Posts Tagged ‘Sullivan’s Island’

The lowdown on Lowcountry cycling

July 8, 2009
The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Charleston with Mount Pleasant

The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge connects Charleston with Mount Pleasant

We bicycled by a bunch of fancy waterfront homes on Sullivan’s Island a couple weeks ago, and I’m guessing we rode right past the weekend getaway for SC Governor Mark Sanford and his poor/rich wife, Jenny. If houses could talk….

The residential island was one stop on an action-packed ride we took around Charleston. I’d never thought of the area as a cycling spot, but indeed it is.

Before heading out, we stopped off at The Bicycle Shoppe in historic downtown. You can rent bikes here (they also deliver to the various outlying islands), shop for bike stuff, or just get some friendly advice from this family-owned store in business for more than two decades. (We’d brought our own bikes.)

We were pointed to the guidebook Lowcountry Bike Rides, which details rides within an hour’s drive of Charleston. It costs $15 and is produced by the nonprofit Coastal Cyclists, a wonderful and very active advocacy group in the area. I’ve been in several such groups, and putting out a book of bike routes is no easy feat. I’m impressed! (Some of the routes are on their website.)

Diane prepares mentally for crossing the Cooper River bridge

Diane prepares to cross the 2.5-mile bridge over the Cooper River

We started out cycling over the massive 2.5-mile-long cable-stayed Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, known locally as the Cooper River bridge. We had, in part, the Coastal Cyclists to thank for the awesome separated bike/ped path. When the bridge was being built (it opened in 2005), bike advocates had to fight the many folks who considered the lane a waste of money. Instead, it’s filled with walkers, runners, and bicyclists. At the top you get a great view of the Cooper River and the city, though the way the bridge shakes is a little nerve-wracking.

Fort Moultrie's canons are pointed to the entrance of Charleston Harbor

Fort Moultrie's canons are pointed to the entrance of Charleston Harbor

Wessel missed our turn for the scenic route, and we had an icky traffic-filled ride to Sullivan’s Island.  Once on the wealthy residential island, we visited Fort Moultrie and the Toni Morrison Bench, to commemorate the spot where hundreds of thousands of slaves were first brought from Africa.

Fort Sumter can be seen in a distance from the shores of Mount Pleasant

Fort Sumter can be seen in a distance from the shores of Mount Pleasant

We made sure to take the scenic way back through tree-lined residential Mount Pleasant, which we so enjoyed. It was filled with more million-dollar homes, but most of them historic and understated. The sweetest part was the commercial “Old Village,” which at one point was the center of this now suburban area first settled in the late 1600s.

People enjoy a late-day stroll in Battery Park

People enjoy a late-day stroll in Battery Park in the historic section of Charleston

When we rode back over the bridge it was filled with an after-work crowd, while the roadway traffic was bumper-to-bumper. They shoulda been cycling. We cycled along Battery Park in Charleston, a famous promenade looking over the harbor and passing even grander multi-million-dollar historic homes, and then through residential streets downtown (more gorgeous houses) and finally to our hotel, The Mills House. They were nice enough to let us roll our bikes through the lobby, into the elevator, and into our room. Some hotels are very uptight about bikes. Not this time.

My only word of warning about cycling in historic Charleston is: watch out for the cobblestone streets! You might end up lower in the Lowcountry than you want to be.

Toni Morrison invites you to take a seat

June 15, 2009

200906_27b_Sullivans Island benchYou’ve heard of Ellis Island in New York, right? The first place some 12 million immigrants from Europe arrived on US soil. There’s another important entry port not quite so celebratory. Does Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina ring a bell? This residential barrier island 10 miles southeast of downtown Charleston is where an estimated around 200,000 to 360,000 slaves from Africa were first brought before being sold.  Nearly half of all living African Americans are said to have ancestors who passed through Sullivan’s Island.

The bench on the grounds of the park at Fort Moultrie

The bench at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island is a somber reminder of slavery

Wessel discovered information about the slave memorial while plotting out a bicycle ride we were doing from Charleston last week. As an aside during a tour of Fort Sumter the day before, a park guide said there was a new slavery monument on Sullivan Island. (Turns out there’s not really a monument.) That got Wessel to thinking about this story he’d read in The New York Times last July, about when writer extraordinaire Toni Morrison came to christen a bench the Toni Morrison Society had installed to memorialize the spot where slaves were first brought.

The bench was inaugurated in July 2008

The bench was inaugurated in July 2008

All we knew was that the bench was maintained by the National Park Service, so we cycled to Fort Moultrie on the southwestern tip of the island to see if it was there. There were no signs, but luckily the visitor center was open for another five minutes and a ranger told us to walk toward the water. Indeed, there it was, Toni Morrison’s metal bench.

Writer and Nobel winner Toni Morrison (photo Wikipedia Commons)

Writer and Nobel winner Toni Morrison (photo Wikipedia Commons)

The bench was inspired by something the Nobel prize winner said during an interview in 1989 (this quote is taken from the plaque near the bench, but not verified): “There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did not make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower. There’s no small bench by the road.”

Diane contemplates the meaning of the bench

Sitting on the bench, Diane can't help but contemplate what once took place here

Reading that gives me chills. Sitting on the bench did, too, thinking about the thousands of people kidnapped from their homes, treated like animals, brought to a foreign land, and then sold to do hard labor. Wessel and I sat there, soaking in the enormity of it all. I can only hope that if I had lived during slavery, I would have been an abolitionist.

View across the marsh from the bench

From the bench you see Charleston Harbor

So now I must rail a bit. It embarrasses me that my country doesn’t have one national museum or monument about slavery.  (I’ll mention here that Fort Moultrie recently opened a terrific permanent exhibit called “African Passages” to examine Sullivan’s Island slave trade.) To set the record straight, as a Southerner, slavery was not confined to the South. In fact, Rhode Island merchants controlled the majority of the American slave trade. Slavery certainly wasn’t confined to my homeland, either. It’s estimated that “only” 5 to 10 percent of the as many as 15 million Africans taken to the Americas and the Caribbean were brought to the US. But still.

Entrance of Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, SC

The Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston

To Charleston’s credit, it has a museum dedicated to slavery, the Old Slave Mart Museum and is working on another. Meanwhile, other national projects are in the works, including, finally, a Smithsonian Museum in the works, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. (The architect is from here in Durham!)

But we Americans also need a national museum dedicated solely to slavery, as well as many more “benches by the road.”