By Carol Harada
Photo: Levi Clancy on Unsplash
The hawks circled above, riding the thermals rising from the dark pit, tracking all the snaking movement down below. It had been days of this, streams of dump trucks, flatbeds, and oversized pickups flowing along the serpentine byways of forgotten America and bearing jagged things we no longer needed to this abandoned mine. As the empty vehicles drove away, lighter after ejecting their rejected cargo, the team of men and women on the ground swarmed like bees in their bright yellow jumpsuits to arrange the new arrivals in a circle edging the rim of the pit. The basic intention was to build a mountain peak of dethroned Confederate generals and soldiers, made to rise in a jumbled clatter from this scar in the earth. Not to be buried and forgotten, but as a never forget monument to the shame of our nation. In this new time, we the people wanted to scour the states and concentrate all the misbegotten remembrances in bronze in one place, so that we all could get on to building something good and redemptive. The old world, that genteel arrangement of manipulating people based on skin tone, was done. At least, we all wanted and needed it to be done. Recognizing at last and doing what we could to reign in this strand of evil in the DNA.
Of course, it was left to black people to make something beautiful out of this ugliness and brutality. The self-selected team of artists, designers, sculptors, welders, builders, engineers, documentarians, and activists came together each morning and evening to eat and make their plans. Money flowed in so that they could camp out in comfortable trailers and stay together in this unexpected art park for the duration of the unprecedented project. They took turns cooking in teams and sharing stories and thus grew close like family, fed on love and their mutual dedication.
One woman had the dream of the black angel. She worked with the engineers and sculptors to sketch out the central pole and its rotating supportive armatures, how the angel would orbit above whatever final configuration the toppled statues would take. Her flight would be solar powered with the sun warming the back of her wings.
One man, gifted with being able to arrange three-dimensional shapes in his mind’s eye and to know how they could fit together, was the lead arranger. He would walk the rim of the pit and take notes about what could go where, conversing with the welders about doing this with the barest of structural glue. The team inventoried their haul of statues: 327 Jefferson Davises, 449 Robert E. Lees, 123 Stonewall Jacksons, and nearly a thousand other minor generals and anonymous soldiers, who would form the bulk of lost cause mountain.
How did it come to this? Things got so bad, finally, that everyone snapped, even the white people. Yet another black man got choked out by a white cop in a northern liberal city, this time witnessed and filmed for all to see. This remorseless murder lit the dry tinder of frustration, pain, grief, rage, and exhaustion of people around the globe, those who’ve had too many brothers and sisters murdered. And those who now understood these were their brothers and sisters too, and always had been. The fire ran the planet, melting hardened hearts and opening minds closed to their own complicity in this and many other deaths. In a global quake, peaceful uprisings energized people dying for a change. As part of this earth shaking, statues naturally toppled.
In Belgium, a statue of King Leopold II fell. In the late 1800’s his soldiers chopped off the hands of rebels and those enslaved on his personal rubber plantations in the Congo if they didn’t meet their quota. This enterprise came after he’d exhausted the supply of ivory. Oh, the elephants who never forget!
In Bristol, England, home of that trickster artist Banksy, citizens captured and chained and dragged the statue of their slave trading town founder, dumping it in the river. Across America, other statues were dethroned and sent to the artists. Nobody wanted Christopher Columbus, conquistadors, Spanish missionaries, or Andrew Jackson. Clearly, there was more than the original sin of slavery that needed to be atoned for. Its fraternal twin, the continuous genocide of indigenous people and the erasure of their living Earth wisdom, was also born of the greed and arrogance of Manifest Destiny. The war against Nature and her guardians had been raging for centuries. It was a time of total reckoning.
One of the activists knew Beyoncé and Jay Z, and together they mused on all the empty pedestals left behind. What about coordinated musical performances from those raised stands? What about poetry slams and storytelling? What about these town squares, city parks, and plazas being filled with the unvoiced finally being heard?
As the team talked and considered and sketched their ideas, as the lead arranger moved the shapes around in his head, and as the designers made computer models of the statues, what was coming into form revealed itself. It would not be a mountain, but a round dome rising from the earth, an open latticed temple to walk into with the black angel soaring above.
It took them almost a year. The last part was making the seven tiers of wide steps circling the whole temple, the top level at angel height. The bullet point history of the enslaved was etched large into bronze plates built into the risers of the steps. These plates and commemorative statuettes for each of the team members, and many others for fundraising, were made from smelting the rejected extra statues. The wide work ramp that gradually spiraled down to the bottom of the pit was formalized as the public access.
When the team stepped inside the temple, there were at first hoots and hollers. And then the great embrace of silence, an awe and pride at what they’d done together. And then out of the rush of tears, the best singers began ‘Hell You Talmbout’ and the names of just a few of the dead were called out. Say his name! Say her name!
The tally ho arms and the sabers held aloft pointed inward across the dome, not outwards to wage war on the world. One Robert E. Lee on his mount, the whole thing blessedly hollow, was on his side at the top of the dome, toppled forever. The whole collection seemed like a three-dimensional sky map with constellations that nobody could blindly follow anymore. It was especially clever to make the armatures connecting the statues in the form of the upraised black power fist, the people capturing the slave makers and holding them in place.
The team stayed for a week after the work was done, to live with the temple they’d built and plan how to open it up to the public. Under the blue sky, the shadows moved with the sun, and at night the angel passed like a shooting star. One night the whole team dragged bedding down to the temple and slept under their creation and had marvelous dreams of things to come.
The angel had a full black body, eight feet tall, with a glittering gold gown that whipped audibly in the wind. She flew like a superhero needing no wings, leading with her right arm with gently closed fist. Held closer to her heart was the open blessing hand.
About the writer
Carol Harada is dedicated to fostering creativity and healing, and the shared territory of spiritual practice. She’s grateful to live in San Francisco and write in the company of Laguna Writers. For more, see deepriverhealing.com and carolharadacreates.com
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