July 26, 2008, Sullivan’s Island South Carolina
The first bench placed by the Toni Morrison Society honors the memory of both the enslaved Africans who perished during the Middle Passage as well as those who arrived on Sullivan’s Island, a major point of entry for Africans who entered the United States during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
April 23, 2009, Oberlin, Ohio
Located ten miles from Lake Erie, Oberlin was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Many homes and churches in the city provided rest and renewal for enslaved men, women, and families who escaped slavery in the South enroute to Canada. Oberlin was a place with a community that demonstrated an active resistance to slavery, and one that provided equal education for Blacks and women in the public schools and at Oberlin College.
October 3, 2009, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
This Bench was placed to commemorate the site of the headquarters and the location of the largest Freedom School in Mississippi. Established during Freedom Summer in 1964, Freedom Schools educated approximately 3000 students on voting rights and voter registration practices, as well as African American history.
November 6, 2010, the 20th Arrondissement in Paris, France
This Bench was placed in memory of a Black French Military Officer, Louis Delgres. Delgres-- an insurgent and revolutionary freedom fighter—was remembered for his stalwart determination to prevent the re-enslavement and dehumanization of Guadeloupians by Napoleon Bonaparte’s military in 1802. During a pitched battle near the Guadeloupian city of Basse-Terre, Delgrès and several hundred former slaves halted the advance of French soldiers by detonating gunpowder that had been strategically placed around a stronghold on the slopes of the volcano at Matouba where they had taken refuge. The huge explosion that killed the revolutionaries as well as the enemy soldiers, proved their professed determination to “live in freedom or die.”
May 21, 2011, Concord, Massachusetts
The fifth bench in the Bench By The Road program was placed at the restored home of Caesar Robbins. Caesar Robbins was a Black landowner and dedicated Abolitionist in Concord, Massachusetts, who fought for freedom and used his home as a site on the Underground Railroad and for Anti-Slavery meetings in Massachusetts. Following the example of Caesar Robbins, the Robbins family and their descendants lived in the house for more than one hundred years and continued to make it a safe haven for abolitionists and Africans who were escaping from slavery in the South.
September 21, 2011, Washington, D.C.
The Toni Morrison Society placed their sixth bench on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After protests and demonstrations led by a World War II African-American veteran’s group in October of 1946, as well as garnering support from actress Ingrid Bergman and an interracial group of protesters, The Board of Trustees of George Washington University voted to end segregation at the theater in 1947, making Lisner the first integrated theater in Washington, DC.
May 27, 2012, Atlanta, Georgia
The seventh bench placed by the Toni Morrison Society commemorates the First Congregational Church which served as a site of education for Blacks and inclusive worship in Atlanta for 145 years. First Church, one of the oldest congregations in Atlanta, has been the church home of many educational and political leaders in the South, including John Wesley Dobbs, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, and Anna Cooper.
April 16, 2013, Mitchelville, South Carolina
This bench was placed to commemorate the founding of Mitchelville, South Carolina. Mitchelville, although named after Ormsby Macknight Mitchel, a commanding Union General at Fort Walker who had led the battle of Port Royal Sound in 1861, was already a place where enslaved African-Americans had built social and cultural institutions in the face of adversity. By 1862, nearly a year before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and even several more years before the passing of Radical Reconstruction legislation including the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, Mitchelville was a precedent setter, seeing its nearly 1500 residents elect representatives, pass laws, and become the first town to require public schooling in the state of South Carolina.
May 22, 2013, Walden Woods, Lincoln, Massachusetts
The Toni Morrison society placed it's ninth bench in memory of Brister Freeman. Freeman, who had been enslaved for 25 years but freed upon fighting in the American Revolutionary War, became a land-owner and leading citizen in Concord, Massachusetts. When slaves were freed in Concord and exiled to Walden Woods with no food, no work, nor income, Freeman helped cultivate land in order to grow fruits and vegetables on the hard ground of Walden Woods. Freeman was successful in cultivating an apple orchard which helped the local African-American community survive. Years later, in the pages of Walden, and in the chapter called “Former Inhabitants; and Winter Visitors,” Henry David Thoreau, remembered Brister Freeman and the African-Americans of Walden Woods.
June 26, 2013, Fort-de-France, Martinique
This bench was placed in honor of the 100th birthday of Aimé Césaire, son of Martinique and world renowned poet, playwright, author, teacher, anti-colonialist, and political leader. In 1935, Césaire was admitted to L’Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and was one of the principal architects of the Négritude Movement which emphasized affirmation of African identity and the return to a study and appreciation of African primary and secondary sources. Césaire‘s most famous poem, Cahier D’un Retour au Pays Natal, was published in 1939. From 1945 to 2001, Césaire served as Mayor of Fort- de-France and Deputy to the French National Assembly in Martinique. In 2011, a plaque bearing his name was placed in the Panthéon of Paris. Aimé Césaire was a true champion of people of the Antilles, Africa, and the entire African diaspora. His words and his voice left a profound impression on all people, and his life serves as an inspiration to artists and activists around the world.
April 24, 2014, Collingdale, Pennsylvania
This bench was placed in honor of Eden Cemetery, founded in 1902 in Collingdale, PA, as a place to accommodate the thousands of remains from Philadelphia’s foremost African-American public, private, and parochial burial grounds, many of which were closed when public works projects disrupted their sites. John C. Asbury, a prominent African-American attorney and one of Eden’s founders, had to fight in court to get an injunction removed that would have halted Eden’s construction. Through perseverance, determination, and a mission to create a bucolic resting place to venerate African-American ancestors, Asbury and others-- Jerome Bacon, Charles W. Jones, Martin J. Lehmann and Daniel C. Parvis-- were successful in accomplishing that goal. Among those buried at Eden whose remains date from the early 19th century to the present day, are: William Still, Marian Anderson, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Octavius Catto, Ida B. Robinson, and the Reverend Charles Albert Tindley.
April 10th, 2015, Jackson, Mississippi
This bench was placed in recognition of the artistic and academic legacy of Margaret Walker on the occasion of her centennial year. A writer and teacher, Walker played an essential role during the Black Arts Movement. Her book of poetry, For My People (1942), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and her novel Jubilee (1966), based on her grandmother’s memories and written to offset racist and/or inaccurate portrayals of African-American characters perpetuated throughout academic and popular culture with films such as The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, helped initiate a genre of neo-slave narratives.. In 1968, Margaret Walker founded the Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People, which today is known as the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University.
April 17th 2015, Middletown, Delaware
In a first for the Society, two Benches were placed at the same site in Middletown, Delaware to honor Samuel D. Burris, an African-American Underground Railroad Conductor and Abolitionist who helped countless individuals and families escape to the North as they traveled through Delaware, and also to honor Emeline and Samuel Hawkins and their six children, whom Burris helped aid on their way to freedom in Pennsylvania.. Burris, who would later be arrested in 1847 for attempting to help an enslaved woman escape from her plantation in Dover, Delaware, was brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be sold into a life of bondage. However, in a plan conceived by fellow abolitionists James McKimm, Thomas Garrett, John Hunn, and William Still, Burris was fictitiously “purchased” by Isaac S. Flint and granted his freedom.
May 18th, 2015, Nyack, New York
This bench was placed in honor of Cynthia Hedsra, a former slave who eventually became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Hesdra was also a successful entrepreneur, landowner, and business woman who owned properties and laundry establishments in both New York City and in Nyack, New York.
September 18th, 2015, Lincoln University, Pennsylvania
This bench commemorates the Hosanna AUMP Church, which, built in 1843, is located on the grounds that was to become Lincoln University. Hosanna was an active stop on the Underground Railroad as well as an important site for abolitionist meetings, and it served as an anchor for the community of Hinsonville, an African-American farming community that thrived in Southern Pennsylvania during the late 19th century.
February 6, 2016, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
This bench was placed to commemorate the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott as well as the resolute efforts of Baton Rouge’s African-American community, whose protests led to desegregating the city’s buses. A young Martin Luther King Jr. would meet protest leader Reverend TJ Jemison, as he learned from him strategies that would aid The Montgomery Improvement Association’s efforts to desegregate Montgomery’s buses only a few short years later.
February 28, 2016, Atlanta, Georgia
This bench was placed in recognition of The Inquirers Club, formed in February 1909 by twelve erudite and progressive African American Atlanta women: Mary Anderson, Annie Johnson Archer, Katherine Bullock, Lizzie Burch, Sadie Harvey Carey, Belle Jackson Cunningham, Claudia White Harreld, Lugenia Burns Hope, Marietta Huber, Harriet McNair Towns, Mary James Wardlaw, and Ida B. Wynn. Many of its first members were wives of faculty at Atlanta University and Morehouse and Spelman Colleges. The Club’s original focus on literary topics expanded through the years to include current events, health, education, the arts, and politics. From its early years, the Club has been multigenerational, including mothers, daughters, granddaughters, and in-laws. As the oldest known, continuously meeting African American women’s literary circle in the United States, the Inquirers Club stands as a symbol of enduring friendships, enlightenment, and community uplift.
April 24th, 2016, Cleveland, Ohio
This Bench was placed in memory of Cleveland’s African-American and White abolitionist communities, as well as to those runaway formerly enslaved individuals who made the journey north on the Underground Railroad. Horace Ford and Samuel Cozad, two successful businessmen and property owners in Doan’s Corners, provided help, as did the African-American abolitionist and ship captain John Malvin, who frequently traversed this route along Euclid Avenue.
July 24th, 2016, Harlem, New York City
This Bench was placed at the Schomburg Library in recognition of both Arturo Schomburg and the institution’s commitment to preserving, archiving, and telling the stories of the African-American past for over 100 years. Throughout the 20th century, and continuing up to the present day, the Schomburg has maintained its legacy as a place where a commitment to African-American education, arts, community activism, and social justice has prevailed.