Five Connecticut Historic Sites Chosen as ‘Sites of Conscience’ – Hartford Courant

A 19th century ethnic community. A school for colored women. A prison in a copper mine. The site of a Native American massacre. The state house where Amistad’s trial began.

Five state locations have been named to an inaugural list of “Connecticut sites of conscience,” compiled by CT Humanities and released this week. The list aims to draw attention to historic places that reflect the issues people still face in the 21st century.

“These sites represent stories that we wanted to highlight. They are historically significant in a way that still resonates in community dialogues today. They show why we need to keep having these conversations,” said Jason Mancini, executive director of CT Humanities.

Mancini said the pilot was launched in 2019 but stalled due to the pandemic. When revisited, CT Humanities worked with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to define what a Site of Conscience is and which Connecticut sites are eligible.

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which spans 65 countries, identifies “safe spaces to remember and preserve even the most traumatic memories,” which “allow their visitors to make connections between the past and contemporary issues related human rights,” according to its website.

International sites include the Auschwitz concentration camp, a gulag museum in Russia, a slave house in Africa, the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, and Ellis Island.

Mancini said if reception for the list is positive, it will grow in the years to come.

These are Connecticut’s Five Sites of Consciousness, as determined by CT Humanities.

Sisters Mary and Eliza Freeman, who were African-American and Paugussett, built side-by-side homes in 1848 in the Bridgeport area called “Little Liberia”, a community where African Americans, Native Americans and Haitians lived side by side to the side. Today, the Freeman sisters’ homes are all that remains of Little Liberia. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest homes in the state built by free blacks.

“They represent a time of racial inequality and injustice, and yet a community came together and created its own resources: libraries, churches, housing, businesses,” Mancini said. “It caught the attention of Frederick Douglass, who wrote about it.”

At the time of her death, Mary Freeman was the second wealthiest person in Bridgeport, after PT Barnum. The neighborhood eventually disappeared.

“This community in the 20th century was cordoned off and cleared to make room for any development that was to come,” Mancini said. “Today we look at both Connecticuts. It’s a place of disparities, of inequities, of people seeking racial justice. Their story is really important.

From 1831 to 1833, Prudence Crandall ran a girls’ school in her home. She admitted an African American daughter, and the white girls’ parents withdrew their daughters. Crandall closed the school and reopened in 1833, for “young ladies and little colored ladies”. Neighbors reacted violently to the presence of colored girls among them. Fearing for the girls’ safety, Crandall closed the school in 1834.

In 1995, by act of the General Assembly, Crandall was named a Connecticut State Hero.

“She provided an opportunity in the early 1830s to provide equitable education and access,” Mancini said. “School districts are still struggling to figure out, what does this look like, how can we provide this type of accessible and resourced education to all of our residents.”

Mancini cited Sheff v. O’Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court case — started in 1989 and ultimately settled in 2020 — in which parents of non-white children sued the state and elected officials, including Governor William A. O’Neill , alleging that their children were not treated equally because predominantly white schools were funded more generously than predominantly minority schools.

“We still think today about Sheff v. O’Neill and its impact on education in our communities, and the wealth gap, etc.,” he said.

From 1709, the Newgate Road site was a copper mine where Africans and Native Americans were used as slave labor. It was not a prosperous mine. From 1773, it was transformed into a prison where prisoners were forced to work in the mine. During the American Revolution, people loyal to the crown were imprisoned there. From 1790 it was a state prison, where prisoners were again used as forced labor. The prison closed in 1827.

“It was a transformative time in history in terms of how we deal with crime? What do we do with these people? Mancini said. “It was a deep underground copper mine and people were just there. locked up.”

He said the disproportionate impact of the contemporary criminal justice system on some communities is a conversation that needs to continue.

“How do we view equal justice before the law? The conversation should be, not just where they were imprisoned, but how, who, how long, why? We have to start looking through that lens of engagement,” he said.

This extends to formerly incarcerated, he added. “They are part of our society. What labels do we attribute to them? What are the avenues for those convicted of crimes? »

From 1796 to 1878, the Old State House was the seat of Connecticut’s three branches of state government. Many famous trials were held there, including the start of the Amistad trial and the trials against Prudence Crandall, and it was the site of the 1818 Constitutional Convention.

“It was the center of Connecticut government for a very long time. This is where the laws were molded and shaped. It was the foundation of governance in Connecticut,” Mancini said. “It was one of the hearts of our democratic republic, where important decisions were made around an electoral and representative government.”

Mancini said Connecticut’s transition from a colony to a state and the milestones that have taken place over the centuries are a good illustration of the legal and political realities needed to form a government. These lessons can be applied to the present day, as people continually strive for “a more perfect union.”

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“We look at four centuries of change, from the charter in the 17th century, to the Connecticut Compromise in the 18th century, to the Connecticut Constitution in the 19th century, and another constitutional convention in the 20th century,” he said. “This place is central to Connecticut’s place as a constitutional state.”

In 1637, 400 to 700 Pequot civilians were massacred by settlers in Connecticut under the direction of John Mason, future deputy governor of the colony.

Today, nothing marks the site of America’s first attempted genocide. It is a residential area. The tMashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center features a permanent exhibit on the Pequot War, detailing the background to the mass murder.

“The massacre was ground zero for Indian affairs. This resulted in the first bookings on the mainland,” Mancini said. “Pequot Hill speaks to the legacy of how Indigenous peoples were treated in the early colonial period and since then through the erasure of their history.”

Emphasizing Pequot Hill’s contemporary import, Mancini referenced Standing Rock, the reservation where, in 2016, protests against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline took place.

“There are 574 federally recognized tribes. Each tribe has a standing rock. Every tribe has been desecrated, raped,” he said. “Pequot Hill is an entry point for discussing contemporary Aboriginal issues. They have rich and diverse histories and yet they remain among the most invisible citizens of this country.

Susan Dunne can be contacted at [email protected].

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