Loren's Reviews > Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York's African Burial Ground

Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence by Joyce Hansen
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's review
Jun 28, 12

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bookshelves: cemetery-books
Read in February, 2012

I was excited to find a book about Manhattan's African Burial Ground, which I visited in May 2002. At that time, it was merely a patch of grass inside a chain-link fence with an historic plaque, not much of a remembrance for the thousands of Africans, slaves and free, who were interred there. Of course, after 9/11, commemorating the long-dead became less of a priority. Thankfully, the site has been made right at last.

The subtitle of this book is "The Story of New York's African Burial Ground." Unfortunately, when the book was published in 1998, not much seems to have been known about the graveyard. Perhaps Howard University was still performing the analyses of the 400+ bodies that were recovered, but only a handful of the reclaimed bodies are discussed here. Maybe the archaeologists were busy writing their papers for other publications, but there's not much information about what they found. What's there is fascinating, but scant.

Apparently there are few historical documents pertaining to the space, other than old maps. The authors pad out the book with history lessons drawn from legal records about the treatment and lives of the Africans brought to the colony by the Dutch, then the British, then the new-fledged Americans. The history was new to me, but not nearly as interesting as the contents of the graveyard -- for which I'd purchased the book.

My hope is that there will be a new book available when I revisit the African Burial Ground (now a national monument) this summer.

ETA: The African Burial Ground National Monument gift shop sells a small paper-bound booklet called New York's African Burial Ground, but it lacks coherent structure and the text is repetitive. There still seems to be no solid book about this important graveyard.

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