Recognizing How Slaves Helped Build NYC

Image via Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "New York Slave Market About 1730."

New York Slave Market About 1730” (Image via Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library.

A monument or marker that recognizes the contribution of slaves from Africa to the founding and growth of New York City will be unveiled in Lower Manhattan some time this summer, following approval by the City Council last month. The recognition, championed by Council member Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, has been a long time coming, notes Herb Boyd in the Amsterdam News.

Many Americans and even New Yorkers are not aware that the city had a huge slave population, with numbers at one time comparable to those in South Carolina. The city, thanks to abolitionists such as David Ruggles, was also a terminus for the fabled Underground Railroad, through which hundreds, if not thousands, of runaway slaves traveled seeking freedom.

Boyd notes that the precise site of the marker has not yet been determined. At present in Lower Manhattan, the first part of the island that was settled and developed, there are numerous historical markers and monuments. One, the African Burial Ground National Monument at 290 Broadway, commemorates the Africans, both free and enslaved, who were buried in a 6.6-acre area from about the 1690s until 1794.

The recently approved monument will commemorate “the distant past and the blood, sweat and tears of our ancestors,” Boyd writes. Go to the Amsterdam News to find out what he thinks ought to happen for the contemporary artists whose work celebrates the contribution and suffering of their forebears.

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