All photos by Chris Rabago
NORFOLK — A ceremony was held for the unveiling of a Witness Stone for James Mars on Saturday, May 1.
According to the Witness Stone project’s website at witnessstonesproject.org, a Witness Stone is a marker that recalls an enslaved individual at a site of significance.
Born into slavery in 1790 in Canaan, Mars was an abolitionist and an author who wrote his autobiography “Life of James Mars, a Slave, Born and Sold in Connecticut.”
The autobiography, which was published in 1868, is considered by many as one of the most important first-person accounts of slavery.
Mars was the last known slave to be in Norfolk.
He eventually paid to be freed from his owners.
In the 1830s, he became a deacon at the Talcott Street Congregational Church in Hartford.
Mars also became known for becoming a human rights activist, becoming a principal in the 1837 Jackson v. Bulloch case.
In the case, slave Nancy Jackson successfully sued her owner James Bulloch to obtain her freedom.
The Witness Stone, located outside of the Church of Christ Congregational, was unveiled to coincide with the state proclaiming May 1 as James Mars Day in Connecticut.
“The Witness Stone Project is an international effort to tell the stories of people who didn’t have a chance to tell their stories,” church Pastor Rev. Erik Olsen said in an interview with The Winsted Phoenix. “Giving a voice to a voiceless. We are doing that for James Mars. To me, this is a step in the right direction when it comes to one of the most painful national and global histories. I believe to move forward when it comes to healing, we have to look openly and critically at the past and our role in it.”
Residents throughout the state, along with state representatives, and residents from several organizations including The Salisbury School, Our Culture is Beautiful, and the NAACP attended the event.
“This event is long overdue,” NAACP Berkshire Chapter Leader Dennis Powell said. “We have a lot of James Mars’ in our history whose shoulders we stand on when we are doing our activism work. I believe if we taught real history, that in itself would eradicate a lot of racism and hate. Because people would understand that blacks contributed to pretty much everything that we enjoy today as we live here on this earth. They were not just slaves or dope dealers or criminals. They were scientists, inventors, explorers, people who were in the field of medicine. Much of what has resulted in saving lives today.”
Gov. Ned Lamont was not at the ceremony, but his proclamation declaring May 1 as James Mars Day was read at the event.
“James Mars overcame a lifetime of adversity with humility and selflessness to become one of the state’s public abolitionists,” Gov. Lamont wrote in the proclamation. “He challenged the state’s judicial restrictions by withstanding jail, by representing himself in court, by helping fugitive ex-slaves escape, and by inspiring hope among those like him who were placed in extraordinary and heinous positions, simply by their African heritage.”