NEW YORK (PIX11) — Dr. Patricia Singletary said she first learned that there are human remains of enslaved and free Africans buried under a city bus depot back in 2009 while researching her doctoral dissertation.
“When Robert Moses came in and started his building initiative, tenements in Harlem were destroyed. Burial grounds were mowed over. This was one of them,” said Dr. Singletary.
She decided to form a task force in hopes of getting the city to acknowledge and do right by the Harlem African burial ground located on Second Avenue near East 126th Street. A few years ago, the task force convinced the city to dig through concrete slabs at the lot, creating four trenches.
There, archaeologists discovered human remains and artifacts.
“Nobody even thought the bus depot was going to be decommissioned. They thought we were crazy to even offer that as a solution. And here we are, the bus depot has been decommissioned,” said former New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, an early supporter of the initiative.
Now, the city is set to honor and recognize the cemetery, announcing the next phase of archeological work at the African burial ground.
“That will establish the complete redistribution of human remains across the bus depot site, enabling their safe recovery and ultimate interment at the site’s future memorial,” said Andrew Kimball, president and CEO of New York City Economic Development Corporation.
The proposal includes an outdoor memorial, an indoor education center, and housing for at least 600 New Yorkers. The cemetery was created during a time when Blacks, whether free or enslaved, could not be buried with whites, despite the contributions of Africans in building the city.
“We need to bring to light each group’s history and certainly to elevate and teach Black history which will happen in this cultural center,” said task force member Sharon Wilkins.
Archaeology work is set to start as early as the end of this year.
Once the human remains are removed and safely stored, construction of the memorial and building will begin.