In the coming weeks, work on an initial set of five bronze bricks bearing the names of enslaved people will begin. The markers, one for each person, are to be embedded in the brick sidewalks near the Mulford Farm on James Lane, at the East Hampton Library, and at the corner of Woods Lane and Main Street. The markers are to be made and installed by members of the Guild Hall Teen Arts Council, with support from the Plain Sight Project, of which I am co-director, the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, and Calvary Baptist Church.
Following the example set by the Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) project commemorating the lives of Holocaust victims in Europe, the East Hampton markers are intended to grab attention and hold it long enough for passers-by to realize that slavery happened here, too. The East Hampton Village Board gave its unanimous approval for the undertaking during a meeting in the fall.
As in Germany, where the stumbling stones first appeared, the placement of the markers is intentional — and not without the potential for debate. In Europe, there was a degree of backlash against putting the names of people sent to the Nazi camps where they could be stepped upon; our thought is to put our markers along the sidewalks’ edges, but still in a prominent enough spot that they cannot be missed. Unlike the memorial tree plaques here, these will be flat and flush with the nearby surfaces, but kept polished bright by volunteers. We would welcome feedback on the question of placement and anything else that might come to mind.
I expect that the first of the Plain Sight Points, as I like to think of them, will be placed sometime in April, with a formal dedication to come later, ideally during a planned Juneteenth day of remembrance in June. From there, we hope to add more markers here and possibly in Sag Harbor before pushing onward to Bridgehampton and beyond.
From a start with just two known enslaved people in East Hampton, our public database has grown to more than 200, with an additional 500 in Sag Harbor and on the North Fork. Many more names will be found as the work continues. How to commemorate them all and the essential role they had in the creation of the United States is an ongoing question. We’ll do it one bronze brick at a time. In the meantime, do stop by the East Hampton Library to see its exhibit on slavery in East Hampton; I promise you that it is eye-opening.