Tuesday, March 2, 2010

African Burial Ground National Monument Opens in New York

On Saturday, the visitor's center at the African Burial Ground National Monument opened in Lower Manhattan. The museum and memorial mark the location of a graveyard used by New York's enslaved and free black communities between 1690 and 1790. In the 1990s, construction uncovered more than 400 bodies, which have been catalogued, studied, and reburied beneath the new monument.

The New York Times has a lengthy review of the new museum. The author, Edward Rothstein, is a bit skeptical of some of the exhibits' politics and questions whether the conclusions on display are supported by the evidence. I haven't visited yet, so I can't really speak to his specific criticisms, but I know that it can be very tempting to over-interpret evidence in graveyards. Still, I wish that Rothstein had interviewed some of the attendees about what the memorial meant to them. As he notes in the first sentence of his review, "Cemeteries are at least as much for the living as the dead." That's very true, and I do not necessarily think that that is a bad thing. It is the main contention of my dissertation that colonial American graveyards were political spaces from the first, so it is unsurprising that they still are today.

I'm not a great lover of New York (too big for me), but I'm excited about visiting this memorial. Wouldn't it be great if we could get a visitor's center for God's Little Acre in Newport?

No comments: