GSA and the African Burial Ground
GSA’s African Burial Ground project began in 1991, when, during pre-construction work for a new federal office building, workers discovered the skeletal remains of the first of more than 400 men, women and children. Investigations revealed that during the 17th and 18th centuries, free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6 acre burial ground in lower Manhattan outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, which would become New York.
Over the decades, the unmarked cemetery was covered over by development and landfill. The finding deeply impacted the descendant and broader community and, at the same time, renewed awareness in cultural significance and historic preservation.
Managed by GSA, the overall project is a testimonial to a positive and collaborative partnership between many parties, including the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Howard University, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the African American community.
Through the community’s activism and commitment, the African Burial Ground was awarded designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and was named a National Monument in 2006. The African Burial Ground National Monument, located at the corners of Duane and Elk Streets in lower Manhattan, is operated by the National Park Service. For directions to the site, the Visitor Center, and more information, visit nps.gov/afbg.
GSA’s African Burial Ground Project was an extensive mitigation response to the unexpected discovery of the 300-year old burial ground. In 2008 the project was recognized by the White House with a Preserve America Presidential Award. These awards honor exemplary work in the preservation of cultural or national heritage assets. This complex project had several major components:
GSA contracted with Howard University’s Cobb Laboratory to conduct research on the skeletal remains from the burial ground and to produce reports on the history, skeletal biology and archaeology, as well as an integrated and a general audience report on the project. In addition details on the non-mortuary use of the site are in companion reports prepared by John Milner Associates.
Reinterment of human remains
In October 2003 the human remains were reburied in an event that garnered national and international attention. Mindful of the dignity and respect befitting the burial ground, GSA consulted with interested parties, including the New York Public Library – Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to plan and coordinate this comprehensive and inclusive ceremony.
In 2005 GSA, partnering with the National Park Service in a process that included substantial public outreach, selected architect Rodney Leon to create a permanent memorial at the African Burial Ground that would befit the significance of the discovery and the site. The African Burial Ground Memorial was dedicated in 2007.