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Toni Morrison Dedicates the First Bench by the Road

Saturday, July 26, 2008, in Charleston, South Carolina, Toni Morrison dedicated the the first Bench by the Road. The Bench by the Road Project is a community outreach initiative of the Toni Morrison Society. It originates in Morrison’s remarks about Beloved in a 1989 interview: “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300‐foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to” (The World, 1989).

‘Bench by the Road’ Tribute to Slaves
By Dottie Ashley (Contact)
The Post and Courier
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Carrying opened yellow umbrellas, a large crowd filled the dock Saturday at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, swaying to the rhythm of the Adande Drummers.

On this humid day, more than 300 years after the first boat carrying newly enslaved Africans crossed the Atlantic Ocean and delivered its human cargo barely a mile away, the mood was upbeat but also bittersweet.

When strains of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” burst from the crowd, the melody set the stage for writer Toni Morrison, 77, the first black to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, to come forth and toss a wreath made of yellow daisies into the cove’s waters.

This was the Maafa ceremony in remembrance of those 60 million souls torn from their homeland and their loved ones, and brought into a life of pain and misery, and it was also for those who never made it.

As the wreath floated from sight, a black steel bench, a more tangible symbol of remembrance, was set in cement overlooking the cove in a ceremony called “The Bench by the Road.”

Placed and maintained by the National Park Service, the bench provides a place to sit and recall the travails of ancestors in a spot where 40 percent of all those who survived the Middle Passage set foot on the North American continent for the first time.

Both ceremonies were outreach programs of the Fifth Biennial Conference of the Toni Morrison Society, an international organization hosted by the College of Charleston for four days last week.

Read more and see video clips here.

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