5 Notable women of the past and present (special series part 6): Historic revelation
The celebrated African-American Monument in Savannah, Georgia,
established under the leadership of Dr. Abigail Jordan. (photo by the
African-American Monument Association.
In 1991, Dr. Abigail Jordan was strolling down River Street when it struck her that out of Savannah’s then forty-three monuments, not one acknowledged the contributions of African Americans to the city. The closest thing to such an acknowledgement was the cobblestone street over which she and others were walking:
“History has it that these stones were laid by the hands of slaves who selected and adjusted the odd shaped rocks that would accommodate the pounding of human and animal feet,” she later stated. “In many instances, blood and flesh from the hands and fingers of the slaves were left in the mortar that still holds the stony material together today.”
Her meditations upon this revelation, and an inability to point out, for visitors to Savannah, a monument denoting the African-American presence, created in Jordan a determination that became the central driving force of her life.
The Consortium of Doctors
In the same year that she began her crusade to place on River Street a monument dedicated to Savannah’s African-American legacy , Jordan also founded the Consortium of Doctors, a group of women doctorates dedicated to helping remove barriers to education and employment among black youth. At its first induction ceremony on Saturday, July 27, 1991, the Consortium of Doctors welcomed approximately fifty-four members. Eleven years later to the date, also on a Saturday, July 27, 2002, Jordan’s dream to see the monument unveiled on River Street became a reality. Media representatives from around the world either attended the event in person or scheduled phone interviews with Jordan to report the historic event.
Three years following the monument’s unveiling, city officials, state representatives, and out-of-state dignitaries gathered again at the site of the monument on River Street and loudly cheered as Mayor Otis S. Johnson declared July 30, 2005, as Dr. Abigail Jordan Day. That the monument was not christened with her name did not matter to her. What did matter was that it was there, standing as bronze and eternal as any other monument in the city for the whole world to see.
Clearly, Abigail Jordan’s decade-long battle, begun in one century and concluded in the next to provide Savannah with what truly should be the first of at least half a dozen monuments dedicated to the city’s African-American heritage, stands among the modern corrections of errors left over from the past. Can the same be said of retaining the name Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge for a major public structure in a major southern city with a population of some 80,353 African Americans, comprising 62 percent of the total population, and however many progressive-minded Whites?
Ceremony by members of the “Gullah Nayshun” held in front
of the African-American Monument on River Street in Savannah,
Georgia. (YouTube video courtesy of Gullah/Geechee TV)
In March 2006, like many cities across the United States, Savannah held “A Celebration of the Civil Rights Struggle: 50 Years Plus.” The theme of the celebration was “Then, Now, Transition, Future.” To commemorate this event paying such noble tribute to the legions that fought for civil rights equality, its organization committee published a handsome fifty-six-page journal that contained a listing of programs, timelines of the civil rights struggle, and recognitions of African-American firsts in Savannah. The image on its cover was of the African-American Monument, symbolizing the strength and courage of a people’s past rather than their degradation, promising a future of shared love and humanity rather than one of divisive bigotry and oppression.
Note: This article was adapted from the essay “The Bridge and the Monument: a Tale of Two Legacies,” published in the book The American Poet Who Went Home Again .
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