IN THE NEWS - Sculpture professor proposes sculpture to honor African American heritage in Jackson
Union University’s Aaron Lee Benson and Lane College’s Richard Donnell appeared together in front of the Jackson City Council on Tuesday with a proposal to honor an integral part of the history of the city of Jackson.
Benson, who is chairman of the art department at Union and has helped construct different memorials in the city, said he’s talked a number of times with Jackson City Mayor Jerry Gist about honoring the contributions of African Americans to Jackson’s history.
“African Americans are so much a part of the fabric of Jackson’s culture and our history, and those contributions deserve to be memorialized somewhere prominent in the city,” Benson said.
The proposal Benson made to the council included a set of seven large boulders on top of an artificial hill to be constructed at Shirlene Mercer Park on East Chester Street. Each of those boulders would have a plaque honoring either a person or a group that is important to Jackson’s history.
Benson said a couple nominations already made for groups include the 61st Colored Cavalry Division that fought in the Civil War and the group of Lane College students who were part of the sit-in protests of 1970.
“Those to be honored are still to be determined,” Benson said.
The hill and boulders will be surrounded by three concentric circles of trees to represent the youth of today looking up to historical figures and having a standard to live up to.
Councilmen Johnny Dodd and Harvey Buchanan, along with Councilwoman Vicky Foote, expressed their support of the project.
Benson said the project will probably cost between $40,000 and $60,000, but those costs would drop significantly if the City donated personnel, equipment and resources for the construction, as they have with other projects Benson has done in the past.
Gist said it’s possible money not spent in other capital projects from the fiscal year could be used to help pay for the project also, but that amount won’t be determined for a few more weeks.
Buchanan asked Gist for a timetable on the completion of the project. Gist said that will be determined by the next step, which is when Benson and Donnell made their proposal to the City Parks and Recreation Department led by Tony Black, who mentioned a discussion should be had with a neighborhood group that's been working to further develop Shirlene Mercer Park before any plans are definitively made.
Buchanan then asked if the sculpture would be completed before the end of Gist’s term as mayor, which is in less than a year since he’s announced he’s not running for re-election. Gist’s response: “I would hope so.”
Donnell asked the council to consider, in addition to the sculpture, to adding portraits of more African Americans to the hallways of Jackson City Hall.
“The young African Americans of Jackson will have some people to look up to when this is completed,” Donnell said. “And I think it would be nice for them to have someone to look up to when they walk down the halls of this building and look at who all have their pictures on the wall.”
Reporting by Brandon Sheilds - Jackson Sun, July 2018