The African Burial Ground National Monument, New York, NY
Celebrate African American History Month with a visit to this unprecedented National Monument that honors the first Africans in America
In 1991, a crew was excavating a large lot in bustling New York City's Lower Manhattan when they stumbled upon human remains about 20 feet below the surface. The U.S. Congress promptly called off work on the federal office building in order to further examine the remains.
A group of anthropologists from Howard University studied the area and found materials of West African traditions along with skeletal remains of over 400 men and women with evidence of bone lesions, muscle tears and spine fractures.
It turns out, that area of Lower Manhattan bordered New Amsterdam's "Common" and the only place that "free" and enslaved Africans were allowed to bury their dead during the 1600s until 1794. The unraveling of this story became one of the most significant, historic urban archaeological projects undertaken in the United States.
Almost four centuries later, in 2007, a memorial was unveiled on the corner of Duane and Elk Streets, commemorating and communicating the narrative of the African Burial Ground.
Those very grounds once bordered the area of New Amsterdam settled by the Dutch West India Company and West African laborers. Some of those laborers built a barricade at present-day Wall Street in order to keep out the British. When the British eventually infiltrated and took over the area, the already less-than-optimal state of affairs for the African population brutally changed. Ironically, that area then became the site of the very first British slave market. Some of these Africans were enslaved and some of them were "conditionally" free, under certain terms.
All the while, the approximately 6.6-acre burial ground continued to serve its original purpose. Africans executed after the 1712 slave revolt were buried there.
African Loyalists promised freedom by the British were buried there, with their British regalia.
Children were buried there.
Historians approximate that 15,000 to 20,000 individuals may have been buried there.
New York contained the largest number of enslaved Africans of all colonies outside Charleston, South Carolina.
Now the memorial features a visitor's center, small theater, shop and exhibits. Though slavery was officially abolished in New York in 1827, the African Burial Ground is our first public commemoration of the laborers taken from their homeland through a "door of no return," and their descendants—all of whom not only helped build the city, but who also laid the groundwork of the nation.
February is African American History Month.