African Burial Ground National Monument
OVERVIEW: About this audio-described brochure
Welcome to the audio-described version of African Burial Ground National Monument's official print brochure. Through text and audio descriptions of photos, illustrations, and maps, this version interprets the two-sided color brochure that African Burial Ground visitors receive. The brochure explores the presence of Africans in early New York, history of the burial ground, the contemporary activism that ultimately saved it, and information for planning your visit. This audio version lasts about 28 minutes which we have divided into 27 sections, as a way to improve the listening experience. Sections one through twelve cover the front of the brochure and Sections thirteen through twenty seven cover the back of the brochure.
OVERVIEW: African Burial Ground
African Burial Ground National Monument, located in New York state, is part of the National Park Service, within the Department of the Interior. The 0.34 acre park is situated two blocks north of New York City's City Hall. This park, established in 2006, is the the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans. Each year, over 45,000 visitors come to enjoy the unique experiences that only can be had at African Burial Ground. We invite you to explore the park's outdoor memorial, and the reflection and remembrance it can invoke. For those seeking to learn more about the park during their visit, informative audio guides can be checked out at the visitor center front desk. To find out more about what resources might be available or to contact the park directly, visit the "Accessibility" and "More Information" sections at the end of this audio-described brochure.
OVERVIEW: Front side of brochure
The front of the brochure includes quotes, photographs, historic maps, and illustrations. Most photos are color unless indicated otherwise.
The text explains the history of this site, the resting place of an estimated 15,000 Africans and their descendants, of whom overwhelmingly lived in captivity.
IMAGE: Wooden reburial coffins
DESCRIPTION: Photo of a man kneeling with head lowered, from his back. He kneels at a massive wooden crypt, which contains individual coffins. At least sixteen coffins are visible from one side, from within the crypt. Coffin faces are hand carved of reddish-brown mahogany with various West African symbols, known as Adinkra symbols. Some symbols repeat, but reveal unique variations from hand carving. An ornate bouquet of flowers sits at the man's left, with vivid shades of red, orange and green.
CAPTION: Man beside wooden reburial coffins, 2003.
CREDIT: Patrick Merino
IMAGE: Map of Burial Ground
This map closeup is among the earliest known to document existence of the African Burial Ground, notated as "Negros Buriel Ground." The map, titled Maerschalk's Plan of New York, was completed in 1755. The map is orientated with north at the bottom, and marks the estimated 6.6 acre extent of the Burial Ground. The northeast quadrant represents the leather tanneries, labeled "tan yards," and Orange Street leading to Collect Pond, labeled "fresh." A line runs across the map's center, labeled "Palisades," the wall that marked City limits. More streets are visible to the southeast, including "Road to Boston," and George Street.
CAPTION: Map of burial ground, 1755.
CREDIT: Library of Congress
QUOTE: "You may bury me in the bottom of Manhattan. I will rise. My people will get me. I will rise out of the huts of history’s shame." — Maya Angelou, 2003
TEXT: The heart-shaped West African symbol called the Sankofa translates to “learn from the past to prepare for the future.” The Sankofa appears in many places at the African Burial Ground National Monument, reminding us that the 419 Africans and African descendants buried here so long ago have much to teach us. Scientific study of the human remains reveals that work was hard, life was short, and people often met a violent end. Yet these people were lovingly laid to rest by family and friends.
Long neglected, overlain by two centuries of progress, the African Burial Ground reemerged in 1991 during construction of a federal office building. Widely regarded as one of the most important archeological finds of the 20th century, the rediscovery also sparked controversy. Protesters, outraged at the destruction of sacred ground, demanded that construction be halted. Local activism became a national effort to preserve the site and honor the contributions of New York’s first Africans. A traditional African burial ceremony took place in 2003, when all 419 human remains were reburied on the site.
Established in 2006, African Burial Ground National Monument is a place to contemplate the spirit of the Sankofa. Obscure individuals from the past come alive again with the lessons of sacrifice, perseverance, respect, power of community, and the continual hope for a better future.
IMAGE: Burial objects
Four personal items found among the archaeological remains, a halfpenny, pendant, button, and cuff link, arranged in an elongated circular pattern. The halfpenny, at top left, was a coin minted by the British of copper and has oxidized green. The pendant, to the coin's right, is composed of silver and hangs loosely to a loop, generally attached to a necklace. The button, below the pendant, appears wooden. The cuff link at middle left, resembles two coins side-by-side in a vertical orientation, and the lower coinlike item has oxidized green.
CAPTION: Halfpenny, silver pendant, cufflink, and button — rare and treasured objects to Africans in Colonial America — found with burials.
CREDIT: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
DESCRIPTION: Illustration of Sankofa, an Adinkra symbol. Adinkra, originating in the present-day region of Ghana, were used to convey concepts. The symbol is a silhouette of black and resembles a heart. The heart at its top, ends with two spirals within the heart, the left in clockwise direction, and the right spiraling counter clockwise. The heart's bottom ends with two shorter spirals at its exterior. The spiral to the left in clockwise direction, and the right spiraling counter clockwise.
TEXT: Africans in Early New York
Slave traders preyed upon Africans from many parts of the continent — including regions that are now the countries of Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria, Mozambique, and Madagascar, among many others. They spoke different languages and practiced diverse customs and religions. Separated from their people, chained, and packed in ships’ holds, few ever returned to their homes.
In 1626, traders brought the first enslaved laborers to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now Lower Manhattan. Under Dutch West India Company rules these “Company slaves” had certain rights: they could own property, file grievances, be baptized, and marry. In 1644, 11 male enslaved Africans petitioned and won partial freedom and over 100 acres of farmland that became known as “the Land of the Blacks.” In return, they paid the Dutch West India Company annually with corn, wheat, peas, beans, “and one fat hog.” This “freedom” was tenuous at best, and the company still considered children of freed parents enslaved. When England took control of the colony in 1664 New Amsterdam became New York and slavery codes became far more oppressive. By the 1720s, enslaved or free, no blacks owned land.
Slaves accounted for about one quarter of colonial New York’s labor force. Often using skills they brought from their homelands, they worked side-by-side with free people and European indentured servants. Men cleared farmland, filled swampland, and built city improvements like Broadway and The Wall. Enslaved African women toiled in their owners’ homes, carrying large water vessels, cooking from raw ingredients over a fire, boiling water for laundry, and caring for their owners’ families in addition to their own. Children started work young. Common causes of death were malnutrition, physical strain, punishment, and diseases like yellow fever and smallpox. Despite extraordinary assaults on their humanity, these Africans and their descendants found dignity and community through familiar cultural rituals, including burial of the dead.
MAP: Africa overview
Illustration of the continent of Africa. Africa is shown in beige, with lines defining countries. The text Africa is written across the continent.
IMAGE: African Burial Ceremony
Illustration of an African burial ceremony. Eleven individuals are encircled around a coffin. Behind them, a wall of round wooden poles staked into the ground tightly, known as a palisade. In the upper left, behind the wall, are at least three ships sailing in water.
The individuals are all Africans, eight standing behind the coffin and three in front. The first behind the coffin, furthest to the left, is speaking while the others appear sullen. To the speaker's left is a man holding a hat with his right hand and a woman's shoulder to his left. She wears a blue shoal and matching blue cap. To her left is a woman leaning over the coffin. Next is a man holding a hat to his heart, then a woman holding her green shoal tightly. Left from her are a young child leaning on their mother's side, as she holds her hand to her head. In the foreground, beginning from the right, is a woman seated on the ground with her face in her hands. Centered in foreground is a woman with red hat leaning on a man. On the ground, in front of the speaker lies a shovel, loose dirt and rocks.
CAPTION: Charles Lilly’s illustration recreates an African burial ceremony outside the city palisade sometime after 1745.
CREDIT: Charles Lilly / Courtesy New York Public Library
TEXT: Sacred Ground
From 1626 through the late 1700s, Africans and African descendants gathered when they could to bury their loved ones. The original “Negros Buriel Ground,” as it was labeled on a 1755 map, covered 6.6 acres and included the area that is today’s African Burial Ground National Monument. For most of the colonial era and even beyond, this was the only cemetery for some 15,000 Africans and African descendants.
No accounts survive from the people who buried friends and loved ones here, but we know quite a bit about the cemetery’s history. A 1697 British law banned African burials in New York City’s public cemetery, so the African burial ground lay north of the city limits near a ravine. In 1745 the city expanded northward, and a new defensive wall — the “palisade” — bisected the sacred burial ground.
Colonial laws prohibited enslaved Africans from gathering in groups of 12 or more or holding burials after sunset. Although these laws made funerals essentially illegal, Africans managed to adhere to their traditions. They buried their dead individually in coffins, heads toward the west, so as to face east when they arose in the afterlife. Straight pins secured the burial shrouds; coins covered closed eyes. Some burials also included reflective objects, buttons, jewelry, and shells. One young child wore a silver pendant around the neck. A woman with front teeth filed in an hourglass shape had beads placed around her waist. A man’s coffin lid had a heart-shaped pattern—perhaps a Sankofa — created with brass tacks and nails.
The city closed the African burial ground in the 1790s and divided the land into lots for sale. Over the next two centuries, the growth of New York City obscured the graves. Layers of buildings and fill material covered and protected the human remains until the burial ground’s rediscovery in 1991.
OVERVIEW: Back side of brochure
The back of the brochure includes photographs, and illustrations, and maps. All photos are in color.
The text explains the rediscovery of the burial ground, in the early 1990s, during the construction of a federal building in Lower Manhattan, and the public advocacy taken to ensure its protection and preservation.
A photo of a textile closeup. The cloth is black with white dots and lines patterned. Bogolanfini cloth, also known as mudcloth, originated from the West African nation of Mali.
CREDIT: The Textile Museum, Washington, D.C.
TEXT: Rediscovery, reinternment, remembrance
Long forgotten by most of the world, the African Burial Ground came to light in 1991. During the early construction phase for the federal office building at 290 Broadway, workers found human burials. Over the next two years, about an acre of the original 6.6-acre cemetery was excavated, and 419 skeletal remains were removed from the ground.
Controversy immediately arose over the disturbance of the sacred ground and questions about whether the remains were being respectfully cared for. African descendants, clergy, politicians, scientists, historians, and concerned citizens united to halt the excavation. The protesters’ voices, petitions, and a 24-hour vigil at the site in 1992 succeeded. Congress acted to stop construction to allow time to alter the building plans to provide space for memorialization.
The remains were transferred to Howard University in Washington, DC, for study at the Cobb Laboratory, one of the nation’s leading African American research institutions. Noted scholars and researchers conducted intense examination and analysis of the history, physical anthropology, and archeology of the burial ground site and the human remains. The careful study of each bone, fragment, and accompanying burial objects revealed a wealth of information about life and death for Africans in colonial New York.
In October 2003, all 419 remains were placed in mahogany coffins from Ghana that were hand-carved and lined with Kente cloth. Thus began the six-day Rites of Ancestral Return, organized by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The journey started at Howard University, where thousands attended the departure ceremony. The procession, greeted by crowds along the way, continued through Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, and Jersey City, and finally ended in New York City. The coffins were reinterred very near where the remains were originally found. Seven earthen mounds now mark this site.
Meanwhile, community activists rallied to preserve part of the burial ground and commemorate African history and culture in New York City. Their efforts led to the creation of New York City’s first below-ground landmark in 1993. In April 2005 the design for the outdoor memorial was selected in a public review process managed by the National Park Service in partnership with the General Services Administration (GSA). At the center is a “cosmogram,” the crossroads of rebirth in Congo tradition. This contemporary architectural expression combines feminine and masculine forms and is inspired by art, music, painting, and sculpture. It is oriented toward the rising Sun along an east-west axis, the same way that the bodies were buried.
Created by Presidential proclamation on February 27, 2006, and dedicated on October 5, 2007, the African Burial Ground National Monument is a place of remembrance. The people and their stories teach us how free and enslaved Africans contributed to the physical, cultural, and spiritual world of Lower Manhattan in colonial times — and to our nation’s beginning.
IMAGE: Archeological work at burial site
A photo of an excavation tent at the burial site. At center, a massive hole over fourteen feet deep, with an aluminum ladder leading down. Three individuals stand within the hole. The first person, stands near the ladder's base in the foreground wearing a gray shirt and denim jeans holding a clipboard. The other two individuals stand side by side in the hole's center. The person on the left wears a white sweater and light denim jeans, while the individual on the right wears a white zip up and dark blue denim jeans. The two individuals are peering at something together, in the individual on the right's hands. A historic stone wall runs side to side across the hole, approximately four feet high. In the background behind the two individuals is a wooden ramp, gradually descending from street level to the hole's floor. Behind the ramp is a tent composed of clear plastic and wooden beams.
CAPTION: Archeological work at burial site
CREDIT: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chip East, Reuters, Corbis
IMAGE: Funeral Procession for Reburials, 2003
A photo taken from an aerial view. A wagon is drawn by two white horses with red harnesses along a New York City street. Within the wagon rides two individuals seated. The wagon is hauling reddish-brown wooden coffins of mahogany, intricately carved by hand in Ghana. Accompanying the wagon on both sides, are eight individuals wearing all white with one hand each on the wagon. Four on each side. Additional individuals stand at the photo's edges, peering at the wagon. The coffins contain the skeletal remains, and are enroute to reinterment.
CAPTION: Funeral Procession for Reburials, 2003.
CREDIT: Phlippe Paul, Pyoruba Photo
IMAGE: Libation Ceremony Honors Ancestors
A photo of over fifteen individuals engaged in a libation ceremony. A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid in memory of the dead. The individuals are wearing traditional African clothing. Two individuals in the front row, second and fourth from the left, are holding poles topped with white flags. Furthest to the right a man holds a microphone and a bottle of liquid in a pouring motion.
CAPTION: Libation ceremony honors ancestors
CREDIT: Catherine Gehm
IMAGE: Earthen Mounds Cover Reinterments
Six earthen mounds, along the side of an office building. The mounds are covered in vivid green grass and contain the reinterred remains of Africans and their descendants. The building is gray stone with two large windows and bronze window trim. In the background, behind the building, is a street with a white truck parked.
CAPTION: Earthen mounds cover reinterments
CREDIT: Catherine Gehm
MAP: African Burial Ground National Monument
A map illustrates the estimated extent of the historic African Burial Grounds. Pictured is the Burial Ground's extent within the neighborhood which surrounds the park site today. Centered is the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway, which contains the visitor center entrance. Directly east of the building, is the outdoor memorial, labeled African Burial Ground National Monument. The map's left edge shows Broadway running north to south. The right edge shows Centre Street running north to south, then forking mid way at Foley Square, into Lafayette Street steering slightly left and Centre Street continuing slightly right. Horizontally three streets run side to side, Duane Street at the top, Reade Street in the middle, Chambers Street at bottom. Connecting north to south is a shorter road, African Burial Ground Way also known as Elk Street which zig zags from Chambers Street to Duane Street, running along the outdoor memorial's eastern edge.
Caption: The map shows the estimated extent of the historic African Burial Ground in modern Lower Manhattan. The wooden palisade — the city’s northern boundary in 1746 — stood where Chambers Street is now. The national monument includes a one-third-acre portion of the original 6.6-acre cemetery.
IMAGE: Alvin Ailey dancers
DESCRIPTION: An oval-shaped photo of seven multi-ethnic youth dancing with exuberance. Dancers are outdoors, within the outdoor memorial space. The youth are displaying jazz hands, or the dance move featuring the extension of a performer's hands with palms toward the audience and fingers splayed.
CAPTION: Alvin Ailey Dancers perform at Reinternment Ceremony.
CREDIT: David M. Bernstein
TEXT: Your Visit to African Burial Ground
African Burial Ground National Monument is in Lower Manhattan at Broadway and Duane Street. It is easily reached by public transportation: take the 4, 5, 6, R, J, or Z subway line to Brooklyn Bridge / City Hall; take the A, C, or E line to Chambers Street; or take the 2 or 3 line to Park Place. Bus lines include the M5, M9, M22, M103.
The visitor center is in the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway. There is no admission fee. For days and hours of operation, please call the information number or visit the website. For group tours, make advance reservations to ensure staff availability and arrive 30 minutes before your tour start time. To arrange for off-site presentations, call 212-637-2019. There is a resource library; schedule appointments in advance.
The national monument is available for special events. Permits are required; contact the park staff for information.
TEXT: Things to see and do
The visitor center, opened in February 2010, is designed by Roberta Washington Architects, PC. It houses exhibits about the burial ground and the lives of Africans and African descendants in New Amsterdam and New York. It also includes a theater and a bookstore. Park rangers present educational programs.
The lobby of the Ted Weiss Federal Building displays commissioned artwork including Renewal by Tomie Arai, Unearthed by Frank Bender, Untitled by Roger Brown, Africa Rising by Barbara Chase-Riboud, America Song by Clyde Lynds, and The New Ring Shout by Houston Conwill, Joseph De Pace, and Estella Conwill Majozo.
TEXT: Outdoor memorial
The memorial is behind the Ted Weiss Federal Building at the corner of Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way (Elk Street). There are no restrooms outside near the memorial.
The Circle of the Diaspora includes signs and symbols engraved in the perimeter wall. The symbols originated in areas and cultures throughout the Diaspora, reminding us of the complexity and diversity of African cultures. The term Diaspora describes the forced and deliberate transporting of Africans during the slave trade from their homeland, and dispersing them throughout the New World.
The 24-foot Ancestral Libation Chamber represents the soaring African spirit and the distance below the ground’s surface where the ancestral remains were rediscovered. The Sankofa symbol is engraved on the exterior. Reminiscent of a ship’s hold, the interior is a spiritual place for individual contemplation, reflection, and meditation.
The Ancestral Reinterment Ground is the final resting place for the 419 human remains unearthed in the early 1990s. They are reburied as close as possible to their original positions. The coffins were placed in seven crypts, and seven burial mounds mark the locations. Seven trees serve as guardians for the entrance to the Ancestral Chamber.
MAP: Detailed site overview
A map overview of African Burial Ground National Monument. The map displays one street block, bounded by Reade Street at the bottom, Broadway north to south on the left side, Duane Street at top, and African Burial Ground Way, also known as Elk Street, on the right side. Furthest west on the block is the African Burial Ground Visitor Center, entered mid block. Upon entrance, there is a security checkpoint. At the north end of the block is the lobby of the Ted Weiss Federal Building with pieces of art labeled left to right "America Song" by Clyde Lynds, "Africa Rising" by Barbara Chase-Riboud, "Unearthed" by Frank Bender, "Untitled" by Roger Brown, "The New Ring Shout" by Houston Conwill, Joseph DePace, and Estella Conwill Majozo, and "Renewal" by Tomie Arai. A second security checkpoint is located on the northwest corner of the block, between America Song and Africa Rising.
At the northeast corner of the block is African Burial Ground National Monument outdoor memorial. The western end of the memorial space is the Ancestral Reinterment Ground. The grassy space entered from Duane Street contains a gray granite memorial at its center. The memorial contains an arrow shaped structure called the Ancestral Libation Chamber, entered from its western end.
TEXT: Security and safety
All visitors and their belongings are subject to strict security screening before entering the visitor center or the Ted Weiss Federal Building.
• All weapons and dual-use, dangerous items are strictly prohibited.
• If you have special needs or questions, contact the site before you visit.
The burial site is a sacred place. Please act respectfully and do not eat, drink, smoke, play loud music, or stand on the burial mounds. No loitering or soliciting in the memorial area. If you wish, you may place flowers on the burial mounds.
We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information, ask at the visitor center or visit our website.
The indoor visitor center, which is wheelchair accessible, is located on the first floor of the Ted Weiss Federal Building at 290 Broadway. There are restrooms located inside the visitor center that are wheelchair accessible. Service animals are allowed in national parks. The visitor center is also Americans with Disabilities Act compliant and includes an audio component for the vision and/or hearing impaired.
The memorial is located outside, behind the Ted Weiss Federal Building at the corner of Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way (Elk Street). There are no restrooms located outside at the memorial. Although pets are not allowed in the memorial, service animals are allowed in national parks. The memorial is open April through October.
OVERVIEW: More information
African Burial Ground National Monument is one of over 400 areas in the National Park System. To learn more visit www.nps.gov.
African Burial Ground National Monument
290 Broadway, First Floor New York, NY 10007
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