Saturday, November 08, 2008
This is my letter to the President of the United States of America, which I also wish to share with you:
Dear President Obama,
When you come to Italy, when you come to Florence, I particularly invite you to a world monument against the practice of slavery. Frederick Douglass came here to the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence to pay respects to Theodore Parker who had preached courageously against slavery. Buried here as well are Frances Trollope and Richard Hildreth who wrote the first and second anti-slavery novels, copied next by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Likewise Hiram Powers and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she writing an impassioned sonnet against slavery and serfdom in America and Russia for his statue the 'Greek Slave' exhibited at the very center of the 1851 London Crystal Palace Exhibition. For this reason Lord Frederick Leighton had a broken slave shackle sculpted on EBB's tomb to celebrate her love of freedom. Also buried here is Nadezhda, who came at 14, a black Nubian slave, to Florence, dying here in her thirties. She was baptised in a Russian Orthodox family with the name meaning 'Hope', her story being told on her tomb in Cyrillic.
Near our Cemetery is Piazza Beccaria, named after Cesare Beccaria who wrote against capital punishment as cruel and barbaric, unworthy of civilization, his book influencing the Grand Duke of Tuscany to abolish executions, 30 November 1786, that had formerly taken place in that square, Russia soon following suit.
I lectured on the 80 American burials in our 'English' Cemetery at Little Rock a year ago and was so deeply moved by their Civil Rights exhibition, then still in the small gas station by the school, far more moved than I was by the acres of marble of the Clinton Library. I organized our fifth international conference, 'The City and the Book V', on our 80 Americans in this Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery this past October, our most eloquent speaker being the art historian Marilyn Richardson.
We are restoring this world monument in Piazzale Donatello with the help of Roma families from Romania. The Roma had been slaves of the monasteries in Romania from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. Victims of the Holocaust, they received no reparations. Their Indo-European language, Romany, goes unrecognized by the European Union, of which they are citizens yet the Union's largest and poorest minority. Our project combines education and work, and a major part of it is creating their wooden rocking cradles together. The funds they earn from their restoration of the nineteenth-century garden of the cemetery and conserving the ironwork of the tombs, seen in the midst of all Florentine traffic, then goes to build and repair their homes in Romania, which next allows them to work legally there, instead of begging in Florentine streets. This because I listened to the women who told me their dreams were for roofs that did not have holes letting in the snow and rain and for education for their children. Together we are creating a Dictionary in four languages, Romany, Romanian, Italian and English, and with their drawings, that can be used by these families and others in home schooling. Many are illiterate, particularly the women, their poverty being currently too great for them to pay the incidental expenses for their children's schooling, heating, books, clothes, etc. I found most of our families, when I visited them in Romania, live twelve to one windowless room, next to the horse's stall, a recipe for illnesses like tuberculosis. We call our project 'From Graves to Cradles'.
Hiram Powers' statue 'America', sculpted here in Florence, was not accepted by Congress because he had her trampling on slave shackles. It's a magnificent work. Much more lovely than the French-built Statue of Liberty, and truly American. Visit the Smithsonian's Musem of American Art with your daughters to see it. Marilyn Richardson can also tell you her story about how she discovered Edmonia Lewis' powerful ‘Cleopatra’ in Chicago and had it come to the Smithsonian.
You are very warmly welcome here,
Julia Bolton Holloway, Ph.D.
President, Aureo Anello
Director, Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei'
We are now at 1535 signatures on the web at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/471134975,
'That the Swiss-owned, so-called 'English' Cemetery in Florence be kept open, be restored and be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site', and with 4321 signatures in-house from our visitors, for a total of 5856 signatures. We should be very grateful for your signature, too, and those of your family.
If you wish to donate to the Aureo Anello Association for the restoration of the 'English' Cemetery you can do so by a cheque made out to 'Aureo Anello' and posted to 'English' Cemetery, Piazzale Donatello 38, 50132 Florence, Italy; or through the Pay Pal 'Donate' button below, which can also be used for the CDs, for the hand-bound limited edition books or for the sculptures of Elizabeth and Robert's 'Clasped Hands' or tondos with their portraits (Amalia Ciardi Duprè's sculpture can also be found at http://www.florin.ms/amaliadupre.html), or some or all of these.