African history has a tendency to get forcefully buried and willfully forgotten by the world as a whole. In global history textbooks, one rarely finds mentions of African civilizations unless it ties into the slave trade and its eventual collapse, or European colonialism. African American culture and history is even woefully underrepresented in America, where African Americans play an integral role throughout America’s history. I deal with this reality every day, as I have little knowledge on the impact that African Americans have had on New York. This has changed as I learned more about the African Burial Ground. My new knowledge led to me to unearthing a gold mine of information pertaining to the effect African Americans have had on New York. The African Burial Grounds inspires one to reexamine slavery's role in the development of New York City.
The first black New Yorker was buried in the African Burial Ground around 1650 and was situated on the outskirts of New Amsterdam, near Collect Pond. African slaves had solace at the African Burial Ground, which may have helped them survive the brutal working conditions. There is also evidence that African burial practices were conducted when the dead were buried, which connected the African slaves to their original homeland. Strict rules applied to the burials, which restricted many slaves from burying their dead in the African Burial Ground. Even though there were obstacles holding slaves back from burying their dead, they persevered and when the African Burial Ground closed in 1794 (due to limited of space), it covered 6.6 acres of the Manhattan island. It is estimated that around 15,000 people were buried in the African Burial Ground and each skeleton holds a story written in their bones. Many bones tell the story of hard labour through evidence of arthritis and bone fractures. Other remains tell the sad, common story of mother’s dying with their children from child birth. These stories can be used to reinforce the harshness of slavery and help others understand why slavery is still a touchy subject. Sadly, as soon as the African Burial Ground closed, it was developed on and forgotten. Now the African Burial Ground stands as a sad example of tenacity and how African American history and culture has been erased in America.
The knowledge of the African Burial Ground was not forgotten by all though. The ancestors of the slaves who were buried in the African Burial Ground passed on the knowledge of the forgotten cemetery so that in the modern era, there were still whispers of the African Burial Ground. When a new federal office building was being built, and rumors came out that the workers were unearthing bones while digging the foundations, some people started searching for more information. One person was Christopher Moore, whose family was certain the bones being dug up were from their family. When Christopher Moore arrived at the construction site, he inquired and eventually two workers informed him they were unearthing truckloads of bones. The workers were powerless to stop the discovery from being kept secret, but in August 1991, when eleven skeleton’s were found, Christopher had enough. He called everyone he could in the news media, which led to the knowledge of the African Burial Ground resurfacing. Suddenly, New Yorkers were rudely awoken to the fact that New York had slaves that were brutally worked and abused, just like every other state in America. The curtain of ignorance had been pulled back, and finally, after nearly 200 years, the slaves of the African Burial Ground were remembered.
There is one thing we can learn from the desecration of these slaves memories. That there are more examples of African slaves impacting New York City obscured just under the known pages of history. We know that slaves played an integral role in the development of both colonial New York and New Amsterdam from documentation of their work. We also know that in New York, most slaves were hired out to work on the docks taking goods off of merchant ships; which was an extremely important part of New York’s economy at the time. Slaves even cooked and cared for the children of their owners while they were away. All of these contributions show how, both literally and metaphorically, slaves were the foundation that New York was built upon., The impact of slaves on America incites one to continue searching for the full perspective on how slavery was integral to the development of New York.