“Only by coming to terms with history can we free ourselves to create a more just world.” – Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s twenty-eighth president, at The Universities and Slavery: Bound by History Conference at Harvard University on March 3, 2017.
These words embody the underlying motivation of the Witness Stones Project. In order for our communities to grow to the extent to which they reflect our ideals of justice and equality, it is essential for us to acknowledge and confront the painful times in our history when we have not lived up to those ideals. Through remembrance and reconciliation, we will be able to navigate a path toward healing and growth. It is with this in mind that the Witness Stones Project seeks to restore the history, and honor the humanity and contributions of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities.
Inspired by the Stolpersteine project in Germany (and with their blessing), we bear witness by installing a marker which recalls an enslaved individual at a site of significance, such as where they lived, worked, or prayed. We cannot change the past, but we can, through this project, give a voice to the voiceless by uncovering their stories. We partner with local schools and historical societies to assist students in researching the history of an enslaved individual from their community and reconstructing the memory of that person through the written record. Ultimately the students, along with the community, will install a commemorative Witness Stone
The Witness Stones are created using cement and bronze reflecting the inspiration of the Stolpersteine. Upon the bronze cap is engraved the name of the enslaved individual, together with their trade, and whether they were emancipated or died enslaved with corresponding dates.
What we learn about the individual, through the students’ research, is shared at the ceremony for the installation of the Witness Stone, published in a commemorative pamphlet, and archived on our website. Ultimately, we hope for this to become a digital library of the research, knowledge, and memory that we acquire through this project.
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