Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park’s Bench by the Road 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.
The Toni Morrison Society, in partnership with the Mitchelville Preservation Project, dedicated a bench April 16, 2013 in honor of the historic settlement in Mitchelville, off Beach City Road on Hilton Head Island.
The bench is the eighth the society has placed as part of its Bench by the Road series, which began with a dedication on Sullivan’s Island near Charleston in 2008. Among the other locations are Oberlin, Ohio; Paris, France; and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The project was inspired by an excerpt from an interview that Morrison, a Nobel laureate, conducted with World Magazine in 1989. In it, Morrison said: “There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There is no 300-foot tower. There’s no small bench by the road,” where people can reflect upon slavery and what sprang from it.