Situated at the corner of Broadway and Duane Street, near City Hall in lower Manhattan, the National Park Service operates a National monument honoring a place, a people, a time once forgotten but now revealed.
This sacred ground honors those least respected in their time, the ones with no voice and no power. The African Burial grounds are home to the remains of slaves and indentured servants, along with a few criminals, hung for their crimes.
It is the story of slavery, indentured servitude and this memorial shines a light on their lives, their hardships, their families, and how they struggled for dignity.
Slaves first arrived with the Dutch in New Amsterdam in 1626. Many were indentured volunteers seeking refuge, most were not. They were brought to the new world to build New New Amsterdam with the strength of their backs, their blood and sweat. Their mission was to clear the land, level roads and built the town. They farmed the lands and cared for the families of the settlers. Many of these early slaves gained land for their labor. In addition to their required labor, many established farms of their own and raised their families in the swampy lands that became known as “Land of the Blacks.”
When the English arrived in the 1720’s, they grabbed the land, renamed it New York, and revoked land grants that had been given to African slaves and other indentured servants. English separatists banned these peoples, mostly African Slaves from their churches, neighborhoods, and even cemeteries. For a burial ground, the slaves were awarded a small tract of land in a ravine north of town.Over the next two centuries, progress, development and landfills buried the graves more than 20 feet under the leveled lands.
Long forgotten, when excavation work began for the Ted Weiss Federal Building, workers unearthed the burial grounds quite by accident. Construction was halted until new plans could be made to respectfully protect this historical site.
This important, substantial and significant piece of New York history was lost, and only by chance rediscovered.This history is for all people, not just those of African descent. It is a lesson in perseverance, in corrupt justice and it begs us to protect human dignity.
The National Park Service operates the National monument and museum, offering guided tours with informational insights as they share a historical narrative.
The history of this magnificent city fascinates us. If you have an interest in local or national history, we highly recommend visiting The African Burial Grounds. It’s free and is truly enlightening. Do you have a favorite piece of New York history? Let us know. We would love to check it out.