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Say Their Names

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

Anyone who knows and loves the soundtrack from the musical Hamilton knows how haunting the final verse of the final song is, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” In preparation for our event on May 22 with First Church, ”Say Their Names: Honoring the Lives of the Enslaved of Longmeadow, MA,” I keep hearing the echoes of that idea in my head. Who tells your story when you have no voice and no power? As I sit down to write the narratives and bring together all of the research and thinking and searching we have done over the past few years to bring forward these hidden voices I feel compelled to get it right.

For me, this journey began with the story of a girl named Susannah (Susan) Freedom, who died in 1803. That story is linked below. Yesterday, while driving my daughter to an appointment in Springfield, I noticed that the Springfield Cemetery, where Susan Freedom is buried, was right in front of me. I had never seen her gravesite in person. I had an idea of where she might be so, after I dropped my daughter off, I went back, driving through the open gate on Pine Street. And there she was - along the fence line of fairly busy Springfield street. I was struck by how her headstone was set off on its own among neat rows of mostly 18th-century headstones like hers. While the Hitchcocks and the Peases and the Smiths and the Blisses all stood together as family units, there was only one Freedom. So she stood apart.

Image courtesy of Betsy McKee

Susannah Freedom was born just as the practice of slavery in Massachusetts had ended. She almost definitely had been the child of people who had lived as slaves, but chosen their own last name when freedom came. Stopping by to see this memorial to a life lived was the last bit of inspiration I needed to finish up the work for this weekend’s event. We hope you will join us at 12 pm at the First Church of Christ at 793 Longmeadow Street to hear their stories.

Contributed by Melissa M. Cybulski, Longmeadow Historical Society Board Member

Originally published May 19, 2022

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