I headed down to Charleston over the holiday break just to get away for a bit. The houses downtown were old and huge and stunning, the former mansions of statesmen and powerful merchants. My girlfriend and I stayed in an inn on a sprawling plot of land on the edge of the city that spent the first century of its existence as a rice plantation; two members of the family that the land belonged signed the document that formally declared South Carolina’s secession. Everything in Charleston today, it seemed, was touched by its particular history with slavery.
While we were there, though, we also just learned just how far and wide the shadow from “Charleston’s particular history with slavery” extends. The bench pictured above is tucked away underneath a tree by some picnic tables, on the edge corner of Sullivan’s Island. You’d hardly know it was a memorial to a world-historical crime. It was placed there by the Toni Morrison Society in 2008.
The plaque on the ground in front of it reads:
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; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did not make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower. There is no small bench by the road. Toni Morrison, 1989
It goes on (emphasis mine):
The Bench by the Road Project was launched by the Toni Morrison Society in honor of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. The first bench is placed here in memory of the enslaved Africans who perished during the Middle Passage and those who arrived on Sullivan’s Island, a major point of entry for Africans who entered the U.S. during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Nearly half of all African Americans have ancestors who passed through Sullivan’s’ Island. July 26, 2008 Toni Morrison Society, Inc.