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Toni Morrison Society Dedicates Bench In Eden Cemetery

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Toni Morrison Society was in Philadelphia Thursday for a special dedication at Eden Cemetery, the final resting place for a number of African American historical figures, including singer Marian Anderson.

It was a joyous ceremony to dedicate a "Bench by the Road"-- a place among the headstones and bones of the ancestors to sit and remember.

"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," read Carolyn Denard, founder and board chairman of the Toni Morrison Society. "Those words really resonated with us."

Those words come from a 1989 World Magazine interview with Toni Morrison where she explained why she wrote the critically acclaimed novel, "Beloved." She told World that the absence of historical markers that help the world remember the lives of slaves lead her to write the novel, which is symbolic of those enslaved people.  Denard says she started the Toni Morrison Society in 1993. The group has six hundred members worldwide. Eight years ago, for Morrison's 75th birthday, the group created the Bench by the Road Project with a mission of fulfilling the need the Nobel prize winner outlines years before.

"We are able to preserve and honor and consecrate places that are of value to us no matter the relative value they have to the rest of society," says Denard, "and we thought there is a story here in the historic Eden cemetery that is worth telling."

Eden Cemetery was founded in 1902 as a place to re-inter the remains of thousands of African Americans dating back from the late 1700s. Then, over the course of the history of the museum, it has become the final resting place of numerous historical figures in African American history.

"This is another example of what can be done to memorialize, commemorate and tell the story for individuals and educate individuals when they come to this historic site," says Craig Stutman a researcher for Eden Cemetery, noting there are future plans for the cemetery that will make

"We have an architect and landscape architect working on plans for this area where there will be a memorial garden that is developed and we also have an outdoor pavilion that will be developed as an educational center," he says.

He says the Friends of Historic Eden Cemetery hope to bring the plans to fruition over the next two years.

The six foot black steel bench located near the center of the Cemetery is the 11th placed worldwide by the Tony Morrison Society.

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