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A Sacred Space in Manhattan

By Linda Tancs

From about the 1690s until 1794, enslaved Africans were buried in a cemetery in present-day Lower Manhattan, running from Chambers Street at Broadway to Foley Square. Long forgotten after years of landfill and development, the sacred space was rediscovered in 1991 upon the construction of a federal office building. The excavated remains were reinterred in seven burial mounds at the African Burial Ground National Monument. Located on a parcel of land surrounded by federal buildings just north of City Hall on 290 Broadway, the monument’s most poignant reminder of slavery’s ominous past is an imposing granite building called the Ancestral Chamber, tapered to mimic the cramped quarters of the slave ships that would bring Africans on their perilous transatlantic journey to America. A narrow opening in its roof reveals to visitors just a glimpse of sky.

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