Not the book the African Burial Ground deserves

Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York's African Burial GroundBreaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground by Joyce Hansen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was excited to find a book about Manhattan’s African Burial Ground, which I visited for the first time in May 2002. At that time, the African Burial Ground was merely a patch of grass inside a chain-link fence with an historic plaque, not much of a remembrance for the thousands of Africans, slaves and free, who were interred there. Of course, after 9/11, commemorating the long-dead became less of a priority. Thankfully, the site has been made right at last.

The subtitle of this book is “The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground.” Unfortunately, when the book was published in 1998, not much seems to have been known about the graveyard. Perhaps Howard University was still performing the analyses of the 400+ bodies that were recovered, but only a handful of the reclaimed bodies are discussed here. Maybe the archaeologists were busy writing their papers for other publications, but there’s not much information about what they found. What’s there is fascinating, but scant.

Apparently there are few historical documents pertaining to the space, other than old maps. The authors pad out the book with history lessons drawn from legal records about the treatment and lives of the Africans brought to the colony by the Dutch, then the British, then the new-fledged Americans. The history was new to me, but not nearly as interesting as the contents of the graveyard — for which I’d purchased the book.

I hoped that there would be a new book available when I revisited the African Burial Ground (now a national monument) last week.  In fact, the African Burial Ground National Monument gift shop sold a small paper-bound booklet called New York’s African Burial Ground, but it lacks coherent structure and the text is repetitive. There still seems to be no solid book about this important graveyard.  This is a serious problem.

You can find used copies of Breaking Ground on Amazon: Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground (Coretta Scott King Author Honor Books)

New York’s African Burial Ground by Dr. Martia G. Goodson can be purchased from the Park Service here.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. My science fiction trilogy, The Dangerous Type, will be published by Night Shade in 2015. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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2 Responses to Not the book the African Burial Ground deserves

  1. coastalcrone says:

    Thanks for the review. Your other post on this was sufficient for me.

    Like

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Thanks for reading them, Jonell. There’ll be one more follow-up tomorrow, on the other book I referenced about African American cemeteries. Next week will be a whole new topic.

      Like

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