While attending the ASALH 104th Annual Meeting and Conference in Charleston SC, I decided to do the post-conference African American Heritage Bus Tour. So glad I did! Anyone who knows me would know that I have a deep appreciation for African American History—that is the undistorted view; the view that speaks our narrative truth to power; the view that brings into the present our generational contributions, not just in America but across the diaspora and the world. The tour was sponsored by Dominion Energy and the National Underground Network to Freedom. One place of historical significance on the tour was Sullivan’s Island.
For me the highlight of the Sullivan’s Island stop was sitting on a bench by the road with fellow authors. The “Bench by the Road” is a project initiated in by the Toni Morrison Society The name “Bench by the Road” is taken from a 1989 interview with World Magazine where Morrison speaks of the absence of historical markers designed to remember the lives of enslaved Africans. According to Morrison, her fifth novel, Beloved, served in this role:
“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).
The second notable memorial is the Sullivan’s Island Marker . . .
“A place where…Africans were brought to this country under extreme conditions of human bondage and degradation. Tens of thousands of captives arrived on Sullivan’s Island from the West African shores between 1700 and 1775. Those who remained in the Charleston community and those who passed through this site account for a significant number of the African-Americans now residing in these United States. Only through God’s blessings, a burning desire for justice, and persistent will to succeed against monumental odds, have African-Americans created a place for themselves in the American mosaic. . . .