IN OTHER WORDS: Justice done
The opening of the African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan is an important step in America’s struggle to confront head on the horrific legacies of slavery.The graceful stone memorial, designed by the architect Rodney Léon, is also a testament to the tenacity of a group of historians, political activists and regular folks who prevented what remained of the colonial-era burial ground from being built over during the construction of a federal office tower 16 years ago. They then pressed Washington until the Africans, enslaved and free, interred there were properly memorialised.
The graveyard, which may have originally contained between 10,000 and 20,000 bodies, was uncovered during excavation for the tower. The discovery shocked many New Yorkers who had grown up believing that slavery’s horrors were confined to the American South. The truth is that Gotham was at the very centre of the trade in human beings and featured more Africans in chains that just about any other US city.
When New York was growing and devouring what remained of its open space, the African dead were paved over and forgotten by the city they’d helped to build. Thanks to this moving memorial, which draws heavily on African religious symbols and burial rites, they won’t be forgotten again.