Along the Sumter street side of the SC Statehouse (the North East side) sits one of the newest monuments.
In March 2001, the African American History Monument was dedicated. It consists of 12 panels made of bronze and granite, and depicts important people and events in South Carolina’s history. Moving forward in history from left to right, the monument begins with enslavement and the forced movement west, to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the Civil Rights era to modern times. It chronicles the achievements of South Carolina’s African Americans in various professions including jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, tennis player Althea Gibson and former South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Ernest Finney.
Each of the 12 panels highlights a significant experience of South Carolina’s African American population. The monument does not attempt to explain or describe the moments portrayed – instead, it is meant to represent a combined experience.
While the monument itself does not represent any one specific person or event, the casual visitor should be able to see something on the monument, and connect it to a noted African American and their achievements, like retired South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Ernest Finney. Early news reports about the monument said that specific people were highlighted, but the official concept was that the panels are not “an official, literal interpretation” of anyone. Every visitor will find something to connect with that is different from the next person.
One of the most poignant and thought-proving aspects of the monument is a small relief along the ground nearby - a diagram of a slave ship. Next to this image is a small pedestal with a map of the Atlantic Ocean and arrows showing the African countries where slaves were taken. Along the bottom of the map is a large rock from each African nation. This portion of the monument holds a great deal of significance, and forces every visitor to think.
Jesse Washington, a Commission member and director of the State Human Affairs Commission, expressed the hope of many that the Monument would help to lead South Carolina into an era of improved race relations, saying “It is a fact that when people have a clear understanding of the contributions that people have made, the respect for people grows.”