african burial ground

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I visited the African Burial Ground National Monument while visiting New York last week. The things I learned in this museum gave me crazy chills. Once they started to build more in the city of New York these coffins of former slaves and black bodies were uprooted. Descendants of the people buried here petitioned and got them to stop digging up and disrespecting the their loved ones. It was crazy to learn that a good percentage of the bodies were of kids no older than 2 years old. The monument was built right on top of this huge burial site which preserved the bodies that weren’t destroyed.

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Dr. Gregory Carr of Howard University, pouring libations at the African Burial Ground in Manhattan.

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The African Burial Ground project began in 1991, when, during excavation work for a new federal office building, workers discovered the skeletal remains of the first of more than 400 men, women and children. Further investigation revealed that during the 17th and 18th centuries, free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6 acre burial ground in lower Manhattan outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, which would become New York. Over the decades, the unmarked cemetery was covered over by development and landfill.

African Burial Ground in East Harlem to be memorialized

Originally scheduled for renovation throughout 2015 to 2019, the MTA’s bus depot at 2460 Second Ave. (between 126th and 127th streets) will instead shut down permanently Jan. 5, 2015 to make way for an African Burial Ground memorial.

A major ancestral awakening of New York City’s sordid slave history occurred in 2008, when Department of Transportation employees unearthed a 17th century African gravesite while refurbishing the Willis Avenue Bridge. The MTA offered to renovate the area in 2010.

“They emphasized one thing,”said Patricia Singletary, leader of the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, which seeks preservation and official recognition of the cemetery. “That was, ‘We’re going to be very respectful of the bones,’ and they repeated [it]. Well, that unnerved us because if they said that, they must have found something.”

The land—previous property of the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem, later known as the Elmendorf Reformed Church, from 1665 to 1869—started as a cemetery after land-grabber Peter Stuyvesant had enslaved Africans, in the mid-1600s, build a nine-mile road from lower Manhattan to what was then a rural area named Nieuw Haarlem. He erected a church on First Avenue between 126th and 127th streets, setting aside a quarter acre of land later known as the “Negro Burying Ground” and eventually, “The Harlem African Burial Ground.”

Church records indicate that an unknown number of free, as well as enslaved, Africans from all over Manhattan are buried there.

“The Harlem community is watching and very concerned about what’s going on,” said Singletary, also pastor of Elmendorf Reformed Church, now at 171 E. 121st St., which owns the land. “We just want the burial ground to be memorialized, properly commemorated and preserved.”


City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito added, “We’ve already started to work on [the memorial]. Residential is a thought, but it has to be done in a respectful way.”

In 2010, the MTA planned to upgrade the dilapidated depot next year, but activists’ demands that it be converted into a memorial scuttled the plan.

Once the MTA evacuates the depot, which opened in 1947 as a trolley yard, the site will revert back to city control under a lease agreement between the two.

Source: The Amsterdam News

African Burial Ground

During the 1991 survey and excavation to construct a Federal office building in lower Manhattan, a surprising discovery was made as workers unearthed the human remains of several intact burials.  Work was halted and the building site became an archaeological dig.

This unexpected and exciting project shed a great deal of light on the forgotten history of the African slaves of colonial and federal New York.

It is estimated that this was the site of 15,000 to 20,000 burials in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  A look back at the history showed that the cemetery on this land was closed in 1794 and the area was approved for development.  In order to preserve the burials, the site was covered with up to 25 feet of landfill and development moved forward for almost 200 years.

It wasn’t until the 1991 construction project that these graves were discovered.

Archeological excavation revealed the remains of 419 Africans both free and enslaved; 40% of which were children.  The remains are still here and this monument was built.

These seven mounds cover the re-interred remains.  There are often flowers and other small tributes placed on the mounds.

A beautiful monument has been created.  Here is part of the circular floor showing a map centred on the crossroads of African culture and details from some of those buried here.

Surrounding the central floor are curving walls made of polished black granite and carved there, are religious and funerary symbols from many of the places in the African diaspora.

This part of the monument is a structure that evokes a slave ship.

One can choose to enter the monument either through the “ship” or by walking down the gentle ramp of the spiral.  Both paths are a moving way to pause and think about the lives of so many that came to New York unwillingly.

African Burial Ground National Monument

Today was another amazing day spent in the city, but a much more intense one. 
My ambition today was to walk Broadway, see the Village and NYU, but most of all I wanted to visit the most important urban archaeological find in the United States, an African Burial Ground from the 1690s-1794. 
The burial ground stretches under most of New York’s financial district, and contains an estimated 15000-20000 burials. 

The site was discovered in 1991 during a routine federally mandated excavation and over four hundred remains (40% of which were children) were exhumed and studied before outcry from the African American community halted the excavation. 

Eventually it was decided that the exhumed remains would be reburied in hand made coffins from Africa, in the manner in which they were buried, that is to say, with their heads facing east, towards Africa. 

The memorial is made of haunting black marble, based around a circular area meant to commemorate the African Diaspora, and a ship like entrance to recall the horrors of the Middle Passage. Within the Circle of the Diaspora is a multitude of religious iconography, my favorite of which was an African symbol for “Unity in Diversity”

The experience was moving and humbling, and although I was not present at the time of the forced migration of Africans from their homeland, I felt an extreme guilt and sadness for the actions of my ancestors, and conscious of the burden of guilt that comes with my white privilege.

It was a haunting experience.

I wish I had not gone alone.

KQED SCIENCE: National Parks Have Some Work to Do, to Become ‘Parks for All’

“They don’t feel a sense of connection,” says Nina Roberts, professor at San Francisco State University. “They just don’t feel that relationship.”

The National Park Service does preserve places that are historically and culturally significant to many peoples. Think of the birthplace of the farmworker movement in California, Aztec ruins in New Mexico, and an African burial ground in Manhattan.

But across the system, most park employees are Caucasian. The uniforms make rangers look like immigration officials. And, Roberts says, many African-Americans, particularly elders, fear the outdoors and carry the scars of slavery and lynchings.

And there are subtle ways the park has discriminated.

“At a local park here in Washington D.C., for a time, the only signs in Spanish were ‘No drinking allowed in the park,'” says Alan Spears, director of cultural resources with the National Parks Conservation Association.

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African Burial Ground National Historic Monument     Lower Manhattan, NYC     April 27, 2013

Photographed by: Sarah Killinger

I had the opportunity to visit the African Burial Ground Natl. Historic Monument in New York last month. It was such a moving experience to be at one of the most significant archeological sites in US history and at a sacred site where my past and present connect. While working during my term with the National Park Service I have had the pleasure and opportunity to catalog some of Howard University’s skeletal biosynthesis reports that were performed on the excavated remains and it really made me reflect on how fortunate I am to have come from people who were able to survive centuries of such a horrid institution. The photos featured above are of the actual burial mounds that contain the remains of the Africans discovered in the burial ground, part of the memorial and one of the commissioned sculptures featured inside the Weiss Federal building to honor the African Burial Ground. I will post more pictures from my visit later. Peace all.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” - Bob Marley

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New York City: People’s Power March Against Racism to Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, January 15, 2015.

March from the African Burial Ground National Monument to the Staten Island Ferry, Wall Street, the massive city jail, and City Hall.

“Enough is enough! We are tired of the white supremacy and racism that’s so prevalent in the U.S.! We are tired of the constant NYPD repression, occupation and murders within communities of color . If Dr. King were alive today, he would be in the streets with our anti-police brutality movement. Let’s organize student strikes, community strikes, workers strikes, and march!”

Photos by redguard

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New York City: People’s Power March Against Racism to Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, January 15, 2015.

March from the African Burial Ground National Monument to the Staten Island Ferry, Wall Street, the massive city jail, and City Hall.

“Enough is enough! We are tired of the white supremacy and racism that’s so prevalent in the U.S.! We are tired of the constant NYPD repression, occupation and murders within communities of color . If Dr. King were alive today, he would be in the streets with our anti-police brutality movement. Let’s organize student strikes, community strikes, workers strikes, and march!”

Photos by redguard