Less Traveled 2010

Tracy Pou



A bench by the road

Posted 4/8/2010 4:53:00 PM

Sullivan’s Island, a quiet beach town north of the Charleston Harbor, is probably best known for Fort Moultrie. Thousands of visitors flock to the historic monument each year to tour the site of one of the most decisive battles of the American Revolution. While Fort Moultrie is a well- known, frequently visited national landmark, there is a less-obvious treasure, 6-feet long and 26-inches deep, located on the grounds of the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center.

The black steel bench that overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway is much more than a practical retreat for tired visitors. The structure is the first “Bench by the Road” to be placed by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison in memory of the thousands of slaves who were brought through Sullivan’s Island – the entry point for nearly half of all captive Africans shipped to North America.

The Toni Morrison Society dedicated the inaugural bench on Sullivan’s Island in 2008. The concept was based on remarks Morrison made during a 1989 interview with World Magazine, where she referenced the lack of historical markers that memorialize enslaved Africans.

During my first visit to the bench, a few minutes passed before I reconciled the image I had envisioned with the one that existed. I was surprised by the bench’s simplicity. However, as I sat in quiet reflection of what it represented, I quickly realized that the understated design provides the necessary space for solemnity and reverence for those who made the journey through the island on their way to lifelong bondage.

Visitors interested in learning more about Sullivan’s Island and the Transatlantic Slave Trade should visit African Passages, a museum exhibit at the Fort Moultrie Visitor Center, 1214 Middle St., Sullivan’s Island. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for winter holidays.

For more information about the Bench by the Road project, see www.tonimorrisonsociety.org.