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NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – On Oct. 5, the National Park Service, in partnership with the African Burial Ground Monument Foundation, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the U.S. General Services Administration, officially dedicated the new memorial at the lower Manhattan site where 419 ancestral graves were uncovered by construction workers in 1991.
Supporters of the African Burial Ground say it is the largest and oldest excavated in North America, and that the burial ground is one of the most significant archaeological finds in U.S. history. The original burial ground stretched more than five city blocks during the 17th and 18th century, and it is estimated that more than 15,000 Africans were buried in those graves. The entire African Burial Ground district was designated as both a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark in 1993.
As a result of community outrage and protest, in 1991, the remains and the artifacts were sent to Howard University where they were studied and it was revealed that the burial ground told the story of the contributions of enslaved and free Africans in the building of the early Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. The history gleamed from the site reveals how the area played a role in the early days of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Designers of the African Burial Ground National Monument say it is a landmark that memorializes the struggles of Africans forcefully brought here. “The memorial represents a unique opportunity and responsibility for all of us,” Rodney Leon, the monument’s designer. “No longer will one walk past this site or through lower Manhattan, and not be provided the opportunity to know, understand and acknowledge and respect the significance of this site,” Mr. Leon told those in attendance at the ceremony on Oct. 5.
His firm, Aarris Architects, was one of five chosen from a field of 61 applicants in 1998. In 2004, the National Park Service convened a series of public forums, and the designs were revised based on public feedback.
“There is no other national monument in our country that addresses either slavery or the early African American experience, and we are honored to be the home of this tribute to those who lived and died here,” offered Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It is our hope that those who visit this monument will be reminded of how far we have come, and may the memory of those buried here be forever honored.”
The Schomburg Center in Harlem is a co-sponsor of the ABG Monument Foundation, along with Riverside Church and Essence Communications Inc., with the objectives of raising funds and generating global outreach. Schomburg Center’s executive director, Howard Dodson tells why his institution became involved with the ABG: “We want to put a marker on it so that it would never be forgotten again.”
“The monument and the interpretive center that will support it are important new resources for commemorating and telling the stories of our enslaved colonial African ancestors,” Mr. Dodson added.
Among the dignitaries attending the ceremony were actors Sidney Poitier and Avery Brooks; Mayor Michael Bloomberg; New York educator Dr. Adelaide Sanford; Lt. Gov. David Patterson; U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer; New Jersey Congressman Donald Payne; City Councilmen Robert Jackson and Leroy Comrie; and poet, author Maya Angelou offered a moving spoken word tribute.
“Today, it’s African Americans we are honoring, because the playing field has not been evened,” Ms. Angelou offered.