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Contact: Darren Boch, 212-668-2251
New York, NY – The African Burial Ground National Monument, a unit of the National Park Service (NPS), today opened a new visitor center in a federal office building located at the national monument in lower Manhattan. The national monument is located within the 6.6-acre historical burial ground that contains the remains of approximately 15,000 people, making it the largest and among the oldest African cemeteries excavated in North America. The visitor center tells the story of the contributions of enslaved and free Africans in the life and building of the early Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and later New York City, and the role of the African descendant community in preserving the burial ground following its rediscovery in 1991.
“The National Park Service’s mission is to preserve for this and future generations those special places that inspire and inform us about who we are as a people, so that we may fully understand where we came from in the hope that all of us may fully realize the promise that is America. The importance of that mission is nowhere more evident than here atop this sacred burial ground, which, although covered by the advance of time and development, remains as a monument to the sacrifices and contributions of a people whose story is yet unfolding,” said Mickey Fearn, deputy director of the National Park Service.
One of the most significant archaeological finds in U.S. History, the African Burial Ground is a 17th- and 18th- century cemetery that was rediscovered in 1991 when construction began on a federal office building in lower Manhattan. The remains of 419 African men, women and children were unearthed by archaeologists and transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C. for study. In October 2003, following a six-day, five-city procession from Howard University to New York City, the remains were placed in mahogany coffins and reburied back within the national monument near where they were originally rediscovered. That site is now marked by a memorial that was dedicated in 2007.
Located on the ground floor of The Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway, the architecture for the new visitor center was designed by Roberta Washington Architects of New York City, and the exhibits by Amaze Design of Boston. The 2,500 square feet of exhibit space includes four exhibit areas, which flow from one to the other around a core area that features a - more - burial re-creation with five life-size figures and ambient sound that allows visitors to join the scene and appreciate the sacredness of the site. In addition to the exhibit area, the center includes a 40-person theater, a multipurpose room for educational use, a research library and a bookstore run by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy and Eastern National.
“The visitor center gives us the opportunity to provide our visitors an interactive learning experience that fully explores the history of the burial ground, the scientific results of the archaeological discoveries, as well as the long and persistent efforts of the community to preserve and commemorate the site in perpetuity,” said Tara Morrison, National Park Service superintendent.
In 1992, as a result of successful efforts led by the African descendant community, construction was halted at the federal building site and plans were altered to allow for a memorial space outside. The following year, the African Burial Ground was preserved as a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior, was later designated a National Monument by a presidential proclamation in 2006, and was made a part of the National Park System. Since 1991, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), which owns the federal building where the visitor center is located, has played a pivotal role in the extensive mitigation response to the unearthed remains and later partnered with the NPS on the conception and completion of both the memorial and the visitor center.
“The African Burial Ground was an amazing discovery that opened a new chapter in America’s story,” said GSA Administrator Martha Johnson. “With the completion and opening of the visitor center; the publication of the scientific research; and the return to New York City of the vast repository of records and other materials from GSA’s African Burial Ground Project, GSA has fulfilled the promise of this amazing discovery and this agency’s commitment to the descendent community and the people of New York.”
The African Burial Ground National Monument memorial, located outside the federal building at the corner of Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way/Elk Street, is open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except New Year’s, Christmas and Thanksgiving. The normal operating hours for the new visitor center, located inside the federal building, will be Tuesday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for federal holidays. The visitor center will have its own entrance off 290 Broadway, between Duane and Read streets. For more information, visit www.nps.gov/afbg.