William & Mary - African Burial Ground in NYC is now a national monument
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African Burial Ground in NYC is now a national monument

African Burial Ground

African Burial Ground:  Anthropology graduate students (from left) Chris Crain, Grace Turner and Autumn Barrett with Michael Blakey at the African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City.

Professor Michael Blakey’s work as lead scientist at the New York African Burial Ground led to the designation of the site as a national monument. A memorial at the site was dedicated Oct. 5.

The ceremony, sponsored by the National Park Service and the Schomburg Center of the New York Public Library, included a concert and a candlelight procession to honor the Africans who helped build the city of New York. The African Burial Ground National Monument is the first National Monument dedicated to Africans of early New York and Americans of African descent.

Blakey, National Endowment for the Humanities Professor at the College of William and Mary, first became informed about the 6.6 acre African burial site in October 1991 when the New York Times reported that 12 bodies had been uncovered by a team of construction workers making way for a federal office building. Eventually, more than 400 human skeletal remains were uncovered.

During his 10 years of work at the burial ground, Blakey coordinated research of the site and its remains among teams of physical archaeologists, historians, anthropologists and others. The archaeological and historical contexts of the remains were analyzed by Howard University research teams and the Institute for Historical Biology at William and Mary.

In 2003, the remains found at the site were reburied in Manhattan following ceremonies in five East Coast cities.

Over the last few years, a comparative database on the bioarchaeology of the African Diaspora was developed at the Institute for Historical Biology at William and Mary, which Blakey directs. Next year, the Interpretive Center at the Monument will open, and its content will be largely derived from the research that Blakey directed.   i