Mass. historical figure Elizabeth Freeman to be honored at State House


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of the Berkshires’ most notable historical figures, Elizabeth Freeman, will be honored at the State House on Feb. 25.

State Representatives William Pigantelli, Byron Rushing and Russell Holmes are cooperating with the Black and Latin Legislative Caucus to host the event from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the House Chamber.

Elizabeth Freeman, also known as “Mum Bett,” was among the first slaves in Massachusetts to sue for and win her freedom. Freeman was born into slavery in 1742, and during her period of enslavement, continuous physical abuse motivated Freeman to search for and recognize a potential legal solution to her situation. Her case, Brom and Bett v. Ashley, served as a precedent in the State Supreme Court case that brought an end to the practice of slavery in Massachusetts. As a free woman, Freeman worked as a governess, and was later recognized and in demand for her skills as a healer, midwife and nurse.

Freeman was such an innovative character that a local organization named itself after Freeman. The Elizabeth Freeman Center in Williamstown was founded in 1974. In the last 39 years, the center has grown from small groups of dedicated volunteers working out of their cars and homes to become a county-wide presence with an array of services. The center provides leadership and services to address domestic and sexual violence in Berkshire County.

The College, through the Center for Learning in Action, has participated widely with the Elizabeth Freeman Center, and has thus been important in helping to continue the legacy of Freeman.

“We hope the honor will help raise awareness of the work of the Center which bears Mum Bett’s name,” Director of the Center of Learning in Action Paula Consolini said. “We encourage students to volunteer at the Freeman Center

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either through their coursework or in their spare time.”

Barbara Erickson, president and CEO of the Trustees of Reservations, said the organization was grateful that the lawmakers were highlighting Freeman’s important role in state history. The Trustees of Reservations help to maintain the Ashley House, which is linked to Freeman’s story.

The event will be a commemoration of all of the accomplishments made by Freeman. It will include keynote speaker Chief Justice Roderick Ireland as well as a re-enactment of Freeman’s inspirational story by the actress and professional storyteller Tammy Denease.

“In the Berkshires, Mum Bett is a well-known figure, and Black History Month presented me an exciting opportunity to share the inspiring story of such a strong female with my colleagues and the public in Boston, where her story is unfortunately not as prominent,” Pignatelli said.

“It is an honor to assist in recognizing such an unknown, prominent figure in both African-American history and women’s history,” Holmes said. “Mum Bett is an important historical figure whom all should know.”

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