“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,” Toni Morrison once said, explaining why she wrote Beloved, in an observation that inspired the Bench by the Road Project, which creates small memorials to African-American history. “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.”
Decades after Morrison’s call and nine years after the founding of the Bench by the Road Project, a large museum commemorating the horrible realities of slavery has finally been built. Its origin story is fascinating and bizarre.