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Vermont’s earliest known Black sheriff, chief commemorated

October 4, 2021 GMT

VERGENNES, Vt. (AP) — Vermont’s earliest known Black sheriff and police chief is being commemorated with a historical marker.

The marker for Stephen Bates, who served as sheriff and police chief from 1879 until his death in 1907, was unveiled in Vergennes on Sunday at an event attended by at least 100 people, WCAX-TV reported.

“Stephen Bates’ life and service represents immense perseverance overcoming enslavement to become a prominent member of the community in Vermont and dedicating his life to serving the people of Vergennes,” Gov. Phil Scott stated in a proclamation deeming Oct. 3, 2021, Sheriff Stephen Bates Day in Vermont.

Bates was born in 1842, enslaved in Virginia and gained his freedom through serving with the Union soldiers during the Civil War, according to the governor’s proclamation.

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A team of community members and historians have been researching Bates’ life for the last year.

“People started to join us from historical areas,” said Alicia Grangent of the Historical Marker Team. “Conversations about who to reach out to started to happen, and people just started to naturally gravitate towards this process.”

Team members found and talked with some of Bates’ descendants. Larry Schuyler and his brother Nicholas from Worcester, Massachusetts, attended Sunday’s event in Vergennes.

“It’s very difficult not to hide my emotions when this community has come together in honor of my great-grandfather,” said Larry Schuyler. “Especially in today’s divisive society, to have this happen, at a time like this, it’s kind of hard not to get emotional.”