My quest to visit National Parks took Tricia and me to the African Burial Ground in Manhattan today. It is a well done park that tells a significant story.
New York’s African Burial Ground is the nation’s earliest known African and African American cemetery. Enslaved Africans played a key role in building Manhattan as they played key roles in building this entire country. The Nation notes that:
In 1703, 42 percent of New York’s households had slaves, much more than Philadelphia and Boston combined. Among the colonies’ cities, only Charleston, South Carolina, had more.
From the late 1600s until 1794, both free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre burial ground in Lower Manhattan, outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, later known as New York. The National Park Service notes that “an estimated 15,000 men, women and children were buried here.
Africans resisted enslavement in countless ways: from rebellions to running away to educating children and more. The care they showed their loved ones was another form of resistance. Faced with the brutal dehumanization of enslavement, honoring those who died (or were killed) served to affirm the humanity and dignity of the individual and the community.
Lost to history due to landfill and development, the grounds were rediscovered in 1991 as a consequence of the planned construction of a Federal office building. The African-American community in New York led a campaign to have the remains honored and remembered. Their efforts, after some controversy and hard work, succeeded. The remains were taken to Howard University for analysis.
After the scientists finished their work, the remains were placed in new coffins and taken back to New York for reburial. The New York Historical Society reports:
The ceremonial journey stopped in five cities along the way, so that people in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington, and Newark could pay their respects. Then the remains arrived by boat in New York City, at the same spot where slave ships had docked two centuries earlier. After days of rituals that included horse-drawn hearses, drummers in African kente cloth, singing, dancing, and prayers, the remains were returned to the earth in lower Manhattan.
The community’s efforts resulted in the designation of the African Burial Ground as New York City Historic District, a National Historic Landmark and, on February 27, 2006, a National Monument.
Today, the African Burial Ground National Monument includes a visitor center with four exhibit areas, a theater where a 20-minute video tells the story of the burial ground, and a bookstore. A short walk away stand the graves and a memorial.
See you along the Trail.