The current scientific project constitutes yet another dimension of the struggle for control of the ABG. We seek to illuminate the impact of African captivity upon the lives of our ancestors and their living descendants, and to reconstruct knowledge of their origins and identities that were deliberately distorted in the effort to bolster the identity of Euro-Americans at the expense of African- Americans (Blakey 1997). As scientific director of the African Burial Ground Project, Mi chael Blakey has brought together a national and international research team of scholars from Africa and the US who are concerned with creating alternative histories. The ABG Project has evolved into a multi-disciplinary scientific effort comprised of complementary natural and social science teams with expertise in the African diaspora. These include: molecular genetics, bone chemistry, skeletal biology, history and archaeology (African and African- American), ethnology, conservation and African art history. This collaborative effort has global and universal implications, transcending any particular discipline or the interests of any one segment of the descendant community. These organizational changes have resulted in the selection of four basic research questions to guide our scientific analyses. They are relevant both for activist scholars and the descendant community:
1) What are the cultural and geographical roots of the individuals interred in the African Burial Ground?
2) What was the physical quality of life for Africans enslaved in New York City during the colonial period and how was it different from the quality of life in their African homeland?
3) What biological characteristics and cultural traditions remained unchanged and which were transformed during the creation of African-American society and culture? 4) What were the modes of resistance and how were they creatively reconfigured and used to resist oppression and to forge a new African- American culture?
In addition to the scientific teams, the ABG has an Office of Public Education and Interpretation of the African Burial Ground Project (OPEI), directed by Dr. Sherrill Wilson. OPEI’s primary roles are to educate and inform the public of ABG project events, to assure public access to the site, the skeletal and artifactual remains, and to allow appropriate cultural ceremonies to commemorate the ancestors. It also provides community involvement/education activities such as educators’ symposia, laboratory tours and two newsletters that updates the public on the research and introduce archaeology, anthropology and conservation to children and adults.
New York City’s ABG Project is a case of archaeology as community service. It emerged from a protracted struggle over control of the ABG and its products between an organized descendant community and its allies, and the GSA and archaeology consultant firms. This struggle has resulted in an increased awareness of the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology within the African descendant community. It has produced a public education program that facilitates a reciprocal dialogue between researchers and the general public, maximizing the interpretive potential of the archaeological record and creating an historical consciousness that challenges the distortions of Eurocentric history (Singleton 1995).
Through this struggle, the descendant community and its allies have successfully achieved the incorporation of African- American scholars in the creation and maintenance of a research design and agenda that establishes a prominent role for historically under-represented African- Americans in the analysis and interpretation of an internationally renowned archaeological site (Mathis 1997
By taking moral responsibility for the spiritual and physical control of the site, the descendant community seized intellectual power-forcing changes in the composition and direction of the professional leadership of the project (La Roche and Blakey 1996). The original, ancestral ABG community and the modern descendant community have used this sacred social space to resist and to honor their African heritage in spite of institutionalized racist disrespect. The struggle for the proper treatment of the ABG reaffirms its significance in the past and gives the site continued significance in the present; it is an important part in the legacy of struggle to control and interpret the African past.
(Entire article with references available at: http://www.stpt.usf.edu/~jsokolov/burialgr.htm)
Activists Rename Federal Building
By Herb Boyd
(Special to Our Time Press)
The remains of African ancestors were hardly back in the ground from where they had been unearthed in 1991 before the nearby federal building at 290 Broadway was named to honor Ted Weiss, a New York Congressman who died in 1992.
For more than 12 years community activists had waged a campaign to get the remains of African ancestors re-interred. Now, there was yet another obstacle to peace and tranquility, the naming of a 34-story building hovering over the sacred African Burial Ground.
Dozens of those who had participated in the re-interment, including Councilman Charles Barron (D-East New York) and the Reverend Herb Daughtry, pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, were once again at the site on November 3, African Solidarity Day, protesting what they viewed as sacrilege.
“We believe it was totally insensitive for them to do this and it’s reminiscent of the disrespect we endured from the General Services Administration over the many years of trying to get our ancestors back where they belong,” said Rev. Daughtry, in a later interview. “This is outrageous, and we don’t mean to cast any aspersions on Mr. Weiss’ name.”
Back in March, 2003, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), who represents the 8
District, which used to be Weiss’s Congressional District 17, sponsored a bill to name the building after his predecessor. Weiss was born in Hungary. He was 10 when he and his family fled Nazi tyranny and left for the United States on the last passenger ship out of Hamburg, Germany before WorldWar II, arriving in the US in March, 1938. In 1961, he was elected to the New York City Council, and was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1976 where he served until his death.
The bill was passed in October, though there was little fanfare. Even so, it didn’t escape the attention of a cadre of community activists and Councilman Barron. To counter the government’s initiative, Barron and his cohorts decided to rename the building in honor of the great statesman Frederick Douglass, who escaped from bondage in the 1840s.
“We have told people that each time they go by the building to remember that it’s the Frederick Douglass Building,” said Barron, who is also a member of the Committee of Descendants of the African Burial Ground. “No matter what they may choose to call it, for us it will always be the Frederick Douglass Building.”
“And Frederick Douglass is a far more fitting name, given the site contains the bones of our ancestors,” Daughtry added. “This is a disgrace and we don’t plan to give in until something is done about it.”
WHO WILL TEACH OUR STORY
TO OUR CHILDREN?
THE GRIOT: Historian-Writer Christopher Moore, the author of the Teacher’s Guide for the “Rites of Ancestral Return” project, responds to questions from Baltimore, MD schoolchildren and their teachers on October 1, 2003, just minutes before the start of the city’s ancestral observances. Moore is the chief researcher for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and research coordinator for the African Burial Ground Project. He oversaw the dignified transfer of 4 coffins, containing the remains of 18th century Africans, from a white unmarked truck to hearses in each procession city. He also walked as the procession’s chief sentinel behind the horse-drawn carriages in the cities. Moore co-wrote, with Howard Dodson and Roberta Yancey, The Black New Yorkers: The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology, and traces his New York family roots to 1649.