Obviously, an African reverence for ancestors continues to reverberate within the
African-American community today. The protection and memorialization of the African Burial
Ground seems to resonate with African descended people everywhere, whether Muslims,
Christian, or Traditional. Indeed, a significant number of individuals of European descent
have also reached out in support of these resoundingly human efforts to respect the
integrity of a cemetery. Yet, the sad truth is that disregard for African humanity
continues to be demonstrated among those who have assumed the privileged identity of
whiteness, an identity built upon the racist division between those who were and those who
were not to be treated as human.
The past and the present, the living and the dead, are connected.
The treatment of the African Burial Ground reflects that of its descendants. We hope that,
by shedding light on the past, the cycle of pain can be broken and slavery's continuing
wounds might finally be tended. Recent United States initiatives for an apology for
slavery and a dialogue on racism have begun with uncertain footing. Trapped in denial, and
apparently comfortable with privilege, many Euro-Americans believe there is nothing to
apologize for. With so little light on the past, how optimistic can one be about a
dialogue to end racism in the present? As someone who often presents these data on
slavery's hardships, I hear time and again the softer language of denial: "How do you
know that whites did not experience the same hardships?"
The need for the study of the African Burial Ground is therefore
evident, in order to confront psychological denial with evidence and reason. Equally
important are efforts to raise the most fitting memorial with which a community of nations
might bestow unwavering sanction upon the value of the people buried there, whose very
humanity was contested in life. Euro-America's psychological health may also depend on
rising above denial and disregard, which would also be of consequence to the world
community. We hope that our research can be of service to the efforts of President
Clinton, and of the United Nations, in seeking open and salubrious inquiry into slavery
and its continued effects. On behalf of my colleagues, let me close by expressing my
gratitude for this opportunity to share our information and concerns.
1These results were based on preliminary study of the
first one hundred remains examined. Current data on four hundred remains show a forty
percent child mortality and seventeen percent infant mortality, which is forty-three
percent of child deaths.