Even today, the turbulent history of slavery is often watered down, ignored, or dismissed. Toni Morrison, Nobel-prize winning author of Beloved, will not be silenced. Her novel on the effects of our national sin is as eye-opening as it is chilling.
In 1989, she called out this denial of our history, saying,
“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.”
On Sullivan’s Island, just north of Charleston, South Carolina, many are unaware that captured Africans were quarantined there upon their arrival. Determined to prevent infectious diseases from spreading through the colonies, both free and
enslaved passengers were placed in pest houses. If healthy enough, Africans were hauled across the Cooper River to be sold on the blocks.
Historians believe slave ships brought 200,000 to 360,000 men, women and children into Charleston’s harbor. That’s forty percent of all slaves brought to North America between 1619 and 1808. For today’s African Americans, there’s a good chance some ancestor set foot on Sullivan’s Island.
The Toni Morrison Society has a mission to hallow our hidden history. In 2008, a simple bench was placed at Fort Moultrie, part of the National Park Service. It faces the intercoastal waterway, making it a peaceful place to “think about or not think about” all the souls that passed this way.
It is not a 300-foot tower, but something infinitely more poignant. As we say of the Holocaust, “Let us never forget.”