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Monument to Black Americans Is Dedicated Where Slaves Arrived

The South: Unveiling ends 10 years of delay, particularly over Maya Angelou's inscription.

July 28, 2002|From Associated Press

SAVANNAH, Ga. — On the cobblestone riverfront where the first slaves arrived in Georgia, the city unveiled a bronze and granite monument to black Americans on Saturday, ending a decade of delays and debate.

The monument, depicting a black family embracing with broken chains at its feet, is the first to honor blacks in a city that has erected statues of its white founders and Civil War heroes for nearly two centuries.

"I'm glad we got it up. There were those who really wanted us to doubt it," said Abigail Jordan, a retired teacher who spent 10 years and $100,000 of her savings to make the monument a reality.

Jordan fought with city officials over the monument's inscription, a quotation by author Maya Angelou describing slaves "in the holds of the slave ships in each others' excrement and urine."

Mayor Floyd Adams worried that the quote was too graphic for a public monument, particularly on the riverfront where throngs of tourists stroll.

But city officials approved the quotation in May when Angelou agreed to add a few uplifting words to end the quote.

Engraved in bold letters on the monument's granite base is now the sentence: "Today, we are standing up together, with faith and even some joy."

Among those who applauded the wording was Johnnie Simpson of Texas City, Texas, who drove to Savannah with her friend and granddaughter for the unveiling.

"We don't see many monuments and statues dedicated to us," said Simpson, a retired telephone company worker who is black. "It feels like it's a big deal to me. How many times do you get this close to see something like this?"

Dow Harris of Savannah disagreed. Harris, who is white, showed up at the dedication Saturday carrying a sign that read, "Wipe the excrement off of Savannah's monuments."

"This is inappropriate language to put on a public monument," said Harris.

Jordan shunned the spotlight Saturday to be with 300 people who sat through dedication speeches. She said organizers still need to raise more than half the $500,000 to pay for the monument.

Volunteers carried plastic buckets with "help" scrawled on the sides in black marker, stopping for donations at the dedication.

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