“Only by coming to terms with history can we free ourselves to create a more just world.”
—Drew Gilpin Faust, President Emerita, Harvard University
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 members of our 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 and probate inventories, church and town records, indenture contracts, manumission deeds, obituaries, and other surviving archival artifacts. The Project’s teacher training workshops familiarize educators with accessing these primary source materials and facilitating student analysis.
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 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 community together to remember the enslaved through the placement of Witness Stones, permanent brass markers that memorialize enslaved people where they lived, worked, or worshipped. The public installation ceremonies bring together students, faculty, administrators, historians, public officials, local clergy, and the larger community. Through oration, poetry, and music, they remember and honor those who were enslaved. Our hope that the students’ work and the public memorials inspire communities to learn their true history, dismantle current inequities, and build a just future.