WHAASCO and First Church of Christ Congregational celebrate Black History Month by dedicating the Lemuel Haynes Memorial.
On Feb. 12, 2023, WHAASCO and First Church of West Hartford celebrated Black History Month by dedicating the Lemuel Haynes Memorial that was installed in November 2022 in front of the church near the corner of South Main Street and Farmington Avenue in West Hartford Center.
The memorial, which includes a bluestone path, a bench, and a bronze plaque mounted on a large stone, began its conception at a West Hartford African American Social & Cultural Organization (WHAASCO) meeting in 2020. Dr. Booker DeVaughn and Dr. Elena DeVaughn – members, and former presidents of the organization – introduced WHAASCO members to Lemuel Haynes and suggested that he should be memorialized in West Hartford. Members were amazed by the incredible contributions and historical significance of Lemuel Haynes.
Haynes was born in 1753, before the American Revolutionary War. His writings regarding Republicanism – a premise upon which the post-war American republic was established – were published internationally. Haynes was a minuteman and fought in the American Revolutionary War. He was the first African American to receive a degree from an American university when he received an honorary master’s degree from Middlebury College. Haynes was the first African American to be ordained by a mainstream denomination in the United States and the first to lead a mainstream protestant church when he became the senior minister at First Congregational Church in Torrington, CT.
WHAASCO members were surprised to learn that there was little recognition of this great historical figure who was born in West Hartford, CT. A few members went to work immediately.
Wanda Williams-McCormack and Lynn Thomas suggested that WHAASCO submit a grant application to the West Hartford Greater Together Community Fund, where they were on the advisory council. WHAASCO’s president, Earl Exum, engaged Judy Schmitt, who was the moderator (the senior lay leader at First Church of Christ Congregational in West Hartford), Jennifer deSimas (director, John P. Webster church library), and Barbara Lewis (church historian) about collaborating on a memorial to be located on the church grounds. They thought the connection to the church was Lemuel Haynes’ Congregational faith, and that the church was here when he was born in West Hartford. However, as they explored the possibilities, they learned that Lemuel Haynes is mentioned in the history book that chronicles the church’s over-300-year history, and that he corresponded with a senior minister of the church.
When Reverend Jane Willan became the senior minister of First Church of Christ Congregational in West Hartford, she embraced the plans for the memorial along with the congregation. Exum coordinated the efforts to raise money, draft designs, secure contractors, and install the memorial.
On Feb. 12, Fredd Ward, associate minister of First Church of Christ Congregational, delivered an inspiring sermon entitled “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” to match the occasion of Social Justice Sunday and the Lemuel Haynes memorial dedication. After the sermon and the Sunday service, benefactors and supporters of the memorial spoke.
Judy Schmitt welcomed the guests. Roszena Haskins, executive director of Equity Advancement for the Town of West Hartford, spoke on behalf of town leadership. Brad Meacham, board chair for the Beta Iota Boule Foundation, spoke on behalf of the foundation that served as the fiscal agent for the project. Chris Cloud, Black Giving Circle Fund Steering Committee chair, explained why the Black Giving Circle helped to fund the project. Penny Smith, board of advisor member of the West Hartford Greater Together Community Fund and WHAASCO member, spoke on behalf of the largest donor to the project. Kyra Dorsey, an officer of WHAASCO, closed the program before photos were taken at the memorial.
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