African Burial Ground- Manhattan
The African Burial Ground, Downtown Manhattan, is the final resting place for tens of thousands of people of African descent, may it be they where freed and enslaved. Although many people think slavery was limited to southern America, the institution of slavery thrived in New York until 1827 when the state abolished it. Enslaved Africans began arriving in New Amsterdam (what is now Manhattan) as early as 1626, but the burial ground did not come into use until about 1712, after a 1697 statue banned blacks from being buried in church yards. However, in 1794, the grounds were closed, and forgotten, until 1991. In addition, the land was being prepared for the construction of a new federal office building. Approximately 400 fragile skeletons were uncovered. These bones were studied by a team of anthropologists from Howard University for a glimpse into the lives of these long-dead New Yorkers. Insights into their diet, workload, health issues and even their social struggles, can probably be an inspiration for African Americans today.
The burial ground is strong evidence that enslaved Africans in colonial New York City built a lively collective and spiritual life in spite of their legal and social disenfranchisement under segregation. It also illustrates the adaptation of the enslaved African Americans to the customs of their colonial masters through trans-culturation. They were unable to celebrate the dead in the way which they were used to; however, they still exhibited their respect for their deceased by adopting the rituals of their masters.
Probably, they might have been of the opinion that these rituals were better than none at all. Besides, having impacts on cultural anthropology, the discovery of the burial ground is also important to the fields of geography and physical anthropology. The bones of these slaves also offer insight into their adjustment to their new environment- the climate, the change in diet and also their body’s response to new diseases and hardships.
Bias, is a tendency on the part of researchers to collect data, and/or to interpret and present them, in such a way as to favor false results that are in line with their prejudices or prejudgments and political commitments. According to Blakey, “Most Anthropologists have no idea of the sociohistorical context of an African American site. They just see the remains as another set of bones to measure.” This statement by Blakey is backed up by an example where a white colleague of Blakey dismissed pronounced grooves around the ankle bone of a slave; however, on further inspection by Blakey, he recognized it as a sign of deep infection due to a shackle. Hence, from this example, Rankin-Hill’s statement, “We feel African Americans should work on African-American remains, because we know their histories and we care about them,” seems to be justifiable. However, bias can have both positive and negative impacts. Regardless, the fact that it is a biased viewpoint; it is an alternative perspective, nonetheless.
The African Burial Ground is part of a greater history that is not taught in our public and private school systems thoroughly yet. This discovery serves as a clarion call for a more culturally accurate educational curriculum. As knowledge about the truths of the past are being uncovered