Sculptor offers first look at monument to black soldiers

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 25, 2003

[8/23/03]The sculptor of the first statue in the Vicksburg National Military Park to commemorate African Americans’ efforts and sacrifices during the siege of Vicksburg calls the project an opportunity of a lifetime.

Kim Sessums whose day job is as a gynecologist in Brookhaven has been sculpting for about 10 years, but this is his first project of this magnitude.

“I would have been interested in helping somebody else do it beyond the fact this is my project,” he said. He’s sculpted busts of Eudora Welty and the Rev. Billy Graham.

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Sessums managed to study drawings of his sculptures between delivering babies, and after many late nights in his study, the sculptures are near completion.

In February, the African American Mississippi Monument will be erected near the Kansas monument on Grant Avenue in the park.

After viewing models and a slide show of the statue, which will be a third larger than life size, former mayor Robert Walker said of his 15-year goal, “I can see it now.”

“It’s been a very long journey from the beginning,” he said. “I was not giving up on this. It was going to become a reality one way or another.” Walker has spearheaded the effort to recognize blacks’ role during the Civil War and in the Vicksburg campaign.

The statue depicts two black soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment and one black civilian, down to minute details that include replicas of buttons, belt buckles and weaponry.

Black soldiers helped defend an area of land north of Vicksburg on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River known as Milliken’s Bend against a force of nearly 1,500 Texans. Nearly 600 blacks died in the battle.

Funding for the statue included $275,000 from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and $25,000 from the city.

Of the more than 1,300 monuments in the park, this is the first to honor black troops.

“It’s not just a white park,” said park historian Terry Winschel. “But blacks and whites can learn and benefit from the park because it’s a shared history.”

A ground breaking ceremony will be Sept. 20.