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Brookhaven artist creates monument for black soldiers

VICKSBURG — A Brookhaven artist is helping a former mayor andother African-Americans make a connection with the VicksburgNational Military Park.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held Saturday for theAfrican-American Monument to commemorate black citizens’ service inthe Civil War. The monument, which was designed by Brookhaven’s Dr.Kim Sessums, will be located on Grant Avenue in the northeastportion of the military park.

“There are some things that come along that you’re meant to beinvolved in, and this was one of them,” Sessums said, mentioninghis interest in history and the research he has done during thecourse of the project.

Sessums’ work is helping to make former Mayor Robert MajorWalker’s dream a reality. Walker has been working for more than 15years to have African-Americans’ Civil War contributions recognizedin the military park.

During Saturday’s ceremony, Walker recalled growing up inVicksburg and playing in the park with his siblings. He said hepaid little attention to the monuments and only began to appreciatethe park while studying history in junior high and high school.

“My appreciation was limited because something was missing,”Walker said.

Walker said his limitations stemmed from omissions that did notlink the park to historic truth. He pointed out that a tabletrecognizing African-American service in the war had been melteddown for the war effort in World War II.

“That we are here today is the result of a long struggle thathad to be waged,” Walker said.

The monument is being funded with a $275,000 grant from theMississippi Department of Archives and History and $25,000 inmatching funds from the City of Vicksburg.

Jim Woodrick, MDAH Civil War historian, said Mississippi is thefirst state to recognize African-Americans’ war contributions witha monument in a national park.

“It is due to Mayor Walker’s vision and leadership that we arehere today,” Woodrick said.

Beatrice Moore, Vicksburg director of housing and communitydevelopment and monument committee member, said six proposals werereceived from area artists to design the monument.

The list was then narrowed to four artists who were asked tosubmit maquettes, which are miniature representations of theirlarger work. Moore said Sessums’ design was unanimously selected bythe committee.

“We’re very proud of his design that will be presented for thishistoric monument,” Moore said.

The monument will be approximately eight feet tall and stand onan eight-feet tall pedestal.

The inscription will read, “Commemorating the service of the 1stand 3d Mississippi Infantry, African descent, and allMississippians of African descent, who participated in theVicksburg campaign.” Moore said the 3d, with no “r” in third, ishistorically accurate.

Early in the selection process, Walker came to Brookhaven inOctober 2002 to visit with Sessums and see his work. Walkermentioned a friendship that has developed since that meeting andhis appreciation of Sessums’ incredible work ethic.

“I’ve come to see very clearly the passion he has for both hismedical work and his sculptures,” Walker said.

Members of Walker’s family and other guests gathered around amaquette that was unveiled Saturday. They were also impressed withSessums’ design.

“He has done a beautiful job,” said Walker’s wife, Sylvia.

The monument design depicts two men helping another man as theymarch. Two men are dressed as Union soldiers, one of whom islooking forward, and the third man, who is looking back, wears ahat, no shirt and suspenders holding up his pants.

Sessums said the men do not represent any specific people andwere developed from photographs of black citizens from the CivilWar era. Sessums said he is looking forward to the installation ofthe monument in January.

“That’s going to be interesting to me, to see it actually putin,” Sessums said.

The monument will be dedicated Feb. 14, 2004, said Bill Nichols,military park superintendent.

Due to park and federal regulations, Nichols said the additionof a new monument is a significant and relatively rare occurrence.Nichols cited the Vicksburg National Military Park’s reputation asthe “art park of the world.”

“The beauty of this memorial will only enhance that reputation,”Nichols said.

Sessums said he was honored to have his work join othermonuments in the historic park.

“It’s very humbling to have my work included among the works ata military park, especially Vicksburg National Military Park,”Sessums said, also referring to the park’s artistic reputation.”It’s really an art museum in and of itself.”