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  African Burial Ground.                 more selected entries

Containing the remains of between 10,000 and 20,000 people within 5-6 acres (2-2.4 ha) in Lower Manhattan, it is the oldest known African cemetery in urban America. Once called the Negro (or Negros) Burial Ground, it was used from as early as 1712 to about 1795. Barred from the cemeteries of many New York City churches, including Trinity Church in 1697, free and enslaved Africans buried their dead on the outskirts of the developed city beyond Wall St near Collect Pond, where 18th-century free Blacks also owned land. By 1812 builders had deposited up to 25 feet (7.6 m) of fill over the burials, which remained largely forgotten until 1991, when archaeologists unearthed them. Knowing of the possible existence of the burial ground, the federal General Services Administration (GSA) contracted archaeologists to document and remove remains during construction of a $275 million federal office building at 290 Broadway, on one section of the cemetery. Concerned citizens, including many African Americans, organized protests and pressured politicians to halt the excavation when they learned construction crews had destroyed burials, improper storage had damaged remains, and the archaeological project lacked a proper research design and African American involvement. A 1992 federal law stopped excavation of the burials and allocated $3 million for on-site reburial and a memorial. The GSA contracted new scholars to study the remains; artifacts stayed in New York City, but the skeletal remains were transferred to Howard University. Though the identities of those buried remain unknown, analysis revealed that most excavated individuals had been placed in wooden coffins and buried facing east. Most were wrapped in white shrouds fastened with copper pins, and some were buried with objects, including coins, shells, glass, buttons, beads, clay pipes, coral, and quartz crystal. Approximately 45% of the burials were of children under age 12. Many individuals were malnourished, and some suffered from severe arthritis, muscle tears, and bone fractures caused by intense physical labor. In 1993 the site earned National Historic Landmark status, the GSA established an Office of Public Education and Interpretation for the African Burial Ground, and New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission created the African Burial Ground and Commons Historic District, a designation requiring review of any construction or excavation projects proposed for the area. The office building was completed in 1994. The excavated remains will be reburied upon completion of research, and an interpretive center and memorial are planned to honor those buried in the African Burial Ground.

Cantwell, Anne-Marie E., and Diana diZerega Wall. Unearthing Gotham: The Archaeology of New York City (New Haven, Conn: Yale Univ Press, 2001)

Frohne, Andrea E. "The African Burial Ground in New York City: Manifesting and Representing Spirituality of Space" (PhD diss, SUNY Binghamton, 2002)

LaRoche, Cheryl, and Michael L. Blakey. "Seizing Intellectual Power: The Dialogue at the New York African Burial Ground," Historical Archaeology 31 (1997): 84-106

Andrea E. Frohne


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