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Country School Students Take in Poetry as They Begin to Research Slavery in Madison

by Jesse Williams, Source Reporter

As 7th- and 8th-grade students at The Country School (TCS) prepare to delve into the history of local slavery and the lives of enslaved people as part of The Witness Stones Project, the school hosted a speaker whose words and insights helped prepare students for the tragic and personal explorations they will soon undertake.

Through the Witness Stones Project, TCS students will use documents like ledgers, wills, and reports of auctions to research the life of an enslaved woman who lived in Madison. Poet Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond, who wrote his college thesis using the same sorts of resources, recently shared some of what he had learned, along with the poetry it inspired, while running a writing workshop for students.

Those students will eventually write their own reflections as part of the project, according to TCS teachers Kristin Liu and Heather Butler.

Though Witness Stones is essentially a history and civic project, Witness Stones Project co-founder and Executive Director Dennis Culliton said that it’s important that students and anyone else who comes in contact with the project connect with the human elements.

“They’ll be looking at what slavery looked like here, and who was involved with it, and how did that affect those persons lives,” Culliton said, “but also, who were these folks? Not that they were just people on the list, but that they were humans.”

The Witness Stones Project guides people, usually students, to engage with their community as they use primary sources and other local resources to learn about an enslaved individual who lived in their town before eventually installing a public marker of some kind—often a stone—at a place in town where that individual “lived, worked, or prayed,” according to Witness Stones’ website.

Beginning in Guilford, where Culliton taught social studies for many years, the project has now spread to several other Connecticut towns. This class of TCS is the first to take part in the project in Madison.

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