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.

 

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HUAN 5 
August 2000