Burial rituals for enslaved Africans in eighteenth century New York City were often clandestine. Since the seven acre burial ground was outside of the city’s wall, enslaved Africans were usually given permission to bury their dead only after dark. Rituals of burial reflected the diverse African cultures: many bodies were buried with heads facing east, and some were adorned with cowerie shells and pins to usher the dead into the next life. Sacred Ground embraces the metaphor of the grove as a space of refuge in an urban landscape of oppression and degradation. It fashions a home for both the living and dead.
Sacred Ground creates a “memorial” marking the dead as much as it proposes a “monument” looking to the future—in this it is political. Sacred Ground respects the sanctity of the African Burial Ground as a cemetery by not building within its hallowed confines of the only extant area and by regulating public access to the site, except on ceremonial occasions. With the re-interment of 419 remains on the western edge of the parcel, plus an estimated 200 unexcavated remains scattered across the quarter acre site, Sacred Ground recognizes its entire area as a solemn place of burial. Sacred Ground’s verdant ceremonial lawn and lushly planted memorial garden would be accessible to the public during special events, services, and tours. Though access into the site can be regulated, visitors nevertheless have panoramic views at all times into the burial area from the street and from the threshold of the Spirit Catcher’s gateway.
Research and Design Team
Paul Kariouk, Kariouk and Associates
Katherine Dean, Dean Wolfe Architects
Charles Wolf, Dean Wolfe Architects
Walter Hood, Hood Designs