FAQs

Below are frequently asked questions the task force has received throughout its years advocating for the interests of the Harlem African Burial Ground site. If you have questions of your own please use our contact form by clicking here. We will try to respond as quickly as possible.

HABG TASK FORCE

Why was the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force started?


In the late 1990s, the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) began planning the reconstruction of the Willis Avenue Bridge in East Harlem. This process revealed that a new bridge might impact the site of a colonial and early national African burial ground under what is now the decommissioned East 126th Street Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Bus Depot. In compliance with New York state law, DOT conducted a Phase IA archaeological and historical survey, which verified the existence of the historic African cemetery.

This segregated cemetery, known as the Harlem African Burial Ground, was created in 1668 and maintained until 1858 by Harlem’s founding church, The Low Dutch Reformed Church of Harlem, now known as Elmendorf Reformed Church. Though church historians as well as specialized New York City and Harlem historians had long known about the burial ground, the East Harlem community was largely unaware of it.

The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force was founded in 2009 to honor, protect and memorialize this sacred burial ground. Co-chaired since its inception by the Reverend Dr. Patricia A. Singletary, Pastor of the Elmendorf Reformed Church, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, former Speaker of the New York City Council and District 8 Representative, the Task Force has brought together church leaders, historians, scholars, urban planners and a wide variety of community stakeholders to advocate for the Harlem African Burial Ground. For more information about the task force click here.




What are the vision & mission of the HABG Task Force?


Our vision and mission statements are reproduced below but a downable PDF document can also be found by clicking here. Vision: On this sacred Lenape tribal site near the Harlem River and East 126th Street, where the Village of Harlem was founded in 1660, lie the desecrated remains of both freed and enslaved Africans who helped build this village, city and nation. The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force seeks to create a profoundly visionary memorial that empowers and educates all to the continued local, national and global struggles for social and economic justice and spiritual fulfillment. Mission: Working with the City of New York, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force seeks the creation of a vibrant memorial that is fully integrated into the social and economic fabric of East Harlem. The mission of the task force is to ensure that any new development on this sacred site be iconic in design and honor the lives and contributions of enslaved and free African colony and nation builders, their descendants, and indigenous people who inhabited Manhattan before the arrival of Europeans. This unique waterfront location reveals Harlem’s and New York City's rich history and inspires its social, economic and spiritual future. Its redevelopment incorporates openness, grace and innovation. Nearby Harlem River Park, Harlem River Drive, Willis Avenue Bridge, 2nd Avenue Subway, and the larger neighborhood are visually connected through elegant landscaping, architecture and urban design that highlights this place, embracing residents and visitors alike. In this sacred memorial place, the spirits of those once forgotten will be remembered: their wisdom will be received and renewed, and their stories will take their rightful place in the rich American narrative.





OUR ANCESTORS

Were human remains discovered at the burial ground site?


Yes, human remains have been found. In 2015, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) hired AKRF, Inc, an environmental, planning and engineering consulting firm, to conduct a Phase I-B Preliminary Archaeological Investigation. The purpose of the investigation was to identify the presence or absence of important buried resources. A total of 4 test pits was excavated at the 126th Street Bus Depot. In Trench 2, disarticulated human remains were found along with other archaeological artifacts. Trench 2 straddles the northern end of the historic footprint of the burial ground site. For more information about these archaeological excavations and discoveries please click here.




Where are these human remains now stored?


After an ecumenical prayer service, the disarticulated human remains found in 2015 were removed for storage at the New York City Archaeological Repository: The Nan A. Rothschild Research Center, located at 114 West 47th Street in Manhattan. The NYC Archaeological Repository opened in 2014 and is a project of the Archaeology Department of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commision (LPC). More information about this repository can be found here.




Are there more human remains waiting to be discovered on the site?


Yes, historians and archaeologists are certain that more human remains as well as other artifacts remain on the site. The Phase I-B Preliminary Archaeological Investigation conducted in 2015 was just that, a preliminary investigation. The four trenches excavated were merely test digs: they did not constitute an exhaustive or complete exploration of this sacred burial ground site. Furthermore, in 2015, Trench 2 yielded more evidence of human remains but they could not be recovered. These human remains lay beyond the boundaries of the trench and were therefore beyond the original contracted scope of work for the Phase I-B. Future archaeological work will undoubtedly yield more human remains and other historic artifacts.




What are the actual boundaries of the sacred and historic Harlem African Burial Ground?


While the historic footprint of the African burial ground is well established, human remains are scattered throughout the vicinity of the project site (2460 Second Avenue; Tax block 1803, Lot 1). Two centuries of urban redevelopment led to the destruction of the cemetery; intact burials were crushed and scattered as the land was continuously graded and filled. In 2011, an expanded archaeological monitoring zone was proposed based on historical research of the development and redevelopment of the site throughout the last four centuries. Click here to view this document. For additional information about the transformations of the site which destroyed and desecrated the original African burial ground start here.





A FUTURE HOME & VILLAGE

What is the proposed Harlem African Burial Ground Cultural Education Center & Outdoor Memorial?


Harlem African Burial Ground Cultural Education Center & Outdoor Memorial will be the centerpiece of a future mixed-use redevelopment of an entire block situated at 2460 Second Avenue between 126th and 127th Streets (Tax block 1803, Lot 1). The historic footprint of the burial ground will be preserved as a public outdoor memorial (18,000 SF). The cultural education center (15,000 SF) will be sited adjacent to this outdoor space and serve as a community gathering place where Harlem residents and visitors from around the world can come to honor the ancestors and learn about the history. The principal idea of the overall development known as the “East 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial And Mixed-Use Project” is to recreate a section of East Harlem as a village and bring our community together around its heart - a living memorial known as the HABG Cultural Education Center & Outdoor Memorial. This living memorial will be both a place of remembrance and a place for people, now and in the future, to live, grow and love.




What are the vision, mission and mandate of the HABG Memorial & Cultural Education Center?


In 2017, the New York City Economic Development Corporation hired Lord Cultural Resources (LCR) to assist in determining the best approach toward creating a Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial & Cultural Center. After reviewing the HABG Task Force’s Vision and Mission Statements, LCR created new statements to reflect their understanding. These LCR statements are below. The Mission: The Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial & Cultural Center is a place of learning and inspiration for New York City residents, tourists and beyond. It honors the contributions of enslaved and free Africans by connecting their stories to the 21st- century life of the village, city and nation they helped to build through engaging exhibitions and robust and relevant programming. The Vision: In this sacred memorial place where the Village of Harlem was founded in 1660, the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial & Cultural Center embraces residents and visitors, catalyzing economic activity through innovative interpretation and vibrant programming. With openness and grace, the Center inspires the city’s social, economic and spiritual future by revealing Harlem and New York City’s rich history. The Mandate: Through a visionary memorial that empowers and educates all to the continued local, national and global struggles for social and economic justice and spiritual fulfillment, the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial & Cultural Center will commemorate the spirits of those once forgotten and will connect those experiences to the Harlem of today, with interpretation ranging from the time of the indigenous people to the present day.




What is currently going on at the project site known as the East 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial & Mixed-Use Project?


In 2015, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) vacated the East 126th Street bus depot. In 2017, the project underwent a public review process known as ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, to obtain approvals for land use actions that would facilitate the redevelopment of the site. The project received approvals from Manhattan Community Board 11, the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, the City Planning Commission, the New York City Council and the Mayor for the following land use actions: 1) to change the zoning from a low density manufacturing district to a high density commercial/residential one; 2) to extend the block by demapping a narrow portion of Second Avenue; 3) to make affordable housing mandatory by including the project within an area zoned for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH); and 4) to approve the future disposition (sale or transfer) of the project site to a developer. However, before a developer is selected through an RFP (Request for Proposals) process led by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), an operator for the HABG Cultural Education Center & Outdoor Memorial will be selected through an RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) process. The RFEI process will identify nonprofit arts/cultural organizations or partnerships that will be responsible for the operations, maintenance, and programming of the HABG living memorial, including all community focused programs, activities, educational offerings, and exhibitions. An RFEI was issued by NYCEDC along with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) on Monday, October 21st and respondents are asked to submit their application by January 6, 2020. The operator will be selected by NYCEDC and DCLA in consultation with an Advisory Group of which the HABG Task Force is a part of. To view the RFEI please click here. It must be stressed that nothing will be built until the entire site has undergone a complete and thorough archaeological investigation to determine the locations of more human remains and historic artifacts. This will be the very first step in the redevelopment process.





The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force is a group of concerned citizens who have united to help the Elmendorf Reformed Church to restore and memorialize its historically and culturally significant colonial African burial ground at 1st Avenue, between 126th and 127th Streets in East Harlem, New York City.

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