New York African Burial Ground - History and Facts | History Hit

New York African Burial Ground

New York City, New York, United States

The New York African Burial Ground is a memorial to the tens of thousands of Africans once buried there.

Peta Stamper

14 Apr 2021

About New York African Burial Ground

The New York African Burial Ground or the African Burial Ground National Monument is a 6.6 acre area in Lower Manhattan where around 15,000 African slaves and free Africans were buried in the 17th and 18th centuries. Hidden by development, the New York African Burial Ground was uncovered during construction works in 1991.

Today, the site is marked by a memorial monument and also has a nearby visitor centre, both testifying to the historic role of slavery in building New York.

New York African Burial Ground history

After the English seized the area claimed by the Dutch East India Trading Company in 1664, renaming it New York, Trinity Church gained control of a burial grounds in the city. However, the church excluded Black people from being buried in churchyards or within the city limits. Therefore, a burial ground for enslaved Africans during the 18th century was situated beyond the city’s northern limit.

The site used for the burial ground of Black Africans and Americans was labelled on maps dating to 1712, although burials likely dated back to the 1690s when Trinity Church first barred them. The discovery that physicians and medical students had been digging up bodies illegally to dissect lead to the 1788 Doctors’ Riot. The cemetery was closed afterwards for development and the burial ground was forgotten, so it was not until buildings on-site were demolished in 1897 that workers found a large number of human remains.

However, the site was dismissed and only in October 1991 did the US Government conduct an archaeological survey when hoping to build the Ted Weiss Federal Building. Pressures to finish construction met with protests from the African-American community in 1992, who were concerned the site was was not being fully respected or examined.

Ultimately, the burial ground was preserved while the federal building was built directly beside the site. A memorial designed by Rodney Leon and Nicole Hollant-Denis was created to further mark the burial ground as a national monument. In February 2010 a visitor centre opened in the Ted Weiss Federal Building.

New York African Burial Ground today

Today, you can view the memorial designed by Leon and Hollant-Davis, a large circular design surrounding a map of Africa and the Americas, set into a peaceful slice of the city. The mounds to the right of the monument contain reinterred remains.

Situated within the Ted Weiss Federal Building, the visitor centre offers exhibits, replica artefacts and a minute-long video about the site’s history. Of particular interest is a collection of modern commemorative artworks available to view.

Getting to New York African Burial Ground

Located only minutes from Brooklyn Bridge, the New York African Burial Ground is a 5 minute walk from the closest subway station, City Hall on lines N, R and W. The closest bus stops are Chambers St/Broadway on M22 line or Broadway/Duane Street on M55.