MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (WTNH) — This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving on America’s shores. That piece of history was marked in Middletown on Saturday with the Middletown Middle Passage and Port Marker Committee ceremony.
It was an emotional ceremony as a special plaque was unveiled, designating Middletown as a “Site of Memory” as part of an international project called “The Slave Route: Resistance, Liberty, Heritage.”
Plaques like that are being posted in towns and cities that were all part of the trans-Atlantic slave route.
Back in the 1700s, the Connecticut River in Middletown was one of the largest ports of call for the slave trade. As part of the slave trade, farming produce from Connecticut would be shipped to the West Indies in exchange for African slaves.
The Municipal Historian for Middletown said the town was built on the backbones of slaves. Thanks to the slave trade, the economy was booming.
The ceremony is not meant to salute slavery but to acknowledge what happened here in Connecticut, educate people about it, and use this part of our painful past to try to build bridges of understanding today and bring people together and stop racial injustice.
“They did not have any control over themselves,” said Deborah Shapiro, Middletown’s Municipal Historian. “And once people realize that, maybe they will start looking at their fellow man in a different way. It’s my hope that when people look at each other they talk — they don’t look at each other and see color of skin. They just look at them as a fellow human being and discuss the issues that need to be discussed to make our world a better place.”
As part of the ceremony, that special plaque was unveiled, a dance group performed African dances and songs, and flowers were placed in the water in remembrance of those slaves who suffered from toiling in the fields or being packed in boats during their journeys from Africa to America.
Shapiro said the height of the slave trade in Middletown was between the 1730s and 1800.
The ceremony took place at Harbor Park in Middletown at 10 a.m.