Alex Haley to be memorialized

`Roots' author's statue to be placed where his descendant landed

November 02, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

More than 230 years after Kunta Kinte landed at the Annapolis City Dock from Africa, state, county and city officials announced plans in the state capital yesterday for a statue of his descendant Alex Haley, who achieved international fame by charting the life of his enslaved ancestor and establishing a foothold for black history in American culture.

The memorial -- expected to cost $1.05 million -- will feature a life-size bronze rendering of the "Roots" author sitting and reading to three children of different ethnicities.

County and city officials have contributed $150,000 to the project, and the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, which is planning the memorial at the city dock, plans to fund the rest through contributions from the state and private donors.

The statues are scheduled to be unveiled Dec. 9 and will sit next to a large plaque commemorating Kunta Kinte's 1767 arrival in Annapolis.

Public officials -- including Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson and County Schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham -- who spoke yesterday marveled at how the statue is being built after the first discussions of such a memorial began about 20 years ago.

"It may have taken 20 years," said Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, "but good things are worth waiting for.

"I believe very deeply that the city dock in Annapolis will be a haven that will draw people from all over the world," Owens said.

The Haley statue is the second phase of the Kunta Kinte memorial that city and county offi- cials started in 1981 by installing a plaque honoring the slave who was led ashore in chains from the ship Lord Ligonier on Sept. 29, 1767.

Kunta Kinte was sold to a Virginia plantation owner after an ad was placed in a local newspaper hawking "A cargo of choice healthy slaves."


Carl O. Snowden, a county governmental liaison who was among the first to suggest a plaque, said Annapolitans were rebuffed when they first suggested the idea to Mayor John C. Apostol in 1978 -- in the wake of Haley's Pulitzer-prize winning book's success as a television miniseries in 1977. Apostol opposed the memorial because Kunta Kinte was not a Marylander.

The plaque became a reality with the election of a new mayor, Richard Hillman. However, two days after officials unveiled the plaque in a September 1981 ceremony that Haley attended, vandals pried off the plaque and left a card saying, "You have been patronized by the Ku Klux Klan." Maryland KKK officials denied involvement, and city officials replaced the plaque within months.

`American phenomenon'

Leonard Blackshear, an Annapolis businessman and president of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, said the memorial's second phase focuses on Haley because he exemplifies the "American phenomenon."

"Alex symbolizes that it's not how you came to America, but how you end up," Blackshear said. "His ancestor came here as a slave, and Alex became an internationally known writer. Many African-Americans have a tendency to run away from their heritage because they think it's just slavery, but he ran toward it and found international fame. It's just fantastic."

Blackshear expects hundreds to show up for the Dec. 9 unveiling, to which officials have invited Maya Angelou, a friend of Haley's, and the author's family. Haley, who co-authored "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," died at age 70 in 1992.

State Del. Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, called the statues a "testament to those who came here in bondage."

"In a city that promotes history, it's appropriate that we remember how people got to the shores of this country," Busch said. "For African-Americans, unfortunately, it was in bondage. This is a tribute to their triumph."

Wall of stories

The memorial's third phase will involve building a "story wall" adjacent to the statues, with 10 panels, each featuring excerpts from various authors.

Officials will announce more details on the third phase once they raise funds for its construction.

Those who spoke yesterday rejoiced at their progress on the memorial.

"I think you will hear a lot of hallelujahs from a lot of people in this community," Snowden said. "It's just so wonderful to have people make promises and keep the promises that they make."

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