North Carolina sculptor Stephen Hayes will come to Charleston this week to begin the process to cast bronze hands for the Anson African Burial Memorial fountain as a tribute to 36 people interred in the 1700s in a burial plot at today’s Charleston Gaillard Center.
The Anson Street Memorial Committee also will give an update on the site plan for the fountain during a Feb. 15 meeting of Charleston City Council. So far, $800,000 has been raised to create and maintain the fountain that will look like a giant bird bath.
The memorial will sit near George and Anson streets where the remains of 36 Africans, Americans of African descent and a Native American were uncovered during the 2013 renovation of the Gaillard Center.
Thirty-six pairs of hands cast in bronze will rim a concrete bowl-shaped depression in the ground near the site where the remains were found. Water will spray from each set of hands. The Anson Street African Burial Project is selecting hand models for the fountain. It could take six months to a year to create the castings.
Joanna Martin-Carrington, who said she will be one of the hand models, is proud to be selected because the memorial is a dream she shared with the late Dr. Ade Ofunniyin, founder of the Gullah Society. He galvanized attention on the Anson Street burial site and other unmarked graves in the city. In 2019, the Anson Street remains were reinterred at the site.
“We didn’t know how this would end up,” she said. “We wanted to have something put there to memorialize what happened there. We want our history to be known. That used to be a Black community.” Martin-Carrington was chairman of the Gullah Society’s board of directors before the nonprofit group was dissolved in 2021 after Ofunniyin’s death.
Nigel Redden, former general director of Spoleto Festival USA, said the $800,000 will go toward creating the fountain and establishing a fund to maintain it.
“If you don’t do it right, it [will not] last,” he said. “We want this to last for many, many, many years to come.”
The concept for the fountain, he said, came after a series of meetings with people in the community. The people who were interred there “were forgotten in their own time, and they should not be forgotten again.”
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