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MARKING THE MIDDLE PASSAGE

A year and a half ago, St. Croix fashion designer Wayne James announced a competition to create a monument to the millions of Africans who lost their lives during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic from their homeland to the "New World" or otherwise as a result of enslavement in the 16th through 19th centuries.
A month ago, James commissioned Mike Walsh of Walsh Metal Works on St. Croix to create a variation on the original theme: a marker to be sunk in the ocean that reflects the design of the winning artist's sculpture, which instead will be installed only on land.
The marker, a two-piece brushed aluminum design about 12 feet wide and 17 feet high, is in the lot of the Peter's Rest metalworks for final finishing work. It will be shipped "in about a week" to New York, Walsh says, where it will be put aboard a tall ship for transport to mid-ocean for lowering into the water on July 3.
Walsh metalworkers Javier Cruz, Lennox Galloway, Alva Gastav, Alex Kononoff and Luis Sanes worked with sculptor Walsh on the project.
Some 350 artists submitted proposals to create the monument James envisioned as having three purposes: to honor the Africans who perished as a result of slavery, acknowledge the contributions of those who survived despite their dire circumstances, and inspire their descendants.
Plans called for the chosen design to be lowered into the depths of the Atlantic on July 3, 1999, in a ceremony at sea involving visual and performing artists, scholars and spiritual and political leaders of Africa and African descent. The date was chosen to mark the closing of the year commemorating the 150th anniversary of emancipation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The $50,000 monument commission went to Lubbock, Texas, sculptor Eddie Dixon. His elaborate design has as its focal point a 50-foot archway leading to a 100-foot-long black granite walkway engraved with African symbols such as the sankofa bird and names of historic African heroes and dates. At the end of the walkway, an 18-foot bronze female figure, arms outstretched, welcomes her children to Africa's bright future.
"The fact is," James said of the choice, "many of us will not return to Africa in this lifetime. We wanted a monument that would serve as a symbolic pilgrimage to Africa. Mr. Dixon gave us just that. The monument is participatory."
Initial plans called for the actual monument to be lowered into the ocean and five replicas to be installed on land areas of historical significance – in Africa, the Caribbean, North America, South America and Europe. The plan now is for six duplicate sculptures to be placed, between the years 2000 and 2006, in the previously identified regions plus Central America, and for Walsh's reinterpretation of the theme in a simpler marker to be sunk at sea.
"Given the shortness of time and the budget," Walsh says, his metalworks "offered an abstract design which Wayne liked."
He described the marker as "sort of a tapered rectalinear shape, a two-piece arch, a taller piece that interlocks over a smaller piece." It's welded of hollow, open-ended aluminum "so it will not be subject to pressure or flotation resistance." The two pieces are light enough to be assembled and handled by "a couple of men" aboard the sailing ship when the time comes to lower it into the ocean.
The marker will be taken 427 kilometers, or about 265 miles, out into the Atlantic from New York City aboard a 82-year-old, square-rigged tall ship, the Regina Chaterina. There, Walsh said, the two parts will be assembled and members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers will submerge it in about 300 feet of water.
The marker "will probably never be seen again," James notes, but the ceremony and lowering will be documented on videotape.
He said the kilometric distance of the location from New York toward Africa is "in recognition of the 427 skeletons of Africans and African-Americans who were in 1991 knowingly removed by the federal government from an almost-forgotten, built-over 18th century African cemetery" in what is now mid-town Manhattan.
James, a Georgetown University Law School graduate, is president of The Homeward Bound Project, based in Washington, D.C., which sponsored the monument competition. "The bones of our ancestors are at the ocean's bottom," he said in announcing the project in 1998. "It is only fitting that we place a monument which pays tribute to them where they are."
He said the monument project and the ceremony represent "the appropriate rituals so that their souls may finally be allow to rest. Buddhoe, Queens Mary, Mathilda and Agnes and all of our other ancestors must be looking down on us with pride as the people of the Virgin Islands lead the people of the world in recognizing the contributions of African people, ancient and modern, to world culture."
For more information, see the monument project web page on the Internet: www.middlepassage.org.

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A year and a half ago, St. Croix fashion designer Wayne James announced a competition to create a monument to the millions of Africans who lost their lives during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic from their homeland to the "New World" or otherwise as a result of enslavement in the 16th through 19th centuries.
A month ago, James commissioned Mike Walsh of Walsh Metal Works on St. Croix to create a variation on the original theme: a marker to be sunk in the ocean that reflects the design of the winning artist's sculpture, which instead will be installed only on land.
The marker, a two-piece brushed aluminum design about 12 feet wide and 17 feet high, is in the lot of the Peter's Rest metalworks for final finishing work. It will be shipped "in about a week" to New York, Walsh says, where it will be put aboard a tall ship for transport to mid-ocean for lowering into the water on July 3.
Walsh metalworkers Javier Cruz, Lennox Galloway, Alva Gastav, Alex Kononoff and Luis Sanes worked with sculptor Walsh on the project.
Some 350 artists submitted proposals to create the monument James envisioned as having three purposes: to honor the Africans who perished as a result of slavery, acknowledge the contributions of those who survived despite their dire circumstances, and inspire their descendants.
Plans called for the chosen design to be lowered into the depths of the Atlantic on July 3, 1999, in a ceremony at sea involving visual and performing artists, scholars and spiritual and political leaders of Africa and African descent. The date was chosen to mark the closing of the year commemorating the 150th anniversary of emancipation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The $50,000 monument commission went to Lubbock, Texas, sculptor Eddie Dixon. His elaborate design has as its focal point a 50-foot archway leading to a 100-foot-long black granite walkway engraved with African symbols such as the sankofa bird and names of historic African heroes and dates. At the end of the walkway, an 18-foot bronze female figure, arms outstretched, welcomes her children to Africa's bright future.
"The fact is," James said of the choice, "many of us will not return to Africa in this lifetime. We wanted a monument that would serve as a symbolic pilgrimage to Africa. Mr. Dixon gave us just that. The monument is participatory."
Initial plans called for the actual monument to be lowered into the ocean and five replicas to be installed on land areas of historical significance - in Africa, the Caribbean, North America, South America and Europe. The plan now is for six duplicate sculptures to be placed, between the years 2000 and 2006, in the previously identified regions plus Central America, and for Walsh's reinterpretation of the theme in a simpler marker to be sunk at sea.
"Given the shortness of time and the budget," Walsh says, his metalworks "offered an abstract design which Wayne liked."
He described the marker as "sort of a tapered rectalinear shape, a two-piece arch, a taller piece that interlocks over a smaller piece." It's welded of hollow, open-ended aluminum "so it will not be subject to pressure or flotation resistance." The two pieces are light enough to be assembled and handled by "a couple of men" aboard the sailing ship when the time comes to lower it into the ocean.
The marker will be taken 427 kilometers, or about 265 miles, out into the Atlantic from New York City aboard a 82-year-old, square-rigged tall ship, the Regina Chaterina. There, Walsh said, the two parts will be assembled and members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers will submerge it in about 300 feet of water.
The marker "will probably never be seen again," James notes, but the ceremony and lowering will be documented on videotape.
He said the kilometric distance of the location from New York toward Africa is "in recognition of the 427 skeletons of Africans and African-Americans who were in 1991 knowingly removed by the federal government from an almost-forgotten, built-over 18th century African cemetery" in what is now mid-town Manhattan.
James, a Georgetown University Law School graduate, is president of The Homeward Bound Project, based in Washington, D.C., which sponsored the monument competition. "The bones of our ancestors are at the ocean's bottom," he said in announcing the project in 1998. "It is only fitting that we place a monument which pays tribute to them where they are."
He said the monument project and the ceremony represent "the appropriate rituals so that their souls may finally be allow to rest. Buddhoe, Queens Mary, Mathilda and Agnes and all of our other ancestors must be looking down on us with pride as the people of the Virgin Islands lead the people of the world in recognizing the contributions of African people, ancient and modern, to world culture."
For more information, see the monument project web page on the Internet: www.middlepassage.org.