Where It All Began
Today, the twenty-five-foot high granite statue graces the reinternment of the 419 forgotten burials of the Negros Burial Ground from 300 years ago. A museum is inside the federal building with the entry doors called The Doors of Return. To the right of the memorial are the mounds of the buried in their hand-carved coffins from Ghana. Inside the museum is a sculpture by Frank Bender titled "Unearthed." This sculpture is based on three intact skeletons and forensic reconstruction. Yes, this memorial is a long time coming, and the memory of these burials is now preserved and honored. The museum is located at 290 Broadway, Manhattan, New York.
In 1991 while excavators were digging the foundation for a new thirty-four story federal building, the first of the skeletons were unearthed. The federal building to be named Ted Weiss Federal Bldg was immediately stopped from excavating.
It all started 300 years ago with the Dutch West Indie Company settled in New Amsterdam, later named New York. Bringing with them slaves for the laborious work needed to clear fields, planting trees, building streets, buildings, and a harbor
In 1644, the Dutch West Indie Company granted eleven slaves "half freedom," giving them small land plots located in a swampy area. This later became known as the Five Points Area. The slaves were the backbone in building New York. When the British took power in 1664, they began restricting the rights of slaves and freedmen from burials in the churchyard.
At the time, Trinity Church was used for burials but not for African Americans. So the African Americans were forced out of the city limits to find a burial place. It was a desolate area and far from town. The African Americans had burial rituals they believed in honoring their dead.
Historians believe that possibly 10,000 to 20,000 African Americans were buried there. Over the years, with development encroaching, fill was dumped over the burials. In a way, the landfill worked to preserve these burials somewhat.
But since the discovery, the city, the government, and the community have all worked together to honor and preserve the forgotten builders of New York. It has opened the public's eyes to the contributions of the forgotten slaves of New Tork.
Guidance Needed on Addressing Burials
Millions were allocated for the new federal building to be built, and when work was stopped due to the discovery of human bones, work was immediately halted. Several different organizations were involved, along with the African American community, who wanted to honor their long-forgotten ancestors. Involved were the Advising Council on Historic Preservation and the U.S. General Service Administration in preserving the archaeological site. It was determined to be "one of the most historical projects in the U.S.
To protect the site, President George W. Bush signed to law October 1992 stopping construction and listed it on the National Register of Historic Places. Then in 1993, it was further listed as a National Historic Landmark, thereby protecting it forever.
Michael L. Blakey, from Howard University, along with his colleagues, were hired to determine who the bones were of and to gather and assimilate scientific information for future use. It was later determined that half of the skeletons were of children under the age of twelve. They suffered from malnutrition and disease. The bones of the adults showed hard physical labor from men and women.
Today the new federal building in the Foley Square Federal Buildingcost was $290 million. Revisions were made to include the African American Museum and Monument. It is a museum worth visiting with a video depicting the lives of early slaves of New York.
Imagine building even a small building or a street with no tools, simply a workforce with only perhaps an ax or wheelbarrow and sheer energy.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 15, 2021:
MG, thanks for your visit. It is so appreciated. I am glad so much of history's forgotten is coming to light.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on January 15, 2021:
This is a fascinating account of a subject that I never knew. It's very heart-rending to learn the slaves laid the foundation of New York. This is not a fact that is known to the world.
Rosina S Khan on January 15, 2021:
It was nice to know about the contributions of the forgotten slaves towards building New York. Great bit of history. Thanks, Fran, for reviving this.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 14, 2021:
Your article describes a sad part of history. I’m glad you’ve shared the information. I was unaware of it. The people that you’ve described should be remembered.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 14, 2021:
Liz, thanks for reading. I agree so many things have been forgotten in history. I do appreciate your visit.
Liz Westwood from UK on January 14, 2021:
This is a shocking part of history which should never be forgotten. Your article is interesting and informative.