A Symbol of History and Hope
By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 13, 2002
For Iantha Baker, yesterday's dedication of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial in downtown Annapolis was worth sweating through the 95-degree heat.
"I got my grandson out of school so he could come here," the Baltimore native said. "You have to know what we went through and where we are today."
A sense of history in the making united Baker and 1,000 other spectators who came to watch the dedication of the monument to Kunta Kinte, an African slave who arrived in Annapolis in 1767, and Alex Haley, the Kinte descendant who immortalized his family's story in "Roots," a book that also became a widely watched television miniseries.
The audience, taking cover from a punishing sun under scraps of shade, came from places as distant as New York and South Carolina to see the third dedication of the $750,000 memorial at the Annapolis City Dock. The project began two decades ago with the placement of a plaque honoring Kinte and Haley -- which was promptly stolen by a group claiming to be the Ku Klux Klan.
A lot has changed since then for blacks in Annapolis, who have made up a third of the city's population since Kinte's time. A year ago, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) pardoned John Snowden, a black ice cream worker convicted of murder and hanged in 1919 despite doubts about his guilt. In November, black Americans won an unprecedented third seat on the nine-member Annapolis City Council. And a month later, city and county officials acknowledged past lynchings in the area.
Now the Kinte-Haley memorial -- the only monument in the United States commemorating the name and place of arrival of an enslaved African -- is the most visited spot in Annapolis.
The memorial's centerpiece, a bronze statue of Haley reading a book to three children , was finished in 1999 -- seven years after Haley's death. Yesterday, 10 markers listing values such as diversity, family and love were unveiled with related quotes from "Roots," along with a granite compass symbol and globe that can direct visitors toward the country of their origin.
"When you clench your fist, no one can put anything in your hand, nor can your hand pick up anything," reads a plaque dedicated to forgiveness.
"Hear me!" says the plaque honoring diversity. "Though we are of different tribes and tongues, remember we are the same people!"
Glendening, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) and Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) paid tribute to the memorial as a historic accomplishment.
"This marks an unmistakable place in Maryland, national and international history," Glendening said. "It symbolizes the place of beginning for African Americans and, most importantly, it symbolizes the perseverance and faith of a people."
John Amos, the actor who played the adult Kinte in the miniseries; Haley relatives; and prominent black Annapolitans who worked to make the memorial a reality spoke of the past and of a brighter future.
"This place is a marker on the road to a better America," said Leonard Blackshear, president of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation, who came up with the idea for the memorial and saw it to completion. "Today, you are the first beneficiaries."
"I think it says a lot about how far we've come," said Classie Hoyle, one of the City Council members who watched the ceremony. "But more importantly, it says a lot about hope . . . . It's paving the way for us to do bigger and better things."
Relatives of Alex Haley praised Blackshear and the others for the gesture. "Thank you for remembering his perseverance, thank you for remembering his spirit, thank you for remembering his life," said William Haley, the author's son.
"It's a dream that you didn't realize you had coming true," said Chris Haley, Alex Haley's nephew and a local historian. "It's revolutionary."