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Hear untold stories of West Hartford's history through Witness Stones Project

Witness Stones West Hartford is working to amplify the voices and stories that are often silenced and overlooked.

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The Witness Stone Project's mission is to restore history and honor the humanity of those enslaved in the Northeast.

"Many people in town have no idea slavery was here," explained Tracey Wilson, Co-Director of Witness Stone West Hartford, and Town Historian.

Wilson explained that Witness Stones West Hartford is working to amplify the voices and stories that are often silenced and overlooked. This is why they're expanding their reach from teaching just children to teaching everyone in the community through free virtual classes that'll span four weeks.

"I just think it will raise awareness on the injustices on which this town was built," said Wilson.  

She said these classes are essential to moving forward as a community.

"We like to say that we are providing a more accurate story of the past and we really need to know that story to deal with the present," said Wilson.

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Co-Director, Elizabeth Devine agreed and said the goal is to change the town's cultural landscape. 

"We want to call people in, not call people out," explained Devine. "We want people to understand why it's important to understand the history, but also to move forward understanding what this town was like in the 1700s."

When the project started four years ago, they had 29 names of enslaved people. Now, they know the names of more than 80 people enslaved in West Hartford. 

"We use public records, wills, count books, census records; it's all there," explained Devine. "You have to dig a little, but it is in plain sight."

Each person researched by the Witness Stones West Hartford is honored in a commemorative way in the Old Center Cemetery, with a memorial plaque/ witness stone. 

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There are currently 36 witness stones, but more than a dozen will be added this summer on Juneteenth. Two of which will be the couple researched in the upcoming virtual sessions. 

"Were studying two people, Titus and Julia Thomas, who were born, enslaved and then got their freedom and settled here in the West division," said Wilson.

"These are people who have been freed, but they've sort of disentangling themselves from being enslaved," said Devine. "And that's a complicated story, and we're excited to share that story." 

Classes will also discuss issues of inclusion, equity, and diversity both throughout history and today.

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Classes are made possible with the help and support of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. Jennifer Matos, Executive Director and stressed that this is a way to help share the untold parts of West Hartford's history. 

"The stories they tell are very important stories in West Hartford history, and they're ones that haven't really been told before," said Matos. "It's such a great opportunity for us to remember people who lived here in West Hartford who contributed to society." 

Classes take place Thursdays in March and April from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., March 17, 24, 31, and April 7. Classes are appropriate for adults and students in grades 5 and up.

This community project is free and open to the public. For more information and to register click here, or email the Town Historian at traceymwilson@gmail.com

Raquel Harrington is the race and culture reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at rharrington@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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