Bench in Honor of Cynthia Hedsra, Underground Railroad Conductor in Nyack, New York and Successful Business Entrepreneur

Reprint of Article posted on by Bill Batson

On May 18th, Toni Morrison will attend the dedication of a monument in Nyack’s Memorial Park to the painful period of history when African slavery was a global industry. Morrison, a Nobel Prize winning author and Grand View-on-Hudson resident will join civic leaders, residents and Nyack Public students for a ceremony that begins at the Nyack Center at 2:30p (doors open at 2:00p). Following a procession through the streets of the village, the bench will be unveiled. Nyack will join 14 other cities around the world where the Toni Morrison Society’s Bench by the Road project has erected a public commemoration to acknowledge the African diaspora.

The project to reinterpret the ordinary park bench as a place to ponder public history began with a turn of phrase. In response to an interviewer’s question in 1989 about the inspiration of her novel Beloved, Morrison said:

“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).

Bench by the Road, Sullivan Island

Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

The compelling comment became a call to action for the Toni Morrison Society. In 2006, the Bench by the Road Project was established and the metaphor was made real. Nyack will be the 14th bench location around the globe.

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