The Witness Stones Project
The Witness Stones Project, Inc. (WSP) places local primary and secondary documents in the hands of youth for them to learn about local slavery, investigate individual enslaved persons, and restore the history of the enslaved by writing their stories. The project culminates with the installation of a stone (such as the Stolperstein Projects in Berlin and Amsterdam) that bears the name of the enslaved person in a location that he/she either lived, worked, or prayed. You can learn more in the bulletin announcement.
In October 2021, St. Matthew’s (through our Social Justice & Racial Healing group) was invited to participate in this project and subsequently received a grant from The Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s Entrepreneurial Fund to partially subsidize the program. The SJ &RH team met with a variety of individuals in the Wilton community to see if there was interest to form a coalition, including the Wilton Historical Society, Wilton historian Julie Hughes (perhaps you saw Enslaved Black Residents and Their Descendants: Five Lives from Wilton’s Past). We learned that St. Matthew’s has many enslaved people in our cemetery (one rang the church bell and one swept the floors) and many slave owners of Wilton were members of St. Matthew’s. Many faith leaders in Wilton were also invited to participate.
You may wonder, why is our church – a faith community – supporting and engaging in this “educational program”? Our Social Justice & Racial Healing group believe this is gospel work. St. Paul shares in his letter to the Galatians: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” As Episcopalians, one of the promises we state in our baptismal covenant is that we will respect the dignity of all human beings. We now have an opportunity to respect the dignity of those who were enslaved in Wilton. We will honor them by naming them, finally claiming their identity hundreds of years after they lived, worked, and prayed here and recognize that they were builders and founders of this community, as well as the others who have been named in the history books.
We hosted an “Introduction to the Witness Stones Project” on May 7, 2022 with Dennis Culliton (founder and Executive Director) and Julie Hughes (Wilton historian) both speaking and sharing stories. During the 2022-2023 academic year, we will be implementing the Witness Stones Project. We will work together to memorialize at least one enslaved person’s story and remembering him/her with a stone. Stay tuned for updates!