Black History Month: West Hartford middle school named after a slave

West Hartford middle school named after a slave
Published: Feb. 17, 2023 at 5:24 PM EST
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WEST HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - There is a push to re-tell the story of a slave who was brought to Connecticut, even though he has a school in West Hartford that bears his name.

It’s not uncommon that most students and maybe even some faculty don’t know much about the person their school is named after.

“He was a slave a bought his freedom,” said Brandon Amaro, Bristow 8th grader.

That is not the case at Bristow Middle School.

Eighth graders here took an extended course this school year to learn all about Bristow and his rich history.

“I knew he was a slave that was brought to America and Connecticut,” said Alex Martincasas.

“He worked his way to freedom. He also participated in the French and Indian War,” said Kenneth Sohn, 8th grader.

It was 2005 when the board approved the name change.

The problem is now, some 18 years later, not enough people outside of the school actually know who Bristow is or his incredible life story.

This group is working to change that.

“I think Bristow Middle School represents the legacy, resiliency and the important history of African Americans here in West Hartford,” said Dr. Rozena Haskens, WHPS Director of Equity Advancement.

There is an exhibit in a high-traffic area detailing Bristow’s life.

It’s nearly 20 years old and it includes his gravestone. It only tells part of his story.

“He was born a free man. We also know he bought his freedom from his enslaver,” said Dr. Tracey Wilson, West Hartford Town Historian.

The goal now is to expand the exhibit in size and scope.

“It’s time for it to be updated. Some of the language is not really used anymore and we found new information about Bristow,” Wilson said.

Town historians and school administrators, along with students, say the main goal is to keep telling Bristow’s story.

“He lived a hard, resilient, remarkable life and that’s why his story should be told,” said Haskens.

“The story has to be continued to be retold so people can remember it,” Wilson said.

A former slave ahead of his time making his unique story, fundamental to the fight for freedom and worth telling.