Skip to main content

Doan Helps Unveil Stirring African Burial Ground Memorial

Remarks by
 Lurita Alexis Doan
Administrator
U.S. General Services Administration
African Burial Ground National Monument Memorial Dedication
New York, NY
October 5, 2007


Thank you very much and good morning.

It’s tempting to say that this celebration marks the end of an extraordinary journey.

But this is not the end.

In 1991, we embarked on a modern-day project and came upon aged voices that had been still for generations. When we stumbled on this sacred resting place, an interesting thing happened. For all our modern science and sophistication, we became students.

The men, women and children who returned from the distant past did so as our teachers. They set us straight about:

  • The hardships they faced,
  • How they lived and died,
  • About their native countries,
  • About the contributions they made,
  • And the traditions they brought to America.

In so doing, they corrected history books that had ignored their critical role at the dawn of our nation.

After we learned our lessons, we respectfully returned them to this sacred site. The reinterment ceremony four years ago this month was graceful and dignified.

That was not the end, though.

President Bush declared the African Burial Ground a national monument.

The Schomburg Center became the key repository for burial ground project archives.

Scientific and historical studies were completed.

And Rodney Léon was selected to give us a memorial befitting the global significance of the African Burial Ground.

That’s why we’re here today … to dedicate a memorial that links past, present and future -- for today, tomorrow and beyond … to congratulate Rodney for exceeding our highest expectations … and to ensure that this is not the end of our journey.

Dr. King taught us that: all labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

That aptly describes the labor that went into this memorial, and indeed the entire African Burial Ground project. So let me also quickly acknowledge:

  • Ed Lewis, President of the Memorial Foundation;
  • Our agency partners from the Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers;
  • The many elected officials who are here, including: Senator Schumer; Congressman Rangel; Governor Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg;
  • Internationally acclaimed, Oscar-award winner Sir Sidney Poitier;
  • And our own GSA team.

I also want to thank:

  • The Schomburg Center and Howard University;
  • The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation;
  • The New York Historic Preservation Office;
  • The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission;
  • And of course the descendent community.

Most of us feel a strong personal connection to this place. As the second African American Administrator of GSA … as its first female Administrator … as a daughter, sister, wife and mother … and as one whose ancestry traces back to the Caribbean, the destination or stopping point for thousands of enslaved Africans, I am truly touched by the commitment, creativity and care that produced this magnificent result. And I am humbled by the realization of what was achieved – and endured – by the men, women and children of the African Burial Ground.

Today we celebrate an achievement we can see and touch, as well the fulfillment of our pledge to correct the facts about the history of this great nation.

I believe America got a little stronger today.

I believe that from this day forward, we all walk with our heads a little higher.

I believe that from an inauspicious beginning, we found a poignant truth that will now endure through the ages.

As it should.

Thank you all.

Now it’s my privilege to bring up a very special individual.

Rare is the artist who can create work that combines imagination, strength, and sensitivity … that communicates as well as educates … that pays graceful, diligent tribute to origin and culture, and yet is contemporary and powerful enough to engage and inspire this generation and all that will follow.

Rodney Léon is such an artist. In achieving his vision of a sacred object for this sacred site, he has delivered a quiet masterpiece that amends the record – with precision and clarity – on behalf of the men, women and children of the African Burial Ground.

Or, as Rodney has put it: for all those who were lost; for all those who were stolen; for all those who were left behind; and for all those who are not forgotten…

Rodney Léon was one of five designers selected from 61 applicants who answered an initial call for proposals in 1998. It was in April of 2005 that we announced he would design the memorial.

The work we celebrate today loudly and joyously affirms that we made the right choice.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Rodney Léon.