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Graham has hand in historic ‘bench by the road’

Maryemma Graham, professor of English and a past president of the Toni Morrison Society now on the board of directors, participated in the society’s July annual meeting that placed a memorial “Bench by the Road” on Sullivan’s Island, S.C.

Nobel laureate author Toni Morrison and a descendant of one of the first Africans who landed in the new world, were among more than 300 people who attended. The New York Times headlined the dedication: “Bench of Memory at Slavery’s Gateway,”

The public bench is the first memorial of its kind to honor Africans who entered North America as captives of the slave trade. A plaque placed with the bench notes “nearly half of all African-Americans have ancestors who passed through Sullivan’s Island.”

The Morrison society launched The Bench by the Road Project in 2006, while Graham was president, to honor Morrison’s 75th birthday. The project evolved from Morrison’s statement in World magazine that her book “Beloved,” grew out of an absence in literature and in general of a site to commemorate slaves and their 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 roadÉ.”

In 2006, a special biography bench was designed and delivered to Morrison by Van Go Mobil Arts in Lawrence. Over the next five years, the Morrison society plans to place benches in 10 sites significant in African-American history. The society hopes the project will acknowledge Morrison’s attention to the sites and inspire dialogue.

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