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Photos: Kobina Annan, Jr.


African Burial Ground, bridge to the past

Kobina Annan, Jr.

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 Africans.

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 discover them.

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 ancestors.

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 shame.”

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


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   African Burial Ground, bridge to the past

 Review, Nov 4, Ghanadot - 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 ....More

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