African Burial Ground: History from underneath the city, and the secret tale of New Yorkers once forgotten


A small cemetery for African slaves and free black New Yorkers developed along the southern edge of Collect Pond. But when that filthy body of water was drained and filled, the burial ground disappeared underground with it. (Image courtesy Preserve America)

PODCAST During the construction of a downtown federal administration building, an extraordinary find was discovered — the remnants of a burial ground used by African slaves during the 18th Century.

In the earliest days of New Amsterdam, the first Africans were brought against their will to build the new Dutch port, slaves for a city that would be built upon their backs. Later, forced to repress the cultural expressions of their forefathers, the early black population of British New York did preserve their heritage in the form of burial rites, in a small ‘Negro Burial Ground’ to the south of Collect Pond (and just a couple short blocks to today’s City Hall).

How did this small plot of land — and its astounding contents — become preserved in the middle of the most bustling area of the most bustling city in the world? And why is it considered one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in New York City history?

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The African Burial Ground monument, at street level. Designed by Rodney Leon, the monument in contained on a quiet patch of land that seems to escape the bustle of the city around it.

Within the ‘Circle of Diaspora’ are various spiritual and religious symbols, many quite exotic.


There’s no shortage of information about the history of slavery in New York. I would definite start with the materials related to the New York Historical Society’s extraordinary show from a few years ago. The GSA’s site on the African Burial Ground is a treasure trove of information as well.

For hours and directions, check out the National Park Service, not only for the Burial Ground, but New York’s many other national monuments.