A Different Kind Of Monument

Apr 19, 2018

The new “Oberlin Rising” monument in Raleigh commemorates one of the first African-American communities in the city. After the Civil War, Southern land was divided into parcels and sold to former slaves, and Raleigh’s Oberlin Village was made up of several of these parcels. It was established in 1866 as one of the first freedmen communities in the city. Oberlin’s history is largely overlooked, and development has nearly erased the community from the landscape.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Thomas Sayre, the artist who created Oberlin Rising. The sculpture includes five large columns, or spires, landscaping that alludes to the community’s history, and poetry. Poet, playwright, and arts educator Howard Craft joins the conversation to talk about this new kind of monument and to share some of the words he wrote to include in Oberlin Rising.

Interview Highlights

Sayre on his approach to designing the project:
The key for me came from the cemetery, which is less than 100 yards away as the crow flies. And the cemetery has ... Many hundreds, five or six hundred people, initially slaves, buried there … There's a little sign there that says: Don't pick up any stones or rocks or pieces of wood, because they could be markers for the unmarked. And that became the key to this whole design. We all need to be marked, and this community needs to be marked … Those unmarked folks need to be marked, so that was essentially what we've done.

We all need to be marked, and this community needs to be marked ... Those unmarked folks need to be marked. - Thomas Sayre

Craft on why he chose the lune for this project:
[A lune is] three lines, but instead of counting syllables you count words. So a lune is three-five-three: three words, five words, three words. And then instead of being locked into being about nature, a lune can be about anything. So to me it represented how in the Oberlin community you have a community under segregation, under these restrictions, yet they're still able to create something their own and something very beautiful.

A couple of Craft’s lunes for Oberlin Rising:
Porch Talk
Brown folks sit
People watch and story talk
Most summer nights

James H. Harris
Named this place
After Oberlin College in Ohio
Home to abolitionists

Sayre on how Oberlin Rising fits into the national discussion about monuments:
The process of how this was made and what it does is profoundly different ... And it's not holding up one guy – usually a guy, especially on a horse – that sort of holds sway and lords over us. It's a public place that you can enter and get some relief from Oberlin Road, which is increasingly congested, and hang out and read and absorb Howard's words, which are a kind of lens through which the community spoke.

Craft on how this project differs from Confederate monuments:
The biggest difference is the purpose of the Oberlin project is not to instill fear or intimidate another group of people. It's to celebrate what human beings can do when they come together as community. That's the major difference.