African Burial Ground,
bridge to the past
In April 2005, Rodney Leon’s design was
selected in a public review process managed
by the National Park Service, in partnership
with the General Services Administration, as
a fitting tribute for the African Burial
Ground memorial . The memorial opened in
October 2007 as a national monument.
This memorial, constructed on the burial
grounds of enslaved Africans, is a living
tribute to past, present, and future
generations of all America.
The stories of the burial ground teach us
how free and enslaved Africans contributed
to the physical, cultural and spiritual
development of Lower Manhattan during the
17th and 18th centuries and ultimately to
the whole nation. In addition, this history
reveals how New York played a critical role
in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, more than a
quarter of the labor force in America came
as slaves from Africa. These Africans worked
on the docks, farmed, provided domestic
labor, and were the extremely hard working
hands in the mills.
According to the African Burial Ground
National Historic Landmark Study, the first
enslaved men from Africa were eleven.
Subsequently, thousands were brought,
separated from their families and subjected
to a long voyage across the Atlantic in
closely packed ships where disease, abuse
and death were common. One could only
imagine the frustration and fear that went
through the minds of these human beings
before they were brought to this unknown
land so far away from home.
The African slaves who came to New York were
not tribally homogenous. They came from
diverse areas with different cultures,
languages, and religions. They were brought
to New York, today’s lower Manhattan, which
then was the colony of New Amsterdam founded
by the Dutch West India Company in 1626.
In June 2001, during archaeological testing
of the area of lower Manhattan, some human
remains were discovered. By October 2003,
the number of the discovery had increased to
419 human ancestral remains of enslaved
The remains were re-interred during a special
ceremony staged for the purpose and named
“The Rites of Ancestral Return. The ceremony
lasted six day with a ceremonial journey
that began at Howard University in D.C.
where several people attended. It continued
through Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia,
Camden, Newark, and Jersey City and finally
to end in New York City where a three day
tribute took place at the burial Ground
Monument. The burial ground's discovery
inspired research into the lives of these
Africans. The research revealed the
diversity of their cultures, and how these
cultures were transformed in the Americas.
It is estimated that nearly 15,000 Africans
are buried within the 6.6 acre site, which
mostly lies hidden beneath buildings,
streets and the sidewalks of today’s lower
Manhattan. Considering the millions of
people that walk the streets of New York in
this particular area, and the vehicular
traffic that pounds the grounds daily, it is
amazing to note that our ancestors' remains
have been resting all these years under
these pavements, waiting for history to
With the presidential proclamation of
February 27, 2006, the lower Manhattan area
containing the African Burial Ground was
declared a National Monument. Local,
national, and international communities have
since started using this sacred place to
honor and celebrate the memory of our slave
Ceremonies have occurred at the location of
the burial ground on each anniversary since
2003 to mark the day the African slaves were
re-interred. During the 2003 ceremony world
renowned poet Maya Angelou attended. In a
fitting speech to end a sad period of black
history Angelou said:
“You may bury
me in the bottom of Manhattan.
I will rise.
My people will come and get me.
I will rise out of the huts of history’s
The memorial is open to the public Monday-
Sunday 9-5pm It is located on the corner of
Duane and Elk Streets.
Kobina Anan, Jr.
New York City, November 4, 2007