By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Members of the New York Democratic delegation, led by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, joined Representatives Gregory Meeks, Yvette Clarke, and Adriano Espaillat, this week in announcing the reintroduction of the African Burial Ground International Memorial Museum and Education Act.
The legislation would establish a museum and education center at the African Burial Ground in Manhattan, a site that currently holds the remains of an estimated 15,000 free and enslaved Africans and early-generation African-Americans from the colonial era, according to a news release from Schumer’s office.
The museum would be managed by the National Park Service in consultation with the African Burial Ground Advisory Council, which would be established by new legislation.
“The African Burial Ground is culturally and historically significant to New York and the nation,” Schumer said.
“The establishment of a museum and an education center at this cemetery will illuminate the plight, courage and humanity of the free and enslaved Africans who helped create New York,” he said.
The African Burial Ground is a cemetery in Manhattan that’s considered the oldest and largest known burial ground in North America for free and enslaved Africans. It serves great historical, cultural, archaeological and anthropological significance.
The burial ground includes DNA samples from the remarkably well-preserved human remains that will enable researchers to trace the home roots in Africa of those individuals buried there.
The site became a National Historic Landmark in 1993 and was designated as a national monument in 2006.
“As a nation, we must always remember the tremendous burdens and afflictions experienced by those who were brought here in bondage, and who fought – for generations – against impossible odds to achieve the full measure of dignity and equality and justice that they were due,” Schumer said.
“I am proud to cosponsor this legislation and I urge my colleagues to pass this bill and for the president to sign it into law,” he said.
“The burial ground serves as a tribute to the enslaved and free African men and women who lived in and helped build New York,” said Gillibrand. “Establishing a museum and an education center at this location would memorialize their stories and protect their legacies.”
“This is an important part of New York’s history that deserves to be recognized. I am proud to work with my colleagues in the New York delegation to introduce this legislation and urge my colleagues in Congress to pass this bill,” Gillibrand continued.
Nadler added that, “on the site of the African Burial Ground lie the remains of thousands of free and enslaved early African residents of New York, making it a site of the utmost historic and cultural significance for New York City and the United States.”
“A Memorial Museum and Education Center on those grounds will pay respects to the thousands buried there, acknowledge the central role that enslaved and free African men and women played in building New York City from its earliest history, and educate Americans and other visitors about the profound and far-reaching impact of slavery on American society,” he said.
From the beginnings of the colonial past to long after the formation of the union, enslaved Africans and their descendants have endured bondage and forced labor, followed by segregation and discrimination in America, Meeks said.
“Their resiliency should be commemorated, and their plight: never forgotten. Constructing the African Burial Ground Memorial Museum will serve to commemorate their bravery, remind us how long the journey towards justice has been, and contextualize the historical roots of the inequities that still persist to this day,” he said.
The sacred African Burial Ground Memorial Museum and Education Center will serve as a tool to educate communities on the long-lost history of the enslaved and freed African-Americans, whose labor ultimately built the City of New York, said Clarke.
“Amid the fight for equity, justice and fairness, we must shed light on the human rights violations that occurred in both colonial and federal New York City during the 17th and 18th centuries. This history deserves to be honored, remembered and studied by all Americans to ensure that such cruelties never occur again,” Clarke said.
Espaillat added that this year marks 400 years since the first African slaves were brought to the United States and the beginning of one of the darkest periods of our nation’s history.
“Establishing the burial ground is a tremendous way to reflect on the significant suffering and injustice slavery had throughout the United States,” Espaillat said.
“We can never forget the horrors that were inflicted through slavery, and the African Burial Ground Memorial will play a vital role in our ability to better understand the past and honor the history that all groups of people have had on American culture and our continued crusade for freedom and justice for all,” he said.