BEAUFORT — A new historical marker is proposed for Topsail Park in Beaufort, but parks and recreation advisors are concerned about making it share space with another, preapproved project.
The town parks and recreation advisory board met for its regular meeting Thursday online via Zoom. During the meeting, the board discussed a request from the Middle Passage Project Committee to dedicate Topsail Park as a memorial park to African ancestors who were brought to Beaufort to be sold as slaves.
The committee also requested placing a historical marker at Topsail Park, designating Aug. 23 “The United Nations’ Day of Remembrance,” for an annual remembrance ceremony at the park and to consider placing a memorial monument at Topsail Park, or another public space, to honor African ancestors.
The advisory board seemed supportive of the proposed project.
“It’s obvious how much heart, soul and time went into this project,” Chairperson Liz DeMattia said.
After discussion, the board unanimously recommended to the board of commissioners, with two separate motions, placing the historical marker and designating the day of remembrance. However, the board unanimously recommended to town staff and commissioners, with two more separate actions, exploring dedication options, including dual dedication for Topsail Park, and consideration of a memorial at a different site.
The recommendations will go to the Beaufort Board of Commissioners at its next meeting Monday, July 12.
While the advisory board was supportive of the project, members were concerned about the location. Beaufort officials have already permitted a memorial and dedicated to the historic menhaden industry for the park. While dual dedication is an option, board member Brian O’Haver said he was concerned doing so would be considered “diluting the message” of the dedications.
“I’m extremely excited for this as an opportunity for Beaufort,” board vice chairperson Michael Rave said. “The question is what would be the best location (for the project).”
Middle Passage Project Committee members Heather Walker of Beaufort and Francesca Quinn of Newport gave a presentation on the proposed project at Thursday’s meeting. Ms. Walker said if the project is approved, Beaufort would be the first town in North Carolina to place a marker acknowledging an arrival site for enslaved Africans.
“It’s important to remember this part of Beaufort’s history,” Ms. Quinn said, “even though it’s a dark part of its history.”
The “Middle Passage” refers to a route used in the trafficking of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. According to research done by the committee, Beaufort was a port-of-call in the trans-Atlantic trafficking of slaves from Africa to the Americas and the trans-American trafficking of slaves from one location in the Americas to another.
As part of this project, the Middle Passage Committee worked with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. The committee’s project is part of UNESCO’s own slave route project to address the history of the slave trade and slavery.
Ms. Quinn said if this project is approved, it will have UNESCO designation.
“Having UNESCO designation would mean the site would be dedicated to the memory of the Africans who perished on the journey through the Middle Passage,” she said.
The committee’s research shows that many Africans died en route to the Americas due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and malnourishment during the voyage. Historical documents show the remains of at least 50 captives on one vessel were tossed into the water at the Beaufort port, which is now the location of Topsail Park.
“This history needs to be acknowledged where it occurred,” Ms. Quinn said.
In other news at Thursday’s meeting, parks and events coordinator Rachel Johnson informed the board she had received a proposal for communication signs for Randolph Johnson Memorial Park for nonverbal communicators. While the board took no formal action, it seemed to support exploring the proposal further.
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