A Long Time Coming

When I read this news, it made me cry.

"About 15,000 African slaves and their descendants were once unceremoniously buried under what is today Manhattan— and forgotten.

On Saturday, a new visitor center opened near the rediscovered cemetery from the 17th and 18th centuries to celebrate the ethnic Africans who had toiled, many unpaid, to help make New York the nation’s commercial capital.

"It’s shocking — the number of people today who are still unaware that this history exists in New York," said Tara Morrison, superintendent of the African Burial Ground National Memorial.

It’s located a short walk from Wall Street, where African slaves once were traded."

It was a good cry, what my kids used to call "happy tears." We are finally beginning to look at our shared history of slavery. We have to look at it in order to understand it. We have to understand it in order to learn how American culture became so poisoned with racism and prejudice. We have to learn, acknowledge, and own our history, so that we might become the nation we have always had the potential to be: a country where all people truly are treated and respected equally. That’s my dream, too.

Make your day better and read the entire article. The author got one thing wrong: New York did abolish slavery in 1827, but the statue had loopholes that left people in New York in bondage well after that year.

It has taken centuries, but now we finally have recognition and respect for the people who deserve it the most: the African Burial Ground National Monument. I visited the site in its early days and was deeply moved. Any trip you take to Lower Manhattan needs to include this. (The monument’s superintendent, Tara Morrison, was a wonderful resource when I was writing CHAINS.) Be sure to check out this photo essay to see more.

If you’ve read CHAINS, you already know where this Burial Ground was.

This is Manhattan around the time of the Revolution.

Remember the Commons, where the traitor who planned on assassinating George Washington was executed, and where the British barracks and the jail were?

The Commons is that triangle above. See the Water up there, too? That was the Collect Pond. The African Burial Ground was very close to the original Pond. In CHAINS, Isabel mentions it on page 112

I’ll keep my eye on the NPS website for the new monument and will be sure to add links to any classroom resources they put up in the new-and-improved version of my website.

Since I’m on the topic of race and cultural heritage, this is a good time to link to Anne Sibley O’Brien’s post on white privilege in children’s literature.

What do you think about all of this?

10 Replies to “A Long Time Coming”

  1. Wow, that was something I never knew. Amazing and moving. I recently stumbled upon a memorial to the Irish famine down by the WTC. I will definitely seek this one out on my next visit.

    Interesting article by Anne, though I think we ethnic writers represent more than 1% at a given conference… or maybe I just gravitate more to those like me. I have had the experience of sitting at the minority table at a large literary event more than once though…

    Thanks for sharing, can’t wait for Forge!

  2. Forgotten Souls

    Wow. I’m as speechless & moved. I will absolutly read Chains now. To think that I didn’t know this-but it’s okay-
    I’ll gain the knowledge. On a lighter note, I just came back from Whispering Pines in RI-always a beautiful setting, wonderful place to gather for a literary weekend. As always I couldn’t help myself and purchased a book. Not just ANY book, but a beautifully artistic, historic, hysterical picture book called The Raucous Royals by Carlyn Beccia (like, betcha!) Anyway-wonderfully entertaining, gorgeous digital artwork and profoundly interesting material. Check out her website-I think she’s thinking about giving away a free copy…by the way-congrats on ‘Forge’. —As always a loving fan of LHA.

  3. I love Chains. It is a wonderful sensitive and brutal book. You have to be brutal when you write about slavery or war…
    I cry at the Civil War graves up in Maine, because they were willing to risk their lives to free other people.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. My sister (and co-author) and I will be taking our first trip to NY this summer and have been looking for suggestions of places to visit. This location has definitely just been added to the list. It hurts me to admit that some of my family are ones still plagued by racism, but I hold on to the hope that it my generation within our family will break that stubborn mindset.

  5. Slavery/race

    I saw this book profiled on Racialicious today and thought it might be interesting to you: http://www.racialicious.com/2010/03/10/dolen-perkins-valdezs-wench/ There is an interview on NPR also: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122767128

    If you aren’t familiar with Racialicious, it’s an awesome weblog examining the intersection of race and pop culture… lots of interesting discussions about white privilege and media/literary depictions of POC.

  6. Shared history

    The thing you said in this post that resonated the most with me was “our shared history.” Even though my people came to this country long after slavery was “over” I feel very strongly that I share this history, too. And although my minority is not visible to the eye (I am Jewish and have been told I don’t look Jewish–which, well, that’s a different topic), I have always felt my minority status, quite strongly. My father escaped Eastern Europe before World War II (actually before World War I)–and the reason he and his family left was because of persecution–but what I have gone through is one billionth of what my African American friends’ ancestors went through. So I guess what I’m saying is that I feel I share the history on both sides. Yes, it’s about time and I will take a walk down there very soon… I am so glad you are writing about this shared history and I hope you continue to do so with the grace and, as someone else said, brutality, that you did in the wonderful CHAINS.

  7. Thanks so much for the mention of my blog, Laurie. And more, for your books, this post, and the call to acknowledge the wounds of the past so that we can heal. As you point out, it’s a necessary step to take on the path to becoming a nation that recognizes and includes all of our peoples.

    Anonymous, re. the racial makeup of children’s book conferences: I’ve certainly been to ones that are more diverse, but it’s a sad truth that here in New England, we’re usually still convening nearly all-white groups. Occasionally there might be 10-15 people of color among 400+ attendees (so that could be more like 3-4%), but I’ve also been to at least one conference at which there was one single writer of color. The New England chapter of SCBWI has made some attempts to address this, at least in the presenters on the program, but we have a long way to go.

    We’ve got to start noticing this and caring about it, for our creative community, our national community, and most of all, for our children. We all need writers and illustrators of all backgrounds to be sharing the stories that only they can tell.

    Anne Sibley O’Brien

  8. For Awareness

    Thank you Laurie, and thanks Anne, for raising awareness about the secrets we can’t afford to forget. Diversity in children’s literature (and at conferences) is still lagging behind the reality of our society’s makeup. Appreciating everything you both do to open eyes and minds, both young and not-so-young.

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