A Talk at the Dedication of the Memorial to the Slaves Buried in Brookline's Old Burying Ground: (by Barbara Brown, Sept. 2009)
There is a proverb widespread in Africa: We are people through our ties with other people . . .
I stand here as part of that larger 'we': as a member of the Hidden Brookline Committee, which has done the research, the thinking and the planning behind today.
I stand here on behalf of the many others who have also worked for today's' commemoration.
I stand here on behalf of all of us gathered together this day to acknowledge and to honor these Brookline residents - these slaves.
The journey to today began ten years ago, when we uncovered the history of the Underground Railroad in Brookline and celebrated it with justifiable and great pride. Our history is more complex than simply one of triumphs over evil.
As Hannah Arendt has said, "We can no longer afford to take that which was good in the past and simply call it our heritage, and to discard the bad".
Several years ago, this journey continued. I was in a local store, when I ran into Brookline's Human Relations Commissioner, Steve Bressler.
Steve said I really should check out the bronze plaque in the Town Hall entrance - the plaque that honors Brookline people who fought at the Battle of Lexington in 1775.
When I asked why the plaque was so interesting, Steve just said, go look.
So I went. I looked: I saw no women and no famous names - no Dukakis. Then I saw it. Hidden in plain view--For everyone to see . . .yet no one noticed.
At the bottom of the plaque in a separate place were 3 names listed thus: Esq. Gardner's Adam; Esq. White's Peter; Esq. Boylston's Prince.
Adam is one of those buried here and so is one of those we commemorate today. The story of what happened to the courageous Prince, once owned by Boylston, is for another day.
I phoned Steve and in short order the Hidden Brookline Committee was formed, as part of the Human Relations and Youth Resource Commission.
Our mission is simple: to bring to light this hidden history of slavery.
We welcome new members! We began with research.
In the mid-1700's in Brookline and neighboring towns, slavery was normal.
Slaves were part of the fabric of the town, although they were not a large % of the population.
If you dined at Dr. Boylston's home - still standing on Boylston St (Route 9) - you'd likely be served by a slave.
When you walked to a neighbor's home, you might see a slave driving a horse and cart to market, full of Brookline's famous melons.
At church, slaves would be praying in the segregated section.
Hidden Brookline also began walking tours for 4th graders studying Colonial America.
When our first group from Runkle School visited this cemetery, I asked them to find Adam's grave, along with the graves of the other Revolutionary soldiers buried here.
They could not find it, though they could find his owner's. I told them about the other slaves buried here.
Troubled, they and their teacher, Jay Sugarman, decided to do something about this and wrote an op-ed for the TAB titled "We should honor Brookline's buried slaves."
And today, together, we are doing just that - honoring Brookline's people who received no public honor during their lives.
We do not have the power to undo the past or to heal the wounds these slaves endured. But we can acknowledge the pain of that past. We can stand here in sorrow. And we can call their names.
Hagar born in 1717 and lived to be 50. She was named after a slave in the Bible.
Felix owned by Henry Sewall. Part of his work was cleaning our Town Hall until his death in 1764.
Boston farmed for Dr. Zabdiel Boylston, making it possible for Dr. Boylston to focus on his famous medical practice.
Venus was baptized in the church up the hill and died as a young woman.
Kate was a child of 8 when she died and was buried here in the Sewall family tomb. Let us honor her short life.
About the other slaves on this engraved stone we have precious little information, so I simply call their names and ask you to hold them in your hearts today:
Seco, Charles, Dinah, and Ben Boston
Others were enslaved, lived, died and were buried here, but their names are lost to us.
Let us not forget them.
We have gathered here today in common agreement that we and those who follow us shall remember all who lived here: all who walked the roads and paths of this town, who had hopes, and who suffered great sorrows So that future generations will never again say "I didn't know." "I didn't understand." So that this hidden history will be hidden no longer and instead become an acknowledged and sorrowful part of a fuller and more complex understanding of ourselves.