14th Benjamin E. Mays Lecture
Lecturer Links Burial Ground and Human Rights
Africans who were enslaved in America were stripped of family, customs, language, dignity. Everything. Reclaiming the humanity and culture that life in America cheated them of may be accomplished with the rediscovery of the ground where they buried their dead.
According to Michael L. Blakey, American Studies professor at the College of William and Mary, who spoke as the Benjamin E. Mays lecturer on April 12, the New York African Burial Ground is “an important cultural link to our society and to human nature.”
A February 2003 press release from the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the community engagement arm of the project, reports tgat the African Burial Ground was uncovered in 1991 during construction of a New York City federal office building.
“At the site—since designated a National Historic Landmark—archeologists exhumed 408 remains and scores of artifacts for study, which will be re-interred once scientific work is completed.”
Blakey, the site’s director, is responsible for chronicling the discovery of the ground and the scientific efforts to preserve the site. Much can be learned from the bones, as well as the site itself given the fact that gravesites were often locations for planning revolts and insurrections.
But the site represents more than a collection of bones and artifacts. Its mere existence is proof of the Africans’ humanity, said Blakey. “Burying the dead is a very important, human characteristic,” he explained. “These burials were the assertion of African cultural presence and humanity as [Africans] simultaneously resisted slavery.”
According to Blakey, there are far too many cultural threads and historical data that exists at the New York Burial Ground for this cemetery not to be preserved.
“Respecting these Africans and establishing a true memorial for them is a human rights struggle,” he said.
—Reported by James Dessin ’07
More Campus News
John Handy Named Vulcan Materials Morehouse Faculty Member of the Year for 2012-13
Spike Lee ’79 Urges Students to Follow Their Passions, Not Their Wallets
Zimbabwean-Born Businessman Commits $6.4 Million to Send 40 African Students to Morehouse
Ten Milwaukee-area Students Become Men of Morehouse Through New Milwaukee Scholarship Program