Today the African Burial Ground has come to represent part of the common heritage and
group identity of African Americans who came together as a distinctive group in order to
preserve and respect a plot of land that they consider their collective, sacred
ground. Their massive effort has saved a cemetery whose significance has grown
tremendously. Today the African Burial Ground Project's Office of Public Education and
Interpretation has had contact with seventy thousand persons from across the United States
and abroad. A petition to create a postage stamp in honor of the Burial Ground had been
signed by more than one hundred thousand persons, nationally and internationally, but has
been rejected twice by the United States Postal Service. Hundreds of news articles every
year and six documentary films covering the African Burial Ground further attest to the
interest on the part of people of all walks of life and to the significance of the Burial
Ground. On August 2, 1995 a Royal delegation of Ghanian Chiefs visited the laboratory in
Washington and poured libations on the cemetery in New York City as an act of apology and
atonement for their partial participation in the Atlantic slave trade.
This three hundred year-long humane struggle of the cemetery's
community represents a struggle for human rights in the strictest anthropological sense.
Funerary ritual is pan-human, and no other species of animal or plants buries its dead.
The veneration of ancestry and the right to proper burial are more unique and
distinguishing of humanity in the archaeological record than are the use of fire, the use
of tools, or the ability to walk on two legs. The three-hundred-year struggle for the
African Burial Ground, from a strictly scientific standpoint, constitutes a continuing
assertion of human identity against those who would belittle or belie that status for
reasons of economic expediency.
The scientific research now underway constitutes yet another
dimension of a long-standing human rights struggle among African Americans. That effort
may relate directly to the conventions of the United Nations pertaining to human and group
rights. We seek accurate elucidation of slavery's impact on the lives of our ancestors
and, by historic extension, its impact upon living descendants. Our job is to see that the
memorial on the site will not be dedicated to "unknown Africans" by a people of
unknown ancestry. We seek to restore knowledge of the African-American origins and
identities that were deliberately obscured in the effort to dehumanize Africans as
"slaves." We seek to provide facts that can emerge above the distortions and
omissions of American education that have been fueled by Euro-American denial. We seek to
reverse the false histories that deny the African material contributions to the building
of the Western world, contributions that are appropriated by a dominant Eurocentric
scholarship and education which bolster the identity and humanity of Euro-Americans at the
expense of the identity and humanity of African Americans.