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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Unearthed: Honoring Mamaroneck's Enslaved Africans and Their Legacy


by Marina Kiriakou -

 

Few people know that slavery was once a part of Mamaroneck's past.  From 1661 to 1822, over 200 Africans were enslaved here, providing involuntary labor during the colonial era. Landowners who were wealthy enough to own more property than they could work themselves tended to acquire enslaved labor, typically between one and three individuals according to census records.  These slaves farmed the land, constructed walls, prepared meals, operated a grain mill, looked after livestock, and cared for children. 

 

In 2018, a group of residents, moved by this overlooked history, came together to honor the humanity and contributions of the enslaved men, women, and children who resided in Mamaroneck Township.  They formed REALM (Recognizing Enslaved Africans in Larchmont and Mamaroneck), a passionate initiative aimed at raising awareness about the experiences of enslaved Africans within the context of our local history.

 

As part of its mission, and with the support of the Mamaroneck Town Board, REALM is installing a memorial dedicated to enslaved Africans on a hill in front of the Mamaroneck Town Center. Entitled Unearthed: A Remembrance, the installation is planned for 2025.  Additionally, the organization will present a series of related educational programs for adults and children starting this fall.

 

Though little is known about most of the 200 enslaved Africans, historians have uncovered this hidden history mainly through the records of the enslavers.  Judy Silberstein, a founding member of REALM, highlights the Mott family of Larchmont, who were both enslavers and abolitionists.  “The Mott family members carefully chronicled their histories, preserving names, portraits, and anecdotes about the enslaved who were part of their lives,” she says.

 

Event on June 15th Honors Enslaved African Family

Last month, an event was held at the oldest home in Larchmont, once owned by the Mott family, to honor the family of enslaved Africans who worked there from 1776-1814.  Around 100 people gathered at this historic property, owned by Margery and Ted Mayer, for an educational program and fundraiser for the memorial monument commissioned by REALM.

 

REALM members Ned Benton, who also directs the Northeast Slavery Records Index at John Jay College, and John Pritts, the Mamaroneck Village historian, shared insights and answered attendees’ questions about local enslavement and the lives of Billy and Jinny, the enslaved couple who worked for the Motts.  Susan Emery, a former president of the Larchmont Historical Society, recounted the history of the house and its owners, starting with James Mott in 1776. Gail Boyle, past president of the Mamaroneck Historical Society, and Robinette Robinson, a long-time Mamaroneck resident, explained REALM’s mission to honor the enslaved people by creating a permanent memorial and presenting educational programs.  REALM members Joanne Shaw, Jill Parry and Judy Silberstein registered guests and oriented them to the presentations staged throughout the historical setting.  This event also highlighted the importance of fundraising for the memorial.

 

Additional planning came from REALM members Sid Albert, a former Mamaroneck Village trustee, Leilani Yizar-Reid, a current Mamaroneck Village trustee, and Jackie Lorieo, Co-president of the Mamaroneck Artists Guild.

 

Fundraising for the Memorial Monument

REALM aims to raise $150,000 to develop the memorial and curate related programs.  “The initial phases of development for the memorial were made possible through grants,” says Silberstein.  Assemblyman Steve Otis and Senator Shelley Mayer helped secure two $10,000 New York State Park planning grants.  Additionally, ArtsWestchester provided initial planning grants. The Mamaroneck Historical Society serves as REALM’s fiscal agent.

 

Creating the Memorial

REALM’s search for the right creative team began in 2021 with a call for artists.  As Silberstein explains, “We wanted a memorial that truly honors the enslaved individuals, reflecting their diverse identities and contributions.  The artwork needed to connect authentically with Mamaroneck’s past and invite viewers to learn and respect our history.  It was important that it promoted reverence, reflection, and healing, and could be appreciated both from a distance and up close, from various perspectives.”

 

The search committee kept their minds open to various artistic approaches to achieve their vision.  The artistic team chosen to create the monument includes Judith Weber (coordinator), Sarah Coble and Sana Musasama (ceramic artists), and Mariví Perdomo Caba and Jorge L. Ventura Ovalles (architects).  This talented group is engaged in a robust collaboration with members of REALM and the Mamaroneck Town Board.

 

The monument design has been kept under wraps as the vision evolves.  A schematic sketch shows a concrete sculpture, measuring approximately seven feet tall and wide, with ceramic artwork embedded on both sides of a beautifully curved monument.  The REALM website describes a curved bench that will welcome visitors to contemplate the lives and labors of the enslaved adults and the children who were born into enslavement and decades of indentured servitude.  A bricked path around the memorial will lead to a vision of traveling from Africa to enslavement and later escaping to freedom.

 

Future Events

Looking toward the memorial's completion, REALM has also planned several future events, including a presentation at the Mamaroneck Historical Society on September 17 (details to be determined) and workshops with the REALM artists at the Mamaroneck Public Library on September 28, October 26, and November 23.  These events offer opportunities for community engagement and support.

 

Learn More

To become a REALM ambassador or contribute toward the memorial project, contact lmslavery1@gmail.com.  Further information about slavery in Larchmont and Mamaroneck can be found at REALM’s website HERE.




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