Sunday, May 20, 2012

African Burial Ground: Blending Scholarship with New York City History

Images from African Burial Ground image © Danielle Hall

By Danielle Hall 

This year on the Black Studies NYC trip, I had the opportunity to visit the African Burial Ground – which I found to be a sacred space where I could pay my respects to my ancestors, reflect, and put some historical insight to good use.

One of the greatest misconceptions about slavery is the notion that it was specific only to the South. So during our visit at the African Burial Ground, I was able to share with some of our group what I learned in one of my graduate history courses. Last fall (2011), I took a class entitled "The Black Urban Experience" Professor Bryan Jack, a professor of History, and one of the required texts for the course was Leslie M. Harris’s In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863.

Harris’s introduction begins with the 1991 incident where during the early phases of construction for a federal office building a discovery was made by workers of human burials that archaeologists would find dated back to the eighteenth century "Negro Burial Grounds."

What Harris’s text offers is an insightful look into the formations and presence of early black communities and the ways in which as she puts it “New York City’s early black history has been forgotten, but also how this history may be recovered in unusual places.”

Harris, Leslie M. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003, 1-6.

Personal photos taken at African Burial Ground National Monument – National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior.

Related: Black Studies, NYC, 2012

Danielle Hall is a program coordinator and contributing writer for Black Studies @ SIUE. 

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