What began as an intriguing school assignment into a forgotten
part of Hartford's past culminated Sunday, October 11, with the
unveiling of a memorial to the 300 or more African-Americans
buried in unmarked graves at the Ancient Burying Ground off Gold
Street in downtown Hartford.
The Ancient Burying Ground was Hartford's only official cemetery
up until the early part of the 19th century and once covered
most of the block now bounded by Main, Gold, Lewis and Pearl
Streets. Overall, it is estimated that over 6,000 people were
buried in the cemetery.
About three years ago, a group of Fox Middle School students,
led by Andriena Baldwin, Christopher Hayes, Monique Price, Keisha
Reid, Kerrian James and Juanita Richardson began doing research
into the African-Americans who were interred at the cemetery
in unmarked graves over the years.
Among other things, the students found that as many as five of
Hartford's African-American "Governors" may have been
buried in the Ancient Burial Ground. The "Governors"
were men elected during the Colonial Era by the state's African-Americans
to serve as the leaders of their community.
Price, who spoke at Sunday's ceremony, said the group also found
that most of the African-Americans brought to Connecticut as
slaves came as children. Price, who is now a sophomore at Weaver
High School, added that the students' research into the early
history of African-Americans in Hartford has generated a great
deal of interest among people throughout the state. "We
are not alone in our enthusiasm¼our research and this
monument has touched the hearts of school children all across
Connecticut," she said.
Funding for the $18,000 memorial, which is marked with the words
"Sacred to the Memory of the Three Hundred or more African
Americans, Free People and Slave and five Black Governors, Who
rest in Umarked Graves in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground,
1640-1810," was raised by contributions from numerous individual,
churches, schools, organizations, the City of Hartford and the
State of Connecticut.
Mayor Mike Peters, who also spoke on Sunday, commended the students
for their efforts, saying, "People in the suburbs ask me
what's wrong with Hartford's young people¼and I tell them,
as these kids show, there's nothing wrong with Hartford's young
people." Anthony also had words of praise for the students,
calling them, "a true blessing to me." She added that,
while the project had originally been a school assignment, the
students became so involved in it that they contributed countless
volunteer hours into the effort.
The dedication ceremony combined both African and African-American
traditions. Baba Dafidi, a Yourba Priest from New Haven, performed
a Libation to the Ancestors ceremony and said to the youngsters,
"You have done well, but only with their [the ancestor's]
blessing will you go far."
Hayes, now a sophomore at Northwest Catholic High School, symbolically
marked the graves of the deceased African-Americans with 300
cowrie shells. Flonnie Wood, a teacher at Martin Luther King
School in Hartford, read a poem dedicated to the monument and
was accompanied on drum by Alvin Carter, Sr. There was also a
drumming performance from a childrens group from Bloomfield United
Methodist Church and Hayes and Price sang the 17th century hymn,
"If Thou But Suffer" as the monument was officially
unveiled to the hundreds of spectators who had gathered for the
While Sunday's dedication marked the end of one phase of the
students' effort to bring the story of the African-Americans
buried at the Ancient Burying Ground to the widest audience possible,
other phases are still ongoing. If you would like to make a contribution
to help fund the publication of a children's book entitled, "Forgotten
Souls: African-Americans in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground,"
write to the African-American Monument Fund, c/o The Ancient
Burying Ground Association, Inc., P.O. Box 231257, Hartford,