Five years ago, the remains of 36 African-Americans were unearthed during Charleston's Gaillard Center construction project, and many are considering what sort of memorial should mark the spot.
The nonprofit Gullah Society, which is leading the dialogue, recently reached out to College of Charleston students for ideas, and 13 students in the college's Architecture of Memory course spent the fall semester working on it.
The results of their work will go on public display at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Addlestone Library's rotunda.
Professor Nathaniel Walker's students researched sacred design traditions from West Africa and beyond, and their work incorporates obelisks, sweetgrass basket design, wrought iron and other influences. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg served on an early jury assessing the designs.
The exhibit also includes a place for visitors to comment on their reactions, and Walker said the society also will seek feedback online.
"That will become part of the exhibit in a way, as people add their post-it notes to the blank board," he said. "Hopefully, it will create a cross pollination of community discourse."
The designs range from a blue bottle tree with 36 limbs, one for each of the two infants, four children, 16 men, 10 women, and four other undetermined remains.
The most prominent memorial, based on feedback during an earlier presentation in Randolph Hall, includes a digital drum with 36 LED lights that light up in response to whoever is playing the instrument.
For those who may feel that is too playful, others have more gravitas, Walker said, adding, "There's a wide variety of proposals."
The deceased, whose graves were unmarked, died in the late 18th century. "Some of them came over in the holds of slave ships, so this burial ground represents a tangible point of connection between America and Africa, and between African ancestors and African-Americans living today," Walker said.
All the student memorial designs are proposed for a site along George Street, not far from Anson Street. That's the site the city has deemed the most suitable for reinterring the remains, which are in a city storage building.
The National Geographic Society just awarded the Gullah Society a $25,000 grant to advance the debate on a monument. A related DNA study comparing the 36 remains with living city residents is expected to be released next year.
Walker taught a similar Architecture of Memory course last spring. Those students worked on a competing monument to the city's controversial John C. Calhoun monument in Marion Square.