Inspired by the Stolpersteine project in Germany, and with their blessing, the Witness Stones Project began in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2017. Our mission is to restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities.
We do this work through teacher workshops, engagement with students and the larger community, and, finally, memorializing enslaved individuals through the installation of Witness Stones.
The Project provides research assistance, teacher development, and curriculum support to help middle and high school students study the history of slavery in their own communities. The students explore the lives of enslaved individuals through primary source documents, including account books, wills, probate inventories, church and town records, indenture contracts, manumission deeds, obituaries, and other surviving archival material.
Documents from centuries ago come alive in the twenty-first century classroom. Students learn to identify the dehumanization and paternalism of slavery; the economic and legal framework that supported slavery; and the agency, resistance, and contributions of the enslaved. The students then create biographical sketches of the forgotten enslaved men, women, and children and share those stories through many mediums, including art, poetry, essays, and films.
Finally, the students bring their communities together to place Witness Stones: permanent brass markers that memorialize enslaved individuals where they lived, worked, or worshipped. At public installation ceremonies, students, faculty, administrators, historians, public officials, local clergy, and the larger community remember and honor the forgotten through music, poetry, oration, and reflection.
Our hope is that the students’ work and the public memorials inspire communities to learn their true history, dismantle current inequities, and build a just future.