The statue depicts a man standing tall, a fierce look of determination on his face. In his arms, he’s carrying a dead Confederate solider.
Cast in bronze, the statue tells the story of Neptune Small, the man for whom Neptune Park on St. Simons Island is named.
Neptune Small was enslaved on the Retreat Plantation, owned by the King family in the 1800s. He served as Henry King’s manservant and went with King when he enlisted to fight in the Civil War.
King died in battle. That night, Small risked crawling across the battlefield to find King’s corpse.
“When he was missing and didn’t come back to the camp, that’s when Neptune went in the middle of the night, crawling on his stomach, because the war was still going on,” said Kevin Pullen, the sculptor of the Neptune Small statue, which sits today in the Golden Isles Welcome Center on St. Simons Island.
Despite being merely miles from the Mason-Dixon line, Pullen said, Small chose to carry King’s body off the battlefield and accompanied it back home to St. Simons Island.
The story of Neptune Small’s bravery and devotion, Pullen said, often goes untold.
“What I tell people is it’s a love story,” he said. “Because these two grew up together. They were love buds when they were little people. The whole slavery and Civil War piece was the backdrop for their lives. They lived on the same property, and they grew up in the same place.”
This story is one of many that could be told if plans to bring a Sculpture Trail to Glynn County come to fruition.
Many local groups, including the Golden Isles Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Brunswick Downtown Development Authority and others, are working together to try to create a trail of sculptures in the public spaces around Glynn County, in hopes of attracting more tourists to the area and to showcase more of the history of the Golden Isles.
“The state economic development office recently gave a report that it would be a great idea to initiate this, so we’re all kind of putting our heads around the idea of developing a statue trail in the public spaces around the county,” said Scott McQuade, CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The report, published in November 2017 by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, included a long list of recommendations on how to better tell Glynn County’s history.
“The report recommended looking at strategies that would showcase different African American events to attract people in a cohesive way,” said Cheryl Hargrove, the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s tourism project manager for the coast. “The Sculpture Trail is one of the recommended strategies that the resource team made because it would be a way to showcase African American heritage, but also other history and culture.”
A tourism resource team from the Georgia Department of Economic Development visited Glynn County last summer and spent three days visiting locations on St. Simons and Jekyll islands and in Brunswick that are significant to the area’s African American history.
These spots included the historic Harrington School, Fort Frederica National Monument and Ebo Landing on St. Simons Island; the Wanderer and Memorial Trail, Jekyll Island Museum and Red Row development on Jekyll Island; and the First African Church, Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, Roxy Theater and Risley High School in Brunswick.
The team then issued the report in November that included recommendations for how to enhance the Golden Isles’ assets and to make best use of tourist attractions to boost the industry locally.
Tourism accounts for more than $61.1 billion in annual economic impact in Georgia, according to the report.
The tourism industry created $422.16 million in direct expenditures in Glynn County in 2016, according to the report. The industry also created 4,020 jobs that year.
The report recommends organizing a local committee to identify significant themes and a process for the development, implementation and management of the Sculpture Trail.
A funding system would need to be created for one sculpture every year, for 10 years, according to the report.
Hargrove said the informal plan right now is to start the trail with a taller sculpture of Neptune Small, which Pullen would be commissioned to create.
Pullen has been involved with the planning process since the beginning, and he said he would be honored to participate in the project.
Pullen was compelled to create the statue of Small that sits today in the Welcome Center when he learned the real story of the naming of Neptune Park.
“Everybody thinks (Neptune Park is named after) the god with the pitch fork. I did … and that’s the reason I did it,” he said. “It was so compelling when I heard the story, and it felt so erroneous to have been trotting on that ground over there and not knowing.”
In gratitude for Small’s decision to bring King home, the King family gave him an 8-acre tract of land. This is the same land on which Neptune Park now sits.
Small lived on the land until he died, and he then deeded the property to the county so that others could enjoy it as he had.
“They did pay him for it, I believe, but I know he gave the deed,” Pullen said. “That’s how the land transferred, because he really wanted the public to have it.”
The county dedicated an oak tree in the park and a ground-level plaque to Small, to commemorate his donation.
“Now, the plaque’s a foot tall, and the oak tree was already there,” Pullen said.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development report also recommends installing more visible signage at the park.
“The present ground marker serves more as a trip hazard rather than a fitting monument to such a great man,” according to the report.
Pullen said the Sculpture Trail needs to be inclusive of the area’s many untold stories.
“It’s not necessarily an African American sculpture trail,” he sad. “It’s a trail to tell the stories.”
Sculptures, when crafted well, can tell these stories powerfully and turn history into a present-day experience, Pullen said.
“If there’s a story to tell, you can tell it,” he said. “And it gets to be so compelling that you can become a part of it. Even just as a viewer, when art tells a story, it’s very inclusive.”