This morning, despite going to 26 Broadway instead of 26 Wall St., I took a wonderful tour of lower Manhattan led by the African Burial Ground Museum’s Ranger Doug. It can be hard to imagine New York as it used to be, hundreds of years ago…now there are mostly skyscrapers, and business types, and tourists taking photos of George Washington’s statue on the steps of Federal Hall. But THEN, back in the 1600s, the Dutch East India Company brought 11 enslaved African men to their colony and made them level the hills and widen the paths first made by the Lenape Indians (hence the name “Broadway”). All that history is still there, literally buried beneath the foundations of those massive buildings, and I was more than a little ashamed by how much I *don’t* know and how I’ve never bothered to take advantage of the historical resources available to all. My tour was free, my guide was fantastic, and I learned a lot about a part of the city (the financial district) I rarely—if ever—visit. I never knew there was a Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in NYC; I always think of our museums being in Midtown, or along 5th Ave. And on that site once stood the original fort for the Dutch colony, and not far from there was the Company’s Negro House, where enslaved people were kept. On Maiden Lane in 1712 Indians and enslaved Africans started a fire and then ambushed the whites who rushed to put it out…they were captured and publicly executed in the Common, which is now City Hall Park! Manhattan was such a small place then–the entire colony only took up a fraction of the island. Anyway, my tour ended at the monument itself, and I took some photos to keep me thinking about this history and its relevance to young people today. If you haven’t already, please do register for Saturday’s Mosaic Literary Conference up in the Bronx. I’m putting the finishing touches on my workshop: “The Door of No Return: Finding Self & Home in Historical Fiction,” and want to explore ways we can make this history meaningful to teens who so often feel ashamed or angry when they think of slavery. Here are some of my photos:
That plaque is kind of creepy, but if you look closely, I believe the skeleton is a reproduction of an actual burial they found on site—a woman cradling her infant in her arms. Touching…if you want to be moved by some great writing, check out Veronica Henry’s latest story over at Expanded Horizons. She wrote this short story after visiting Sierra Leone; you can read more about her trip at Veronica’s wonderful blog, Exquisitely Black.