Reinterment at the African Burial Ground: The Material Result of Ideology
AuthorRocke, Laura Elizabeth
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AbstractReinterment at The African Burial Ground: The Material Result of IdeologyLaura E. RockeIn 1991, during ground clearing for the construction of two Federal Buildings in lower Manhattan, human skeletal remains were unearthed. The remains belonged to 18th century African New Yorkers who used the land, known historically as the Negros Burial Ground, to bury their dead during the majority of the 1700s. As a result of this discovery, a more than decade long political and cultural struggle ensued between the General Services Administration (the federal agency in charge of the construction project), scientists and scholars, and a community of activists who advocated on behalf of the remains. The activists sought reinterment of the remains as well as memorialization of the burial ground, now referred to as the African Burial Ground, and the 18th century individuals buried there. A team of archaeologists studied the four hundred nineteen sets of remains exhumed from the site, which is estimated to contain approximately twenty thousand burials. The goal of their research was to better understand how these 18th century African New Yorkers lived and their role in the development of colonial New York. Upon completion of this research, the remains were reinterred on October 4, 2003, at the site from where they had been disinterred, where the New York African Burial Ground National Monument would eventually be. This thesis examines the process and significance surrounding reinterment of the remains: the decision to do so and who was involved in and responsible for that decision, as well as the discussions, negotiations, and planning process that eventually culminated in the five day long event to reinter and memorialize the men, women, and children originally buried at this site over two-hundred years prior. It argues that reinterment was advocated for and undertaken by activists due to the shared set of ideas among them regarding the significance of the remains and the consequent significance of reinterring and memorializing them.