West Hartford, CT - May 2019 Fifth grade students at Renbrook School are taking part in the Witness Stones Project led by Directors, Dr. Tracey Wilson, Ms. Liz Devine and Ms. Denise DeMello. Ms. Devine and Ms. DeMello are retired West Hartford high school teachers. Dr. Wilson is the West Hartford Town Historian and author of the book, Life in West Hartford.
Through research, education, and civic engagement, the Witness Stones Project seeks to restore the history and to honor the humanity and contributions of the enslaved people who helped build our communities. The idea was inspired by a project that started in Germany called Stolpersteine or “stumbling stones” to commemorate Holocaust victims of the Nazi regime.
Renbrook fifth graders are learning about the history of enslaved people and their slaveholders in West Hartford through primary sources, artists and their paintings, poetry and artwork. They are asked to analyze and interpret historical documents, addressing the questions: How did the slaveholder dehumanize the enslaved? How did the enslaved retain their humanity and resist slavery? How did the slaveholder economically benefit from the enslavement? What role did the slaveholder play through government/business/church in maintaining and/or dismantling slavery?
On Tuesday, May 14, Renbrook fifth graders Tristan B., Mikayla G. and Chidi M. presented their research to the West Hartford Town Council about Prut, who was enslaved by John Whitman Jr. of West Hartford. Prut died at Fort Ticonderoga in 1776. The students requested that Prut’s name be included on the Connecticut Veterans Memorial installed in West Hartford in 2006. Currently there are twenty-six names of men etched on the slab who fought and died serving in the Revolutionary War. Following their presentation, Dr. Tracey Wilson as town historian made the recommendation that Prut’s name be added to the Connecticut Veterans Memorial and the Town Council wholeheartedly accepted her recommendation.
On Friday, May 31, Renbrook’s fifth graders took part in the West Hartford Witness Stones Installation at the First Church in West Hartford.
"The students at Renbrook are amazing to work with on the Witness Stones Project! They are curious, insightful and inspired to learn more about the enslaved in West Hartford. They asked such terrific questions which revealed complex and analytical thinking. In addition, students were able to make excellent connections to what they are learning in the classroom. We were so impressed with these fifth graders!"- Witness Stones Project Co-Director, Liz Devine.