Bench By The Road Project

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A Bench by the Road

Photo: Hilary Solan

The Bench by the Road Project is a memorial history and community outreach initiative of the Toni Morrison Society. The Project was launched on February 18, 2006, on the occasion of Toni Morrison's 75th Birthday. The name "Bench by the Road" is taken from Morrison's remarks in a 1989 interview with World Magazine where she spoke of the absences of historical markers that help remember the lives of Africans who were enslaved and of how her fifth novel, Beloved, served this symbolic 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).

Because the Toni Morrison Society wanted to be a place where scholars and readers could, through their engagement with Morrison's novels, remember not only slavery but also many of the forgotten moments in African American history, the Society also chose when it was founded in 1993 "a bench by the road," as its organization motto. The newly launched Bench by the Road Project extends the Society's mission. While there have been several notable African American museums built in American cities since 1989, the goal of the Bench By the Road Project is to create an outdoor museum that will mark important locations in African American history both in the United States and abroad.

Among the places being considered are those that have special significance in Morrison's novels--5th Avenue in New York City where the Silent Parade, protesting the East St. Louis Riots, was held in 1917; the site of Emmett Till's death in Mississippi; train stations in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, where thousands began their journeys in the Great Migration; an all-Black town in Oklahoma; Sullivan's Island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina; University Hall in Providence, Rhode Island; the home of Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi and other unmarked sites that have historical meaning for African Americans.

Over the next five years, the Society plans to mark twenty of these sites by placing a specially crafted bench, each with an inscription detailing its significance. Corporations, community organizations, families, and individuals will be invited join the Society in this effort by sponsoring a bench at appropriate sites. Our hope is that the Bench by the Road Project will serve not only to acknowledge Toni Morrison's attention to these historic sites and their meanings in her novels but also to mark their locations, inspire dialogue, and engage them as part of our public memory.

Bench Description:

The Bench is a black steel memorial bench that measures 26 inches deep and either 72 (6ft) or 48 (4ft) inches long. The seat is made from ribbed steel, and the arms are 12 gauge 1-1/2" galvanized steel tubing. The bench can be mounted or moveable. The bench has a plastisol coated seat and powder coated frame in order to provide an excellent weather resistant finished. The bench has a bronze 6x9 inch naming plate mounted in the center of the back of the Bench. The plate will have the name of the site, the name of the sponsoring organization, and the date of the placement on the front of the plate. The Bench also comes with a bronze description plaque of approximately 12X18 inches. This plaque will be mounted in a cement foundation on the ground next to the bench and will include a general description of the Project and a more specific statement of not more than 35 words describing the Bench's significance.

Costs

4ft Steel Bench in black includes the bronze naming and descriptions plaques, shipping, and delivery. The sponsoring organization should specify mounted or un-mounted design. Mounting of the bench and the placement of both description plaques is the responsibility of the sponsoring organization. 4ft Bench seats two. Total cost is $3500.

6ft Steel Bench in black includes the bronze naming and description plaques, shipping, and delivery. The sponsoring organization can specify mounted or un-mounted design. Mounting of the bench and the placement of the naming and description plaques is the responsibility of the sponsoring organization. 6ft bench seats four. Total cost $5,000.

Current Bench Placements

  • Sullivan's Island, South Carolina - July 26, 2008
  • Oberlin, Ohio - April 23, 2009
  • Hattiesburg, Mississippi - October 3, 2009
  • Paris, France - November 6, 2010
  • Concord, Massachusetts - May 21, 2011
  • George Washington University - September 23, 2011

Upcoming Placements:

  • First Congregational Church, UCC, Atlanta, Georgia - May 27, 2012
  • Lincoln, Massachusetts - September 2012
  • Mitchelville, South Carolina - October 2012
  • Fort-de-France, Martinique - June 2013

Submit Your Bench by the Road Application to:

Bench by the Road Project
Toni Morrison Society
P.O. Box 54346
Atlanta, Georgia 30308
Download Bench Application (PDF)

For More Information:

By Phone: Carolyn Denard 404-408-7964
By E-mail: tonimorrisonsociety@gmail.com

A Bench by the Road