Council to commemorate Alex Haley with statue Author's ancestor landed at City Dock

September 16, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

In a spirited tribute to Alex Haley, the Annapolis City Council endorsed honoring the late author with a life-size statue at City Dock, where the saga of "Roots" began.

Council members emphasized their support Monday night by promising to chip in $75,000 to continue the legacy of Mr. Haley, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on his family history was translated around the world and became a highly acclaimed television mini-series. Mr. Haley, who also wrote "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," died in February.

A few weeks after his death, friends and family members met with Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and proposed erecting a memorial statue at the harbor.

A simple plaque, which was stolen when it was first installed, marks the spot where one of Mr. Haley's ancestors, Kunta Kinte, was led ashore in chains in 1767. A note was left suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the theft. The community rallied to replace the plaque.

Leonard A. Blackshear, chairman of the annual Kunta Kinte Commemoration and Heritage Festival, unveiled a model of the proposed memorial Monday night. The plan is for a bronze statue of Mr. Haley, seated on a bench and telling a story to three children at his feet.

"I just want to say how pleased he would be," said Mr. Haley's youngest brother, Julius Haley, a Silver Spring architect who served on the design committee. "This particular place was definitely significant to him."

With the installation of a ramp at the dock, which would help the city meet more stringent public access guidelines under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the project is expected to cost some $500,000.

Part of the cost could be offset by donations from a foundation that Mr. Haley's family is establishing in his name, Mr. Blackshear said. The family hopes to install memorials at his birthplace in Henning, Tenn., and in the village in the Gambia, West Africa, where his mother's forebears originated.

The statue has to be approved by the Historic District Commission, a panel that reviews everything from building changes to new signs in downtown Annapolis. The project will take about three years to complete.

Mr. Haley spent 12 years tracing his family history, traveling more than a half-million miles to study records in more than 50 libraries and listening to tribal griots, or storytellers, in Gambia, where Kunta Kinte was born.

In "Roots: The Saga of an American Family," he wrote about returning to Annapolis to stand on the dock on Sept. 29, 1967, exactly 200 years after the slave ship, Lord Ligonier, docked. Julius Haley said that his brother often spoke of Annapolis and "how proud he was of this city."

Alderwoman Ellen Moyer, D-Ward 8, recalled feeling goose bumps when she listened to Alex Haley tell stories during the 1960s.

With a brief anecdote, Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, summed up the statue's importance.

Recently, he said, he was standing near a group of children. A 4-year-old boy came up to him and asked, "Why are you colored brown? Where do you come from?"

The memorial, he said, will have the answer.

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