President Bush has declared part of the African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan a National Monument – placing some of the land where some 20,000 slaves and free blacks were buried in the 18th century in the care of the National Park Service. The monument will allow “visitors to better understand and honor the culture and vital contributions of generations of Africans and Americans of African descent to our Nation,” Bush said in a proclamation signed Monday.
The designated land, which covers less than half an acre and is part of a larger National Historic Landmark, is the planned site for a memorial.
Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said the memorial would raise awareness of New York’s ties to slavery while honoring the contributions of the slaves and free blacks who helped establish the city.
“They built the wall of Wall Street,” she said Tuesday in an interview on WNBC-TV. “They were carpenters and bakers and blacksmiths.”
The burial site was uncovered in 1991 during planned building construction in Lower Manhattan near City Hall.
The full site, covering about 7 acres, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and has been jointly managed by the Park Service and the General Services Administration.
The burial ground was closed in 1794 and long forgotten as construction landfill buried it 20 feet below ground. When the cemetery was rediscovered during construction of a federal office tower, community pressure and protests led the government to abandon work on the new building.
More than 400 sets of remains were found – half of them belonging to children. Many of the people showed signs that they were malnourished, and some suffered from severe arthritis, muscle tears, and bone fractures caused by intense physical labor.
© 2006 The Associated Press