After Years of Delay, Remains May Be Reburied at African Burial Ground
A dozen years after the discovery of a Colonial-era burial ground in lower Manhattan, the remains of some of the slaves and free Blacks once buried there may finally be re-interred this fall.
Ceremonies to mark the event are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, with reburial on the last day, said Kimberly Thomas, spokeswoman for the African Burial Ground Project.
Specifics are still being worked out, she said, but coffins are being sent to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where the remains were studied, to transport them back to New York. The General Services Administration, the federal agency overseeing the project, solicited public comment last month on plans for more than 1,000 artifacts found with the remains.
Thus far, the federally funded project has been fraught with delays and unfulfilled promise. Research stalled over a funding dispute; consultants were hired for memorial plans that have yet to materialize.
The burial site, closed in 1794 and then forgotten, was the final resting place for thousands of people of African descent who were not allowed graves alongside Whites. When the 300-year-old remains were uncovered during construction of a federal office building in 1991, the discovery became international news.
Archaeologists uncovered the remains of 408 people, about half of them children under age 12, before opposition to the disinterments led then-President George H.W. Bush to order digging to cease in 1992.
The skeletal remains, including a woman who was interred with an infant cradled in her right arm, were sent to Howard University for study. Scientists and historians believed they could gain insight into the little-known lives and deaths of Blacks in the northern United States.
An elaborate reburial ceremony and plans for a memorial were promised, and more than $21 million in federal funding was invested over the first decade.
But insight into slave life proved elusive. A Howard anthropologist became locked in a financial dispute with the federal government, and research stalled.
A spokeswoman for Howard had no immediate comment on the most recent plans.
Community leaders have been angered by the delays.
“This is a legacy, this is our history, these are our ancestors — and they just don’t get it,” said Ayo Harrington, chairwoman of Friends of the African Burial Ground, an informal advocacy group.
But GSA officials said the African Burial Ground project has remained a high priority, and the agency is now ready to complete the memorial. It held a forum and two hearings on the project last month.
— Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com