African Burial Ground Architect Rodney Leon on the Defacing of the Monument  and the Need for Unity in the Current Climate

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Architect of the African Burial Ground Monument addresses the significance of the Burial Ground at press conference in response to the racist words defacing the site. Photo: Mark Stewart

“Thank you all for being here today and thank you for providing me the opportunity to speak with everyone at the site of the African Burial Ground National Monument. It is the first National Monument in the United States specifically dedicated to the sacrifices and memory of enslaved people of African descent.

“The African Burial Ground National Monument serves to educate current and future generations about the extreme sacrifices and profound contributions made by enslaved African-descendant communities to the building of our great city and country. It serves as a reminder of the past horror and the legacy of slavery upon society and simultaneously serves as a testament to the dignity and courage of the estimated 20,000 people who died and were buried in this sacred ground. The memorial is meant to provide our ancestors with the acknowledgement, dignity and respect in death that they were not afforded in life.

Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez holds image of where the racial slur was
written. Photo: Mark Stewart

“On November 1, 2018, someone attempted to dishonor their memories, the descendant community and all of us by desecrating the site with graffiti expressing vile, hateful and racist language. It was a cruel reminder that in spite of the diversity of our city we are not immune from acts of hate and violence being perpetuated with all-too-common frequency throughout our country in recent days. In the last two weeks, we have witnessed the following: October 22nd, pipe bombs sent to numerous prominent Democratic leaders; on Oct. 24th, the shooting of two African-Americans in Kentucky; on October 27th, the tragic murder of 11 members of the Tree of Life Synagogue; on November 1st, the defacing of a Brooklyn synagogue with hate speech and on that very same day the desecration of the African Burial Ground National Monument.

“We are truly experiencing a “national crisis” that must be addressed. Fear and hate thrive in an environment of ignorance, isolation and division. In response, we have come here together on this day to proclaim to the entire city and nation that we shall not stay silent and not stand idly by while the forces of hate, fear and ignorance attempts to divide our city as they are attempting to divide our country. We are not afraid to stand together in unity and speak out to counteract lies with truth, combat hate with love, violence with peace and fear with hope. We also realize that it is not enough for us just to condemn hate and violence. We understand that we must act and we must be proactive in the face of these challenges. We must continue to build institutions, memorials, museums and public spaces that reinforce a narrative that affirms and values the histories of all people who have contributed to the collective fabric of our society. We are at a critical time in our history. It is contingent upon all of us to reinforce, maintain, expand upon and protect the legacy of the African Burial Ground for future generations in the face of current and future challenges.”