Places that Matter

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African Burial Ground National Monument

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Aerial view of the outdoor memorial. Courtesy, National Park Service
Aerial view of the outdoor memorial. Courtesy, National Park Service
Entrance to the memorial through the Libation Chamber. Courtesy, National Park Service
Memorial at ground level. Courtesy, National Park Service
Life-size wax figures in the Visitor Center, re-creating a slave funeral. Courtesy, National Park Service
Interactive exhibit in the Visitor Center on the archaeological finds. Courtesy, National Park Service
Visitor Center exhibit on life for enslaved Africans in early New York. Courtesy, National Park Service
Colonial-era burial ground for African-Americans
Place Details »

Place Matters Profile

On the eve of the American Revolution, New York City was second only to Charleston, South Carolina as an urban center of slavery.  In 1991, during excavations for a new federal building in Manhattan’s Financial District, a colonial-era burial ground containing the remains of an estimated 15-20,000 Africans was discovered.Today, a memorial commemorates those interred in the African Burial Ground, and a visitor center addresses the history of African-descended people in early New York as well as the struggle to preserve the burial ground itself.

The African Burial Ground Visitor Center, located at 290 Broadway, has been the most visited of all New York City’s National Park Service sites since its opening in February 2010. The memorial—known as the African Burial Ground National Monument—is located just around the corner, at the intersection of Duane and Elk streets. Though the bones of those buried at the African Burial Ground were first discovered by the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1991, it took a great deal of time and effort before both the memorial and the visitor center came to fruition.
 
The GSA was able to identify what it had discovered thanks to a 1755 map of New York, where the location was marked as the “Negros Burial Ground.” The GSA then hired a team of archaeologists, but elected to pursue both excavation and construction, thus destroying some remains in the process. After Fox News broke the story of what was occurring at the site, an outcry arose from black New Yorkers. Construction was halted due to protests and political interventions.
 
In 1993, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and an archaeological team from Howard University undertook the project of studying the 419 exhumed remains. The project lasted until 2003, the same year in which the GSA struck an agreement with the National Park Service, creating the Development and Public Investment of the Exterior Memorial and the Interpretive Center. On October 4, 2003, a re-internment ceremony involving eight cities, 10,000 participants, and lasting for five days occurred, beginning in Washington, D.C., and ending in New York City.