In 1991, when during construction of a General Services Administration office building in Lower Manhattan, graves were discovered 24 feet below ground. Soon, hundreds of other bodies were found in the same area. Historians determined that these were black New Yorkers interred in what a 1755 map calls the “Negros Burial Ground.”
In all 419 bodies were discovered — giving a clue to how many others still lie under the foundations of Lower Manhattan. (Estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 20,000.) A new visitor center, inside the federal building that was ultimately constructed over a portion of the excavation (the other part became a burial site and memorial), is meant to explain the site’s significance.
In 1993 the burial ground was placed on the National Register of Historic Places; in 2006 the memorial site was declared a national monument and placed under the oversight of the National Park Service. In 2007 a memorial sculptured by Rodney Leon was unveiled, and now the site’s $4.4 million visitor center means to place it all in context.
The New York Times has an excellent story about the opening of the new African Burial Ground Visitor Center at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/26/arts/design/26burial.html?pagewanted=1.
The new African Burial Ground Visitor Center is in the Ted Weiss Federal Building, 290 Broadway, at Duane Street, Lower Manhattan; (212) 637-2019. You can learn more at http://www.nps.gov/afbg.