Originally created 04/10/98

Sculptor chosen for black monument

COLUMBIA -- A Colorado sculptor who learned black history as an adult because his childhood school did not teach it has won the contest to design the South Carolina Statehouse's first monument to its black citizens.

Ed Dwight of Denver, who sculpted the Hank Aaron statue outside Turner Field in Atlanta, was selected Thursday by the African American Monument Commission after a daylong interview process.

"I'm elated," said Mr. Dwight, who is black. "This is an important sculpture."

The commission must get lawmakers' approval before Mr. Dwight's idea for an obelisk called the Tower of Freedom can be placed on a circular plot on the Sumter Street side of the Statehouse.

"We need to get going on the legislative process," said Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, who leads the joint legislative commission.

The design must be approved before the end of the session, or the legislation approving the monument dies.

Commission members decided in March 1997 the monument should incorporate key points that include slavery, Reconstruction and the civil rights struggle.

Dwight's four-sided granite Tower of Freedom combines those ideas with abstract etchings. The panels would depict a black family; a pickax, shovel and hoe; a church and capitol; and books and technological tools like computers.

"It's all about the educational process," he said.

Bronze murals describing events in black history would go on two walls behind the obelisk. At the front of the monument, an etching of the interior of a slave ship would be flanked by two granite tablets with the names of famous black leaders, Mr. Dwight said.

"If you don't know where you're going, you don't know where you've been," he said.

The privately funded statue will cost as much as $500,000, commission staff member Ken Davis said.

Mr. Dwight wanted to place a statue of Denmark Vesey in front of the obelisk, with murals depicting his failed slave revolt in Charleston in 1822 and the failed 1739 Stono Slave Rebellion.

He said he had to learn about Mr. Vesey as an adult because his Catholic school did not teach black history. "I would have done a lot of things differently if I had known about men like Denmark," Mr. Dwight said.

But the commission nixed the Vesey statue. They earlier suggested that artists not honor one person, saying the selection could prompt arguments.

The commission also might change other aspects of Mr. Dwight's proposal, Mr. Davis said.

Dwight was chosen out of 46 artistic teams. Only two other teams were invited to bring their ideas to South Carolina.

Houston Conwill, Joseph Depace and Estella Conwill Majozo of New York City suggested a monument called "Carolina Shout!", which would be four granite benches around the outside of the circular plot. Each 4-foot bench would have a connecting 7-foot column with a lighted glass picture of a famous African-American figure on each side.

Antonio Tobias Mendez and James Urban of Washington, D.C.; wanted to erect 16 bronze statues chronicling slavery, emancipation and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and modern-day life. The statues would have spiraled out from a floor-level black granite etching of the interior of a slave ship.


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