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The Mast-Head: Youth’s Take on History

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 18:32

It was a proud father moment for me watching the East Hampton Village Board meeting two weeks ago. After more than three years gathering information about slavery in and around East Hampton the moment had come to take it to the streets, so to speak.

Evvy, my middle child, had said she was nervous before jumping on a remote call with the mayor and trustees on Oct. 7, but I really couldn’t tell. “You know how to Zoom better than any of them,” I told her. Speaking into a computer screen still feels weird to me, but for her generation of kids now in high school and college, it was just something they grew up with.

Her mission was to explain the research that she and her roommate of two years, Aunyae Romeo, did homing in on a small number of enslaved people who had lived in East Hampton. She described how an initial set of five bronze markers could replace sidewalk bricks in several spots to honor these people’s memory and contributions. The work would be jointly supported by Calvary Baptist Church and the Jewish Center of the Hamptons.

I had anticipated pushback from the board, but there was none. Instead, Mayor Larsen, who lived as a teenager in a house on Buell Lane, itself named for the enslaver of two of the people she and Aunyae proposed remembering, seemed all aboard. Five slides, one for each person, were shown in sequence, while Evvy described why each had been chosen.

Sharper and Rose would get markers on James Lane. Ned’s would be at the corner of Woods Lane and Main Street, and Gene and Peg, at the East Hampton Library. The idea is that these first few markers would be a test, a proof of concept, before moving forward with a larger effort.

The idea for the markers, or Plain Sight Points perhaps, came to us first from Andrea Meyer at the library’s Long Island Collection, who realized that a German artist’s work to memorialize Holocaust victims could be a good lead to follow. Though some have objected to his placing his markers in streets, where they might be stepped upon, the name he gave them, Stolpersteine, or stumbling stones in English, explains the intent — that they not be ignored. Also based on the Stolpersteine, the Witness Stones Project commemorates the enslaved of Connecticut.

After the fact, someone told me that it has been a stroke of genius having Evvy make the presentation, “If it had been you, they would have been obligated to grumble.”

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