This year marks the 10th anniversary of legislation authorizing the establishment of the Connecticut Freedom Trail (CFT). The legislation was signed in August 1995 and the trail officially opened in September 1996 with 60 sites in 30 towns. Included on the trail are sites associated with the Amistad case of 1839-1842, buildings reported to have been used on the Underground Railroad and gravesites, monuments, homes and buildings that are associated with the heritage and movement towards freedom of Connecticut's African American citizens.
Administration of the trail is assigned to the Amistad Committee, Inc. of New Haven, and the former Connecticut Historical Commission (now the Historic Preservation and Museum Division of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism). Liaisons from these two agencies and representatives from the various sites make up the Connecticut Freedom Trail Site Selection Committee which reviews research materials and requests for additions to the trail. As of 2005, there are 100 sites in 42 towns on the CFT.
Funding for the trail has been provided over the years by the State of Connecticut in the budgets of the Connecticut Historical Commission for the marking of the trail with plaques and informational signs and development of research on African American Heritage, and the Tourism Division of the Department of Economic and Community Development (now the Tourism Division of the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism) for brochures and publicity. The Amistad Committee, Inc. has been a major contributor to CFT activities and has through the years secured significant corporate sponsorship for materials and activities promoting the trail. In addition, contributions have been made by local municipalities and even some property owners.
Once a site is listed on the trail, the owner receives a CFT plaque, informational sign and CFT flag. Other Freedom Trail products, which are available to the general public, include the video, audio tour tapes, brochures (3rd edition), and posters. There is also a CFT website.
Most of the credit for the popularity of the CFT must go to the Connecticut Freedom Trail Planning Committee which plans programs and events for CFT Month (September) to celebrate, publicize and promote the existence of the trail. The committee is made up of dedicated volunteers who work with the Amistad Committee, Inc. and CHC in developing activities that foster interest and involvement with the trail. Past events have included:
1998--CFT Bicycle Tour and Quilting Bee which resulted in the four CFT Quilts which are now on permanent display at the Raymond Baldwin Museum of Connecticut History in Hartford.
1999--CFT Gospel/Inspirational Music Festival which included performances by the Ebenezer Baptist Church Choir of Atlanta, Georgia, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church Choir of Montgomery, Alabama, The New Jersey Fellowship Choir of Plainfield, New Jersey and choirs from churches included on the trail.
2000--Commemoration of Amistad captives buried in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven which included participation by the President of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Tejan Kabbah.
In the area of research, many new topics have been explored, however, the hottest topic to date is that of Connecticut's Black Governors 1776-1856. This subject was brought to the attention of the Commission by eighth grade students from Lewis J. Fox Middle School in Hartford. During three years of archival research, the students and their teacher uncovered evidence that more than 300 Americans of African descent were interred in Hartford's Ancient Burying Ground, one of the oldest cemeteries in Connecticut. The students' research shed light on the fact that African Americans helped settle the Connecticut Colony and revealed that five "Black Governors" were buried in unmarked graves. To commemorate the more than 300 forgotten souls, a memorial marker and slate tablet inscribed with names and interment dates now stands in the cemetery. The students designed, selected materials, and raised funding for the monument.
Intrigued by the students' findings, the Connecticut Historical Commission hired a consultant to further explore the topic of the Black Governors. Since the students' research provided the names of 22 governors, the purpose of the new research was to identify and evaluate sites associated with the governors for possible inclusion on the Freedom Trail. The additional research revealed that from 1749 to 1856, 26 black governors were elected by the black population of Connecticut. The gravesite of Governor Boston Trotrow was located in the Old Norwichtown Burial Ground in Norwich, Connecticut. The inscription reads: "In memory of Boston TrowTrow, Govener of ye Affrican Trib, he died May 28, 1772 at 62." In New London, the grave of Flora, the wife of Governor Hercules was found. Her inscription reads: "Flora, wife of Hercules, Governor of the Negroes." It is anticipated that The Connecticut Black Governors' research report will be published during the summer of 2005.
The John E. Rogers African American Cultural Center (JERAACC) of Hartford has taken the lead in promoting the story of Connecticut 's Black Governors. Individuals have been recruited to portray the governors at various events sponsored by JERAACC including the Black Governors' Ball. This year, in addition to the ball, JERAACC will hold a reenactment of "LECTION" DAY.
As previously stated, there are now 100 sites in 42 towns on the Connecticut Freedom Trail. As research continues, new sites will be identified and added. It is hoped that those who visit some or all of the locations on the Freedom Trail will gain a greater appreciation for the experiences and contributions of Connecticut 's African Americans.
Essay by Cora Murray, Liason to Connecticut Freedom Trail, Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism
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