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Witness Stones West Hartford Offering Opportunity for Participation in Community History Project

A installation ceremony was held on June 26, 2020, honoring nine more enslaved people from West Hartford with Witness Stones. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Witness Stones West Hartford will be offering free online classes in March and April to study the lives of specific enslaved individuals.

Dr. Tracey Wilson speaks with students and others at Old Center Cemetery at the Witness Stones Installation in 2018. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

Witness Stones West Hartford project directors Tracey Wilson and Liz Devine have worked with students and others in the community to share the previously untold history of some individuals who were once enslaved by residents of the West Division (now West Hartford), and a series of virtual classes, offered at no cost, will expand that conversation to include a study of several additional people.

Wilson and Devine are hoping the March and April series will develop enough information so that four additional Witness Stones, in addition to the 12 already planned, will be able to be installed in the Old Center Cemetery on North Main Street on Juneteenth – June 19, 2021.

The community project, which involves two series of four, one-hour classes, is being hosted by the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. The first series of classes will include an analysis of historical documents to learn more about Frank, who was enslaved by the Wells family. The second series will focus on Ismael, who was enslaved by the Keyes family.

“Join us for an online experience learning history, discussing issues of power and racism, and drawing throughlines to our world today,” Wilson said.

This is the second series being offered online to the community by Witness Stones West Hartford. The first set, last spring, drew rave reviews, the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society said. Comments shared were that the classes “give credibility and connection to our history … help us to look at a fuller more true picture of the truth … [and] publicly validate enslaved people’s lives and experiences here in West Hartford.”

Witness Stones West Hartford, which began in 2018, has thus far involved research by more than 1,600 students and 50 adults, who have utilized a variety of resources and tools to uncover history that has previously been left out of the narrative of West Hartford, to ensure that the stories of the enslaved will not be forgotten and that the humanity and contributions of these individuals will be noted.

To date, there are currently 21 Witness Stones installed in the Old Center Cemetery.

The classes, which will be held on Wednesdays from 4:30-5:30 p.m. throughout March and April, are appropriate for adults as well as students in grades 5 and up.

According to Wilson, groups of 10 that wish to participate can arrange special sessions. Organizations can also join together to form a group of 10 as a community-building experience.

More information, including a link to register, can be found here. You can also email Town Historian Tracey Wilson at [email protected]. You can also follow Witness Stones West Hartford on Twitter @WHStones.

These classes are free through the support of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and funders including the Winter-Lehman Family Foundation, the Roosa Foundation, the Sandra and Arnold Chase Family Foundation, West Hartford Public Schools, the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools, and other generous donors.

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