Timberlane Middle School became the first in the state to partake in a project that culminated on Thursday with the placement of a permanent brass stone in Hopewell Boro to honor the life of an enslaved individual.
Through the Witness Stones Project, eighth grade students have learned about the life of Friday Truehart, a thirteen-year-old boy who came to Hopewell Valley as the slave of Rev. Oliver Hart. Truehart’s life was documented in the book If These Stones Could Talk by his descendant Beverly Mills and fellow historian Elaine Buck.
Both authors were present at the ceremony on Thursday at the Hopewell Old School Baptist Meeting House, where about 150 people gathered to commemorate the life of Truehart. Donnetta Bishop-Johnson, executive director of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, reflected in her remarks about the life that Truehart and his mother Dinah lived.
“What was it like for Dinah to raise him, knowing that they could be ripped away from one another at any moment at the whim of their enslaver?” asked Bishop-Johnson. “Despite these incredible odds, the African American communities of the Sourlands thrived for more than a hundred years after emancipation.”
The middle school choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was introduced as the Black national anthem, and students displayed artwork reflecting on what they had learned. In a written reflection shared at the event, student Maren Elea Johnson shared her feelings upon realizing that Truehart used to walk the streets of her neighborhood.
“This made me think of all the times Friday must have passed my house going to work for his owner,” Johnson wrote. “Unfortunately, I think the way Black people of color were viewed back then still lingers in today’s society. I am hopeful that in a few years we can leave the judgment of others behind us and flourish.”
Elected officials praised the school for undertaking the work that not only ensures that Truehart’s story is remembered but helps students better understand the history of their hometown. Several shared accounts of growing up in the region and not having learned this history until very recently.
MercerMe thanks Hopewell Township Mayor Courtney Peters-Manning for sharing her photos of the event!
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