Statue of author of 'Roots' is proposed

September 11, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Friends and fans of the late Alex Haley want to pay him tribute with a life-size statue at Annapolis' City Dock, where one of his ancestors, Kunta Kinte, was led ashore in chains in 1767.

Mr. Haley, author of "Roots," the Pulitzer prize-winning novel that traced his family history and became a highly rated television mini-series, died in February.

A few weeks after his death, family members and friends met with Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and proposed erecting a memorial statue. A simple plaque, often missed by tourists, marks the spot at the harbor where Kunta Kinte stepped ashore from the slave ship Lord Ligonier.

With the support of the mayor, a committee has spent six months designing the memorial to Mr. Haley, who also wrote "The Autobiography of Malcolm X." Members of the design committee included community leaders, Phebe Jacobsen, the Maryland archivist who helped Mr. Haley trace his mother's forebears, and his youngest brother, Julius Haley, a Silver Spring architect.

Preliminary sketches show a statue of Mr. Haley, seated on a bench and telling a story to three children clustered at his feet.

The statue, expected to be just under three feet tall, would be installed at the bottom of a ramp and blend in with nearby park benches, said Leonard Blackshear, chairman of the Kunta Kinte Commemoration and Heritage Festival.

"The concept we had is that it would fit right into the streetscape," Mr. Blackshear said. "On a crowded day in Annapolis, it would be part of the scene. It's a concept that Alex would have liked. He wasn't a showy person."

Mr. Haley stood alone at the foot of the harbor 25 years ago, stared out across the water. He had spent 12 years researching his family history, listening to stories that had been handed down from generation to generation and traveling about a half-million miles to pore over records in more than 50 libraries. His quest, which took him to the village in Gambia, West Africa, where his family originated, ended again in Annapolis.

In "Roots: The Saga of an American Family," Mr. Haley said that on Sept. 29, 1967, "I felt I should be nowhere else in the world except standing on a pier at Annapolis," exactly 200 years after the Lord Ligonier docked. As he stared seaward, Mr. Haley wrote, "I found myself weeping."

His ties to Annapolis, marked with the plaque and the annual Kunta Kinte festival, will be strengthened by the memorial, said Alderman Carl O. Snowden. Mr. Snowden is introducing a resolution in support of the statue at the City Council meeting Monday night. The council's other black member, Alderman Samuel Gilmer, and the mayor are co-sponsoring it.

"I predict that the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley memorial will become as popular with tourists as the Naval Academy is today," Mr. Snowden said.

Mr. Blackshear said the committee wants to have a contest among artists to sculpt the statue. The group also hopes to install a series of plaques around the harbor telling the "Roots" story.

"It ultimately will mean what the name Kunta Kinte has become -- the ability to survive and keep one's heritage alive," Mr. Blackshear said.

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