In May of 1991, on a lot at the corner of Duane and Elk Streets, part of an 18th-century burial ground for people of African descent was discovered. To date 427 graves, winding through five city blocks, have been found. Research shows that nearly half of the skeletons are of individuals age 12 and under. Virtually all lived hard lives, as evinced by the many bone fractures characteristic of a life spent hauling heavy loads. Ninety-two percent of the graves reveal burial patterns known to exist in some African societies: e.g. filed teeth, one woman with 111 glass waist-beads. One find was especially prescient: a coffin bearing tacks in the shape of a heart, later identified as the Ashanti symbol sankofa, which roughly translated means look to the past to inform the future. The discovery is a reminder that slavery was not exclusive to the south. New York City was, in fact, a major slave port in the 1700s, the terrible practice having been introduced a century earlier by the Dutch. Plans for a permanent memorial exhibit have been proposed, as has an African-American museum.
Click All locations, above, for information about the adjacent visitor center. For additional information about the monument, click here.
The Office of Public Education and Interpretation (OPEI) of the African Burial Ground offers public lectures, slide presentations, tours and other free programs to educate and inform the public on the history and status of this exciting and important discovery. Also, every May OPEI sponsors an open house, offering a full day of events relating to the African Burial Ground Project. The day's activities include updates by project principals such as its scientific director, Dr. Michael Blakey, as well as films, lab tours, site visits and community forums. Educational portfolios and supplementary materials are available.
Little is known about people from Africa in New York during the Colonial period. The African Burial Ground sheds some light on people who played a major role in building the city. OPEI offers three programs for groups. A 30- to 45-minute slide presentation/lecture furnishes the visitor with an overview of the project, as well as a bit of Colonial New York history as it relates to African immigrants and their descendants. A site tour takes groups to the actual excavation area where the skeletal remains were discovered. Students learn the history of the site and see the artwork at the visitor center inside 290 Broadway, some of which relates to the African Burial Ground. Educational portfolios containing background information, maps, articles and bibliographies are sent to groups and are available to individuals.
Uncovering the Story of the African Burial Ground Through Archeology is an example of one of the types of educational programs designed to help students learn more about archeology by examining replica artifacts from the African Burial Ground.
The program lasts 90 minutes, and is intended for students in grades 5-8.
Click here for lesson plans.