October 14 - 21, 1998

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Forgotten No More
Memorial to African-Americans in Ancient Burial Ground

by Andy Hart

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 ceremony.

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, Connecticut, 06123-1257.

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