The 18th-century slave called Fortune was laid to rest on Thursday, 215 years after he died, at a memorial service in Waterbury attended by hundreds of mourners, more than a dozen clergy and a gospel choir.
Fortune, who was enslaved by a Waterbury doctor, was never buried after his 1798 death because his owner wanted to use Fortune’s bones to teach anatomy. In the 20th century, Fortune’s skeleton was used as an exhibit at the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury.
A project started in 1996 to discover the history of the museum’s skeleton culminated in Thursday’s burial, which was as dignified as demanded by the occasion, both a man’s funeral and a touchstone in the history of the city’s African American community.
Fortune’s bones lay in state for five hours at the state Capitol in Hartford on Thursday morning, then were taken to St. John’s Episcopal Church on the Green, the Waterbury parish in which Fortune was baptized in 1797…
Steven R. Mullins, president of the Southern Union of Black Episcopalians, said, “Mr. Fortune served as a slave all the years of his earthly life. What happened to Mr. Fortune should not happen to any human being in the world. … This is our opportunity today … to make up for that…”
Mullins savored the irony that Fortune’s remains are buried at Riverside Cemetery, in the same section where many members of Waterbury’s 18th century aristocracy are buried. “Talk about contrasts,” he said. “He is now good enough to rest in the same dirt as they’re in.”
Fools who prate about a post-racial America include those neo-Confederates who would still be upset over the bones of a Black man buried in their cemetery. Sad, but true.