Putnam High School
Enslaved people and freed Black people living in the post-Civil War Jim Crow Era were not afforded the same burial rights as whites. Enslaved people were buried in unmarked graves, often by other enslaved people, as enslavers typically did not allow precious land to be taken by marked gravesites. During the Jim Crow Era, segregation extended even after death to Black Americans, who often had to be buried in separate cemeteries that were not well maintained. In this lesson, students will compare the gravesites of different Black residents who lived in Windham County. Students will explore the reasons why some Black residents were allowed to be buried alongside whites in a cemetery while others were buried in unmarked graves.
D1: Potential Compelling Question
D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS
- Who is buried in the Old Willimantic Cemetery?
- Why were certain Black persons in Willimantic buried in the Old Willimantic Cemetery?
- Why were others not buried in the Old Willimantic Cemetery?
D2: TOOL KIT
D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY
- As a class, students will review “Sec. 2. Findings” of H.R. 1179 (Source #1).
- Students will discuss the development of African American burials over time, noting areas of injustice. Why were restrictions placed upon the burials of African Americans and enslaved people?
- Students will be arranged into three groups to analyze the primary and secondary sources on the exhibit panels (Sources #2–#4). Each group will analyze one panel.
- As they view their group’s exhibit panel, students will take notes on what they find important about the lives of the people highlighted: Caesar Hall, John C. Harris, Lyman Jackson, and their families. Who were these people? What did they accomplish? How did this distinguish them within their community?
- Students will examine the pictures of the gravesites on their exhibit panel. What do they notice about the gravestones? How do the gravestones portray the life of each person? What about the lives of these individuals and families made it possible for them to be buried in the town cemetery with a formal headstone?
- In their groups, students will then examine the “Places the Slaves Made” exhibit panel (Source #5), paying specific attention to the section titled “Old Trinity Churchyard.”
- Students will make observations about the gravesites pictured. How do these graves differ from the ones they viewed on their group’s exhibit panel?
- Students will share what their groups found with the class. Using information from all exhibit panels, students will make inferences about why this group of Black persons were not given a gravesite like the ones given to Hall, Harris, and Jackson. What does this tell us about the status of Black people from Connecticut throughout history?
- Students will discuss what, if anything, should be done to better recognize the lives of those buried in the unmarked graves at Trinity Church.
D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS
- Students will use the GIST strategy to write a summary of the lives of John C. Harris, Lyman Jackson, and Caesar Hall. Using Google Earth, students will locate the Old Willimantic Cemetery and add it to a new project. Students will add pins to the map to identify the locations of Harris, Jackson, and Hall’s graves, (Students may visit the cemetery to locate the graves on the map more accurately.) For each pin, students will add the name of the person and their GIST summary of that person’s life. Once finished, students will create a QR code for their map that can be posted in the cemetery. Visitors can scan the code and learn about those buried in the cemetery as they visit the graves.
- This activity takes Action #1 and applies it to students’ own communities. Students will research African Americans in their own communities prior to 1900. Using the GIST strategy, students will write a summary of the lives of each person they research. Using Find a Grave, students will locate the gravesites of African Americans in their local cemeteries. They will then use Google Earth to create a map of local cemeteries. After locating the cemeteries on the map, students will locate the gravesites of the people they researched and place a pin. For each pin, students will add the name of the person and their GIST summary of that person’s life. Once finished, students will create a QR code for their map that can be posted in the cemetery. Visitors can scan the code and learn about those buried in the cemetery as they visit the graves.
- Students will work with their local historical society to locate the site of an African American burial ground in their community. Students will create a placard to identify the burial ground and the importance of preserving these sites.
Place to GO
Old Trinity Church, Brooklyn
Ancient Burying Ground, Hartford
Things To DO
Visit the exhibit: Here All Along: African Americans in Northeastern Connecticut Before the Great Migration at the Windham Textile and History Museum.
Check out gravesites that are part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
Listen to a podcast: “Uncovering African and Native American Lives in 17th – 18th Century Hartford”, “Grating the Nutmeg” from Connecticut Explored
Websites to VISIT
Articles to READ
Collins, D. (2018). “Plaque to memorialize historic, unmarked black cemetery.” Associated Press.
“Monument to the Black Governors” by Billie M. Anthony. Connecticut Explored, AUG/SEP/OCT 2004.
“Unburying Hartford’s Native and African Family Histories” by Katherine A. Hermes. Connecticut Explored, Fall 2019.