity to restore the memory of enslaved indigenous people through the Witness Stones Project.
Indentured servitude of Europeans was not the same as slavery. It was not hereditary and it was was limited in duration. It was also voluntary unless part of a criminal sentence.
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 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.
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 enslaved men, women, and children who lived, worked and worshipped there.
If a person or an organization wants to the Witness Stone Project to their community, what do we have to do?
Please get in touch by going to our Contact Us page.
How can I help support the Witness Stones Project?
Please consider becoming a Friend of the Witness Stones Project.