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New York City is a beautiful city that can be described as a whole pie and not just a piece of it. Be it the endless entertainment from Broadway shows to shopping and the best part is the lifestyle that the city allows. Let us not forget it houses some of America’s most important monuments that celebrate America’s most significant heroes and others that celebrate America as a country. All that aside, there is one monument that strikes my attention the most, the African Burial Ground National monument. In such a diverse city I appreciate anything that recognizes the minority. We all know the history surrounding African-Americans and slavery. For those who might not have read any history, Africans were slaves in America and had since time immemorial been secondary to the rest. Away with the sarcasm, I love this monument for its attempt to recognizing the African-American descendant’s history, who were intrinsic to the city’s development.
The monument is located at the Ted Weiss Federal Building at the civic center in Lower Manhattan. It is a twenty-five-foot granite monument which constitutes the Atlantic area map an allusion to the middle passage that was used to convey slaves from Africa to North America. It is erected with stone from South to North America to signify the two worlds getting together. The door of return appertains to the phrase, The Door of No Return used by chiefs in West Africa to reveal that the slaves would at no time go back to their homes. The monument rejoins ethnic African Americans to their line of descent.
In the 1600s, African slaves were interred at the north graveyard of Trinity church. Not all slaves could spare the price of the fee and they resulted in burying their relatives in the south. In 1967, the trinity secured this land for the establishment of their church and forbade Africans from using it for burial purposes. The church further petitioned that people be banned from using the city cemetery and it was permitted. This resulted in the inception of the Negros Burial Ground that was part of Sara Roelofs estate. Sara was a translator between the city officials and the Native American tribes. This land was used for the burial of freed and enslaved slaves until 1794. The land was afterward meant to build out and was lifted up to twenty-five feet blanketing the cemetery. As urban expansion took place outside of the cemetery, the burial ground was neglected. It is until the nineteenth century that the begun to arouse curiosity after a homeowner in the area talked about human bones that had been dug in his compound.
After so many speculations and propaganda concerning the bone remains in the area, in October 1991 the General Services Administration carried out an archeology review preliminary to the acquisition of the land. Several undamaged burials were realized and this rose interests among the African- American communities. They felt that they were not adequately conferred and that consideration was not being given to the sort of the discoveries. Protests followed after they learned that intact burials had been exhumed.
Activism by the African American community escalated and elicited the then president, George Bush to sign an order so as to bar any construction in the area. Three million dollars were apportioned for a memorial in the area. In the same year, 1992, the burial ground was registered on the National Register of Historic Places since the breadth of the burials made it noteworthy for both regional and national history. In 1993 it was identified as a National Historic Landmark. The identification and disputation it caused received so much national media attention and initiated archeological research of African-American descent. This time African-American archeologists and students were involved in this study.
A design contest for the memorial was organized and it drew more than sixty presentations. The winner, Rodney Leon allied with Nicole Hollant Deniss to erect the current memorial. In 2006, the site was declared a National monument to operate under the National Park Service. In 2007 a dedication ceremony was chaired by Maya Angelou and Michael Bloomberg.
This monument does not just represent the ground on which African and African American slaves were buried. It represents the struggle of Africans in claim back their history. Just like one journalist Edward Rothstein wrote in his article, A Burial Ground and Its Dead Are Given life,
Among the scars left by the heritage of slavery, one of the greatest is an absence: where are the memorials, cemeteries, architectural structures or sturdy sanctuaries that typically provide the ground for a people’s memory?
During the excavation personal items like silver pendants were recouped. Some of the remnants were filed teeth which were an aesthetic culture for the Africans. Studies also showed that deaths were rampant among children aged twelve years and below. That speaks a lot about the mortality rate of the African Americans.
The monument further shows the concrete recognition of the African- American people. For so long they had been sidelined. Their contribution towards the growth of America as a whole was ignored for very long. This monument represents the African Americans who made the biggest contribution to the economy. It commands respect for the people who were treated with unfathomable brute and were robbed of their culture.
The discoveries of the African Burial Ground have changed thinking about the early African American history books in relation to this topic have been published. The first exhibit on slavery in New York happened in 2005 and was conducted by the New York Historical Society.
But most importantly is it plays a part in the struggle for equality for African-Americans. Like mentioned earlier, African Americans are part of the minority groups in America. Inequality did not stop at the end of slave trade it continues even today. As I read through the history of the inception of the monument, I awed at the aggressiveness of the African- American community in ensuring that the intact burials were not interfered with. They ensured that they were included in the archeological study.
Today, the struggle continues. African- Americans have formed various movements that help them fight for their rights. A good example is the Black Lives Matter movement. It does not stop there, given this digital era we are in social media and the internet has become the most influential platforms. Hash tags and movements to empower the black woman especially, are on the rise daily. They allow African American women to drive pride from their authentic selves be it their type of hair, skin color or the size and complexion of their bodies.
With the freedom given to the African Americans, we have seen them grow into some of the most influential people in the world. An example is the late Maya Angelou who was a great poet and who will forever be remembered a great feminist. The most influential is president Barrack who was the first African American president.
African Americans also had a rise in the employment sector. Unlike before, they now manage top seats in companies and other parastatals.
I know many will be surprised at the choice of my monument and feel like others monuments carry more significance especially since they talk about the country as a whole and not one community. For example, the statue of liberty that represents America as a land of opportunity or the Columbus Circle that represents Columbus who discovered America. I, however, am of the school of thought that opportunity begins with recognition and respect for every culture. Opportunity begins with freedom for everyone. That the real heroes are the people who built our nation from scratch, no matter how inferior they were.
I have so much respect for this statue because from a keener perspective it does not only talk about African Americans but it also raises awareness on other minority groups. The process involved in the construction of the monument shows people who are aware of their rights, people who are ready to put up a fight for their history and rights. It motivates other minority groups to do the same.
In conclusion, the African Burial Ground National monument remains a significant monument for recognizing the African- American cultural history.
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