Slave Dwelling Project Founder Returns

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In the summer of 2021, Joseph McGill facilitated two important dialogues at the Phelps-Hatheway House and Garden. A historic preservationist and Civil War reenactor, McGill founded the Slave Dwelling Project in 2010 as a way to preserve and bring awareness to historic sites where enslaved people lived. That summer he examined the bed in the attic where Barbara and Lewis Butler quartered while being enslaved by Oliver Phelps in the late 1790s. Typical of all of his Slave Dwelling Programs, he used the details of location to inspire difficult conversations about race here in Suffield as he has done in communities from South Carolina to Alabama to Texas to Minnesota to New York, and all over the United States. Venture back to opinion pages in the July 2021 Suffield Observer online editions to reread how his ideas resonated with program attendees.

Come out to the Phelps-Hatheway House and Garden on June 11, from 1 p.m., for a book signing event. Given the national popularity of McGill’s movement, Herb Frazier, senior editor of the Charleston City Paper, co-wrote this new book, Sleeping with the Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery, because “Joe has attracted a nationwide following of people who’ve spent nights in slave dwellings with him,” Frazier said. “They and many others now understand the importance of preserving these places where enslaved people lived.” McGill and Frazier collaborated on Sleeping with the Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery to focus on the key sites McGill has visited in his ongoing project. This author event will show how this new book digs deeper into the actual history of each location and celebrates McGill’s own experience and conversations with each community to enhance those original stories.

Joseph McGill’s healing talks on slavery and equality two years ago were well-received, and along with over fifty community members, participants came from New Haven, Willimantic, Belchertown, the Berkshires and Springfield. Also learn how McGill’s dialogues propelled an investigation uncovering how Lewis and Barbara Butlers’ support for their son-in-law, Austin Steward, changed the history of the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York and Canada. Suffield will be an early stop on McGill and Frazier’s national book tour. You can order Sleeping with the Ancestors: How I Followed the Footprints of Slavery in early June and bring it to the program to be signed. The event will be held rain or shine.

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