African Reburial Rite Planned in NYC
NEW YORK - With ceremonial honors that they could not have imagined in life, more than 400 slaves and free blacks will be reinterred next month in the Manhattan graveyard where their bones previously lay unknown for 200 years or more.
The skeletal remains have spent the past nine years in Washington, D.C., at Howard University, whose laboratory studies have led to a massive dossier of information on slavery in colonial New York.
The remains will be returned to New York on Oct. 4 for the reburial at the African Burial Ground, an 18th-century cemetery rediscovered in 1991 during excavation for a new federal office building and later set aside as a national historic site.
Four symbolic coffins, hand-carved of wood in Ghana and containing the bones of two adults and two children, will leave Washington Sept. 30 and travel via Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., Philadelphia and Newark, N.J., with each city holding a commemoration.
From New Jersey the four coffins will be delivered by boat to the site of a former Wall Street pier where slave ships docked, then taken in a procession with 415 others up Broadway's traditional Canyon of Heroes parade route to the reburial.
"May these bones be a symbol to how insensitive humankind can be," Rep. Charles Rangel (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., said at the news conference outlining the plan.
Historians have estimated up to 20,000 people may have been buried in a six-acre area of lower Manhattan, of which the African Burial Ground is only one part.
Michael Blakey, a Howard University archaeologist, said he and his team of 200 experts uncovered large amounts of new data about slaves in 17th- and 18th-century New York, including places of origin in Africa, work they performed and health and mortality details.
Among the findings, Blakey said, were that black slaves had about one-eighth the chance of living to age 55 as did whites, and that fertility rates among them were so low the population could grow only with further imports from Africa.
"Slavery in New York was not benign," Blakey said.
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