October 27—December 2, 2001


Bradley McCallum, Jacqueline Tarry

Our interest lies in the time of the Underground Railroad and the notion of silence as a defiant civic act supporting not only the personal survival of African Americans, but also the abolitionist movement. Today we often associate silence with denial or secrecy, especially in our collective silence about persistent racial inequalities. This “work-in-progress” is the first installation of a multi-site, national humanities-based public art project. We will show that history carries important lessons about the true strength and contemplative power of silence as a decisive civic act.

This installation focuses on the historic linkages between two New Haven churches – Center Church and Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church. Our installation acknowledges and establishes a presence for the African-American church members who split from Center Church to establish the “African Church”, in part because they were prevented from sitting in the ground floor pews. During the course of this installation we will be interviewing individuals who are aware of their ancestor’s participation in antebellum America and the Underground Railroad. Our hope is to speak with descendants of slaves, fugitive slaves, safehouse operators, black yankees and abolitionists, as well as colonialists, slave owners and bounty hungers. The interviews will grow the body of oral history about the ancestors’ lived experiences of silent acts of injustice and racism.

Silence touched off controversy when members of Center Church, unaware of the installation’s significance, removed the works. Detailed here in The New York Times.