African Burial Ground National Monument (New York City)
African Americans--New York
New York City--History
Northeastern United States
Slavery--New York (State)
Subject (Object Type)
The memorial sits on .35 acres and includes seven distinct design features: Wall of Remembrance, Ancestral Re-Interment Grove, Memorial Wall, The Ancestral Chamber, Circle of the Diaspora, Spiral Processional Ramp, and The Ancestral Libation Court.
The visitor is invited to walk through the monumental triangular structure known as “The Ancestral Chamber,” which represents the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean. After passing through the chamber, the visitor encounters a spiral memorial wall featuring twenty religious symbols including a number of Adinkra symbols (Akan peoples, Ghana). The floor of the monument includes a world map centered on the West African coast with sun rays radiating towards North America, Brazil, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands.
Description of the seven elements from Rodney Leon, “The Ancestral Libation Chamber: Memorial on the African Burial Ground National Memorial,” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/afbg/learn/historyculture/upload/Rodney-Leon-Memorial.pdf.
Wall of Remembrance
As one happens by the north wall facing Duane Street you are immediately struck by the scale and detail of a highly polished wall of granite inscribed with following libation text.
For all those who were lost
For all those who were stolen
For all those who were left behind
For all those who were not forgotten
The Wall of Remembrance is intended to draw a person in, and thus begin the process of enlightenment and education.
Ancestral Re-interment Grove
A path extends itself north to south from Duane Street. Along this path are seven burial mounds marking the locations of the seven large sarcophagi containing the remains of the 419 African descendants that were re-interred in October of 2003. In addition, a grove of seven trees create a natural buffer and shelter between the re-interment zone and adjacent building. The burial mounds serve as markers and the trees as guardians for the entrance to the Libation Chamber. It is appropriate to place flowers and other offerings along the path in front of the burial mounds.
The Southern wall of the Libation Chamber shall be engraved with a map containing images and text describing the components of the African Burial Ground National Monument site in context of the burial ground's actual boundaries in lower Manhattan. This map will allow people to understand the extent and scope of the burial ground's actual size which extends significantly beyond the boundaries of the memorial site.
The Ancestral Chamber
The Ancestral Chamber is intended to reflect African cultural, spiritual and ancestral essence. This spiritual form rises out of the ground like an ancestral pillar and represents the soaring African spirit embracing and comforting all those who enter. The Ancestral Chamber is oriented towards the east and open to the sky above, allowing natural light to penetrate and illuminate the interior space. The interior of The Ancestral Chamber provides a sacred space for individual contemplation, reflection, meditation and prayer.
Circle of the Diaspora
Signs, symbols and images of the African Diaspora are engraved around the perimeter wall encircling the Libation Court. These symbols come from different areas and cultures throughout the Diaspora, especially Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Symbolic meaning is described below the image. As one circumambulates around the perimeter of the court and spirals down the processional ramp, these symbols present themselves as a reminder of the complexity and diversity of African culture's manifestation. They all come together to form a communal place and a reminder of the Burial Ground being an international center of gathering. For a complete list of the symbols, see https://www.nps.gov/afbg/learn/historyculture/adinkra-symbols.htm.
Spiral Processional Ramp
The Spiral Processional Ramp descends down 4’ below street level thereby bringing the visitor physically, psychologically and spiritually closer to the ancestors and original interment level. The ramp and stairs serve as bridges between the living and the spiritual realm. They symbolize the process of transcendence from physical to spiritual and passage from profane to sacred. The process will evolve from the public “secular” space of the city to the spiritual space of the Libation Court and culminate in the sacred space of The Ancestral Chamber.
Ancestral Libation Court
The Ancestral Libation Court is situated on axis with The Ancestral Chamber. It is located 4’ below street level, providing a physical and psychological separation from the public activity of the surrounding urban environment. The Libation Court is a communal gathering place where small to medium-scale public cultural ceremonies may occur. This spiritual space is where re- consecration of the African Burial Ground National Monument will continually take place during the libation or other ceremonial rituals. The sacred ceremonial ritual of “libation” is the act which will serve as an offering and an acknowledgement linking past, present and future generations in the spirit of Sankofa (an Adinkra symbol of West Africa meaning ‘learn from the past’).
“African Burial Ground.” The New York Preservation Archive Project. Accessed April 11, 2019, http://www.nypap.org/preservation-history/african-burial-ground/.
Frohne, Andrea E. The African Burial Ground in New York City: Memory, Spirituality, Space. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2015.
"African Burial Ground : African Burial Ground National Monument, New York." Tourist Map, National Park Service, 2011. Accessed May 24, 2020, https://www.loc.gov/item/2011587283/.