Toni Morrison-inspired Bench of Memory at Slavery's Gateway





SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, S.C. — Toni Morrison has said that her acclaimed novel “Beloved,” which features the ghost of a baby killed by her enslaved black mother, came out of the need for a literature to commemorate slaves and their history. “There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath or wall, or park or skyscraper lobby,” Ms. Morrison said in a 1989 magazine interview. “There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road.”

This weekend, on Sullivan’s Island, off the South Carolina coast, Ms. Morrison, the Nobel laureate, and some 300 people held a memorial ceremony to dedicate her long-awaited “bench by the road.” The crowd included members of the Toni Morrison Society, National Park Service rangers, Ms. Morrison’s friends and family, and people from Charleston and nearby areas. They gathered Saturday afternoon under a blazing sun, accompanied by the rhythms of African drums, for a service that included the pouring of libations and a daisy wreath cast into the water to remember their ancestors.

“It’s never too late to honor the dead,” said Ms. Morrison, 77, the author of eight novels, as she sat down on the 6-foot-long, 26-inch-deep black steel bench facing the Intracoastal Waterway. “It’s never too late to applaud the living who do them honor,” she said. “This is extremely moving to me.”

Sullivan’s Island, home to Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, was a point of entry into North America for about 40 percent of the millions of Africans who were enslaved in this country. Carlin Timmons, a park ranger, said that all the estimates were rough, but that historians believe 12 million to 15 million Africans came to the Americas and the Caribbean. Of those 4 to 10 percent were brought to North America.


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