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Archbishop Desmond Tutu Visits African Burial Ground National Monument in NYC

Archbishop Desmond Tutu visits African Burial Ground National Monument in NYC
Archbishop Desmond Tutu visits African Burial Ground
National Monument in NYC

It was both a festive and reflective event in New York City on Tuesday, February 25 when GSA’s Northeast and Caribbean Region, in coordination with the National Park Service, was honored to welcome the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu, to the African Burial Ground National Monument.  They were greeted at the site by Regional Administrator Denise Pease, for whom the Archbishop was a mentor, and NPS Superintendent Shirley McKinney.

The informal gathering, which coincidentally occurred during African-American History Month, included representatives from the local federal agency community, local elected officials including former New York State Governor David Paterson who was an early advocate for the African Burial Ground, elders from the local African American community, and others.   

Archbishop Tutu was treated to a ranger-guided tour of the Visitors Center as well as some of the artwork located in the lobby of the Ted Weiss Federal Office Building that reflects the adjacent burial ground site.  Finally, the Archbishop visited the African Burial Ground National Monument where Reverend Mpho Tutu placed a bouquet of flowers atop one of the mounds that marks the site where the human remains discovered at the site were reburied in 2003.

The Archbishop was moved by his visit and commented, “This is holy ground and I ought, by rights, to have taken off my shoes.  It was a deeply moving experience going around and seeing part of the history of black people - being stolen from their homelands and treated as if they were less than human  -  carried in those slave ships…and yet we want to celebrate them for their inspiration, their courage that has inspired us in our struggle for freedom.  Praise God for them.  Pray for the repose of their souls.  May they rest in peace and rise in glory.”

Renowned for his defense of human rights worldwide, Archbishop Tutu was the first black Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2009.  Often referred to as South Africa’s moral conscience, his visit to the African Burial Ground also included the lobby of the federal office building named after the late Congressman Ted Weiss, himself referred to as the conscience of Congress.

The African Burial Ground was discovered in the early 1991 when GSA’s pre-construction work for a new federal office building, revealed the skeletal remains of the first of more than 400 men, women and children, free and enslaved Africans, who had been buried there during the 17th and 18th centuries.  This extraordinary archaeological discovery was considered the most important urban archaeological project at the time, and deeply impacted the descendant and broader community, renewing awareness in cultural significance and historic preservation.

GSA’s African Burial Ground Project was an extensive mitigation response to this unexpected discovery and consisted of scientific research, the construction of an exterior memorial and visitors center, commemorative artwork in the adjacent federal building, and the respectful reinterment of the human remains in a dignified, internationally-acclaimed ceremony in 2003.

More information about GSA’s African Burial Ground Project, as well as links to all of the scientific research can be found at GSA’s website.  In addition, the African Burial Ground National Monument, located at the corners of Duane and Elk Streets in lower Manhattan, is now operated by the National Park Service. For directions to the site, the Visitor Center, and more information, go to www.nps.gov/afbg


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