Mayor John Tecklenburg stands with members of the Gullah Society at a press conference Tuesday that detailed the Anson Burial Memorial design and thanked the many local organizations that helped with the project | Photo by Chelsea Grinstead

Near the corner of George and Anson streets will soon stand the Anson Burial Memorial to commemorate the 36 bodies of Africans, African Americans and Native Americans disinterred during the 2013 renovation of the Charleston Gaillard Center. The timeline for completion of the memorial, which has generated $800,000 in donations so far, is undetermined due to supply chain issues, officials said.

“I think this memorial is going to allow the power of the stories of our ancestors to come through,” said Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg at a press conference held Tuesday to announce plans to build a bronze memorial statue to honor those 36 individuals. 

The idea for the Anson Street African Burial Ground Project first took shape in 2013 after the initial discovery of the unmarked gravesite. In 2017, the late Dr. Ade Ofunniyin, former College of Charleston adjunct anthropology professor and the founder of the Gullah Society, spearheaded efforts to protect and commemorate the site, and the project expanded to include scientific research. 

Ofunniyin and Joanna Gilmore, another College of Charleston adjunct anthropology professor, received a grant in 2019 from the National Geographic Society to conduct DNA research on the remains and uncover ancestral connections. In partnership with Dr. Raquel Fleskes and Dr. Theodore Schurr of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, they found, through their analysis, that the bodies were interred between 1760 and 1790, and the remains revealed indigenous, African and Lowcountry descent. 

Sculptor Stephen L. Hayes Jr. of North Carolina and representatives from the Gullah Society, Wells Fargo, Denny’s and Spoleto Festival USA joined the mayor during the announcement of the project, which came to fruition thanks to collective efforts over the past two years. 

Hayes said he will cast 36 bronze hands with water flowing out of them above a basin containing soil from this and other unmarked African burial sites on the Charleston peninsula. 

The memorial project is seeking 36 people in the Charleston area to represent the ancestors uncovered at the site by taking molds of their hands for the sculpture. 

“Where there’s water, there’s life,” Hayes said, “and we think about the life that these people lived, so some of the hands will also be holding objects that these people were buried with.”

Items found among the remains include beads, ceramics and coins. 

Otis Rolley, Wells Fargo Foundation head of philanthropy based in Baltimore, Maryland, presented the memorial with a $300,000 donation during the Tuesday press conference. The City of Charleston donated $250,000 to the project. The Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, the Spaulding Paolozzi Foundation, Denny’s and Wolverine Worldwide Foundation also made donations.

To learn more about the project, make a donation or volunteer to have your hands cast, go to asabgproject.com.


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