Ancestors Coming Home…Let There be Drums
The African Burial Ground
More than a decade ago in New York City, archeologists excavated one of the most significant finds in American history: the largest known intact colonial African cemetery in America, the African Burial Ground. Stretching more than five city blocks, from Broadway beyond Lafayette Street to the east and from Chambers beyond Duane Street to the north, the cemetery was discovered in 1991 during the construction of a federal office building at 290 Broadway.
The remains of approximately 20,000 enslaved Africans were buried in the Lower Manhattan cemetery, which opened in the late 1600s and closed in 1795, and at that time represented the outskirts of the city proper. The remains of more than 400 men, women, and children were discovered carefully shrouded, buried mostly in hexagonal coffins, with coins and other artifacts. Half of those discovered were under the age of twelve, and some 1.5 million artifacts clothing, food, and other materials-were found at the burial ground and construction site. The discovery was a staggering one for anthropologists, historians, and the community. More than evidence of the often concealed or overlooked contributions of African Americans to New York City history, the remains are a poignant reminder of the inviolability of the family, community, and cultural ties among enslaved Africans living under the most oppressive of circumstances.
The burial ground, virtually disregarded before 1991, was for nearly 200 years concealed below city buildings, parking lots, and streets. Today it reflects a rich African history and culture in this city, a history that dates back more than 350 years. This fall, after some ten years of study, the ancestral remains from the burial ground will be returned to a permanent resting-place adjacent to 290 Broadway.
The 6-city commemorative ceremony, organized by the Schomburg Center and the U.S. General Services Administration, will include Washington DC, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark and end in Lower Manhattan. The event will take place over five days, in five states and the District of Columbia, ending with an arrival ceremony, vigil, tribute, and reinterment ceremony at the African Burial Ground.
(Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture)