The African Burial Ground Memorial Site at Duane and Elk Streets is the most important landmark in the history of the origins of Early America under Colonial rule.
The Memorial contains 419 coffins resting beneath approximately 600 square feet of ground. And they, in turn, hold the remains of men, women and mostly children who were “worked to death” as they cleared the trees, dug the ditches, built the roads and administered to the daily labor needs of the first illegal aliens – the colonists along the Atlantic coast and inland.
Those remains were unearthed in May 1991 by construction workers preparing to build a federal office tower at Broadway and Duane Streets. They are the sisters and brothers to more than 20,000 other 18th-century Africans buried in 5 acres of graveyard lying beneath what is now the Financial Capital of the world.
“The African Burial Ground Memorial Site calls into question the validity of historical literature that attempted to regionalize enslavement primarily within the U.S. South,” notes press materials of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
The Site acknowledges the neglected history of slavery in early New York and the city’s role as a major slave port. Throughout the 1700’s, New York City had one of the largest slave populations in colonial America – second only to South Carolina.
Even more truths were uncovered by Howard University scientists, biologists, archaeologists and researchers (See Dr. Warren Perry’s essay on PG. 11). The remains, sent to Howard in 1993 upon the insistence of community groups, revealed evidence of the unrelenting brutalities faced by the Ancestors at every hour. This year, Howard University’s examination of the remains and artifacts was completed, thus allowing the reinterment process to commence. The six-city, five-day Rites of Ancestral Return led by the Schomburg Center commemorated the journey of the Ancestors’ remains back to their “resting place” in Lower Manhattan.
Departing from Howard University on September 30, the “bones” travelled to Baltimore, MD; Wilmington, DE; Philadelphia, PA; Newark, NJ and Jersey City. They arrived in New York by flotilla on October 3 at Pier 11, the site of the old slave market. An exterior memorial and interpretive center at the Burial Ground Memorial Site are scheduled for completion in 2005, and reports on the 12-year studies are expected to roll out over a period of two years beginning, this month.
Meanwhile, Our Time Press is providing a color-supplement for its readers which tells the story of the Rites of Ancestral Return through the eyes, voices and texts of those who experienced the procession, and those who have lived it since 1991. Ten thousand copies -30% of our circulation – will include supplements. Award-winning journalist Herb Boyd’s story below, Inez Barron’s View on page 14 and Yvette Moore’s coverage on page 15 introduce the “Ancestral Presence” supplement. BG