Historical Society Lecture Shows How History Can Be Reclaimed and Interpreted through Newport’s Rich Cultural Heritage

Zoom Lecture on Newport’s Slave Trade Kicks off Historical Society’s Partnership with
Witness Stones Project

March 16, 2021 6 – 7pm

COS COB, March 3, 2021 — Cemeteries are largely seen as final resting places – an end. But God’s Little Acre, a Colonial African burying ground in Newport, Rhode Island is the beginning point to a rich cultural tapestry that is Newport’s African and African American history. Recognized as the oldest and largest existing enslaved and free African heritage burying ground in America dating back to 1705, the historic site contains the remains of men, women and children who are directly connected through the African Diaspora and back to West Africa.

Keith Stokes, Vice President of the 1696 Heritage Group, and a descendant of a family buried at God’s Little Acre, will lead a discussion of the colonial African community, and the contributions many have made to the development of Newport. Through research and primary source documents related to people buried at God’s Little Acre, he will show how this unique history can be reclaimed and interpreted for today’s audiences.

The lecture is part of a series of events designed to shine a light on the history, humanity and contributions of enslaved individuals who resided in Greenwich as early as the 1600s through the Historical Society’s partnership with Witness Stones Project. The cost is $10 for members, $15 for non-members. For more information and to reserve, https://greenwichhistory.org/gods-little-acre-the-slave-trade-in-newport-with-keith-stokes/

Founded in 2019, the Witness Stone initiative seeks to teach school-age children about enslaved persons using primary sources like deeds, wills, and letters. The program culminates in the installation of a marker in the vicinity of where the person lived or worked. Greenwich is the fourth Connecticut town following Guilford, Madison, and West Hartford to place memorials with the Witness Stones Project.

Keith Stokes Biography
Mr. Stokes is presently Vice President with the 1696 Heritage Group. The 1696 Heritage Group is a historical consulting firm dedicated to helping persons and institutions of color to increase their knowledge and access to the light of truth of their unique American heritage. The firm draws on extensive knowledge and experience in ethnic American historical research, interpretation, program and product development.

Mr. Stokes has a long and distinguished career in business and community development, with degrees from Cornell University and University of Chicago. His past professional positions have included Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and Executive Director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce.

He has also been an Advisor for Rhode Island with the National Trust for Historic Preservation along with serving on numerous regional and national historic preservation boards including Chairman of the Touro Synagogue Foundation, Vice President & Trustee of the Preservation Society for Newport County, and Newport Historical Society. Mr. Stokes is a frequent national, state and local lecturer in community & regional planning, historic preservation and interpretation with an expertise in early African and Jewish American history. Mr. Stokes frequently appears on national historical programs including C-SPAN, Fox News Legends & Lies, and Ted Talk. Mr. Stokes recently travelled to Ghana, Africa to deliver a lecture as part of the 400th Anniversary of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

He has been the recipient of numerous local, state and national awards including the United State Small Business Administration – Rhode Island Small Business Advocate of the Year Award, American Sail Training Association Leadership Award, Rhode Island Black Heritage Society’s Fredrick Williamson Award Historic Preservation Award, Rhode Island Martin Luther King Keeper of the Dream Award and along with his wife, is the recipient of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities.

About Witness Stones Project
The mission of the Witness Stones Project is through research, education, and civic engagement we aim to restore the history and honor the humanity and contributions of enslaved individuals who helped build our communities. The project started in 2017 when Doug Nygren, after hearing Dennis Culliton speak about the enslaved in Guilford, CT, shared with him the memorialization of Jews in Berlin and Central Europe through the Stolpersteine Project. There, the “Stumbling Stones” are installed in front of places where Jewish families lived freely before they were kidnapped and murdered during the Holocaust. With that inspiration, Dennis created the Witness Stones Project he now leads as the Executive Director.

In less than four years, 11 schools, and over 2,000 students have engaged in the Witness Stones curriculum, learning about the history of slavery in the North. They use the Five Themes of Slavery as a lens to analyze and extract biographical information about the African and African Americans who were so much a part of colonial Connecticut. From Hester Mead in Greenwich, to Tamar Loomis in Suffield, to James Mars in Norfolk, to Pink in New Haven, and to Moses in Guilford, our students are adding back the colors to the fabric of our history.

Media Contacts
Cai Pandolfino, Greenwich Historical Society, cpandolfino@greenwichhistory.org
Laura McCormick, McCormick PR, laura@mccormickpr.com