At last fall
Rites of Ancestral Return, The Rev. Herbert Daughtry of the House of the Lord Church, a constant voice for the voiceless, reigned …
… and roared!
The recent Rites of Ancestral Return tributes honored the ancestors through creative and cultural expressions our ancestors never enjoyed.
Through dance, poetry, drums, music, rituals and other cultural, emotional and spiritual outpourings, hundreds of men, women and children celebrated in cities the ancestors played a key role in building without compensation of any sort.
The five-day Rites processional began September 30, 2003 at Howard University in Washington, DC, and journeyed through Wilmington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Jersey City before arriving in New York on Oct. 3 for a two-day ceremony. It ended October 4 with the reinterment of the remains of 419 Africans in the lower Manhattan area — where, in 1991, they were unearthed during a planned excavation. The site (which includes the African Burial Ground Memorial Site) holds the remains of an estimated 20,000 enslaved African men, women and children who helped to transform forested, swamp-ridden 17th-century New Amsterdam into bustling New York City.
There are some who say the dead should never have been disturbed; others say it was necessary to tell their story. Shared was the furtive belief that the Public Voice the ancestors were not privileged to own should echo through the living decendants.
AWho will speak for the ancestors?@, thundered thespian Delroy Lindo to the huge crowd at Foley Square on Centre Street adjacent to the six-acre original Negroes Burying Ground, now itself buried under paved roads and court buildings.
From the time of the excavation 12 years ago, the descendant members and a Federal Steering Committee (formed in the early 90=s by then Mayor David Dinkins) raised that question, and expressed the need to reclaim the ancestors= history — long ago erased.
Many of the strategies and ideas for how the remains were to be handled, who should handle them, and how they should me honored came from the descendant community and the African Burial Group Project Information office.
Yet, the loudest voice may have belonged to The Rev. Herbert Daughtry. He led Agrassroots soldiers@ — members of the descendant community — on the journey by bus, funded by the Schomburg, to each city. Their intent was to jostle memory, to instill facts and to give voice to the angst-filled continuing history of struggle — personal and community, spiritual and political — that has enveloped the African Burial Ground, itself, from earliest times to now.
Writer Claudette Perry, below, acknowledges the significance of the presence of the Agrassroots soldiers@ at the Ancestral Rites and includes in this army historians, scholars, educators, archeologists, researchers, preservationists, archivists. ASpeaking truth to power and facts to factions is a challenge we all must face,@ says Perry.
This perhaps was the thinking behind Daughtry=s move during the Rites Sept. 30 ceremonies in Howard University=s Rankin Hall. By the time he entered the small chapel, every seat was filled. Rather than stand silent at the back of the room, Daughtry and his Asoldiers@ fell in line behind the processional of noted speakers and drummers. They seemed to belong there, as they usher-swayed up to the pulpit. Daughtry signaled chapel assistants for extra chairs. Although Daughtry was not on the program, his presence on this leg of the processional will always be remembered. Invited to make comments, Daughtry offered a rousing Ahistory@ lesson that inspired the biggest applause.
Two months after the applause has gone with the wind, Daughtry and his troops are still watching over the sanctity of the Memorial Site in Lower Manhattan, and attempting to maintain respect for its treasure. BG