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Press Release

NYCEDC and Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative Announce Next Phase of Archaeological Work at the Harlem African Burial Ground

Aug 15 2023
Community leaders announce next phase of archaeological work at the Harlem African Burial Ground.

The 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project will Honor and Memorialize an Important Part of the City’s History

NYCEDC, in collaboration with HABG Initiative, to Issue Request for Proposals (RFP) for complementary Education and Engagement Effort

NEW YORK, NY—New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative (HAGBI) announced today the beginning of a new phase of archaeological work at the historic footprint of the Harlem African Burial Ground, located within the site of the decommissioned 126th Street Bus Depot in East Harlem on 126th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. To complement the archaeological work, NYCEDC released today a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an education and engagement team to raise awareness about the Harlem African Burial Ground, its history, and the archaeological process to the East Harlem and Harlem communities and beyond.

Both enslaved and free New Yorkers of African descent were buried at the Harlem African Burial Ground from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s. For over a decade, NYCEDC has worked in partnership with HABGI and its predecessor, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, to develop a vision and goals for memorialization of the Harlem African Burial Ground and revitalization of the bus depot site.

“The Harlem African Burial Ground honors and memorializes a part of New York City’s history that too few New Yorkers get the chance to confront,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “This new phase of archaeological work is another major step towards building a permanent memorial that will pass along the lessons and memories of the past, while also addressing the needs of the community by building affordable housing and creating family-sustaining jobs for East Harlem residents. Pulling back the curtain on this powerful history will shed light on the perseverance of our city’s Black community.”

“The Harlem African Burial Ground is a vital piece of New York’s past. By preserving and honoring the lives of those buried here, we proudly showcase the importance of an inclusive public history,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “I want to thank NYCEDC and HABGI for their determined efforts to get this next phase of the archeological work underway. This administration looks forward to working with community leaders to create the memorial project, as well as the affordable housing, local jobs and community space.”

“This is a watershed moment in the long effort to properly honor New Yorkers who were buried here while increasing awareness of this historic site,” said NYCEDC President & CEO Andrew Kimball. “We are proud of the collaborative effort and close partnership we’ve had with the Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative, Mayor Adams, Councilmember Diana Ayala, Borough President Mark Levine and every elected and community official and look forward to working with them to realize this project.”

Following today’s announcement, NYCEDC and HABGI will co-host a community town hall on September 18th at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to provide additional information about the history of the Harlem African Burial Ground and these next steps.

The HABGI is co-led by Dr. Patricia A. Singletary, former pastor of Elmendorf Reformed Church, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, former District 8 Councilmember and New York City Council Speaker, and also includes Sharon Wilkins, former deputy Manhattan Borough Historian, and Melinda Velez. This partnership led to a first phase of archaeological work at the site, commissioned by NYCEDC in 2015, during which archaeologists made a discovery of over 140 disarticulated human remains of at least two individuals, likely of African descent, which physically affirmed the Harlem African Burial Ground’s existence within the bus depot site.

“The Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative has advocated for over a decade to bring attention to this crucial and historically neglected piece of our city and country’s rich history and educate New Yorkers and visitors alike. The Initiative is grateful to our partners at NYCEDC, LPC, Armand and AKRF, that helped us make meaningful progress towards the next phase of this project. We look forward to finally shedding light on this historic burial ground with an impactful memorial and working towards education and community engagement through today’s RFP announcement,” said Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative Leadership Dr. Patricia A. Singletary, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Sharon Wilkins, and Melinda Velez.

“The Harlem African Burial Ground offers a vital window into history, serving as a significant chapter in Harlem's narrative within New York City,” remarked Diana Ayala, Deputy Speaker of the New York City Council. “The time has come for us to pay homage to the past by erecting a memorial that imparts the stories of those at rest here. However, this endeavor isn't confined solely to historical preservation; it seamlessly bridges our heritage with the promise of the future. This project will address a pressing community need by establishing 600 to 700 units of affordable housing and creating a space for us to learn about the history that lies beneath our feet.”

“Black history is American history, and the Harlem African Burial Ground will play a tremendous role in our ability to reflect on the past while honoring the legacy of enslaved and free New Yorkers of African descent as we work to build a future that is more equitable for all,” said Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “As archaeological work begins during this next phase, I encourage all eligible historical societies and scholars to submit visionary proposals to build public awareness and education about the historic Harlem African Burial Ground and its place in American history.”

“As we embark on this exciting new phase of archaeological exploration at the Harlem African Burial Ground, we are unearthing not only physical remnants but also the indomitable spirit and resilience of generations of Africans and descendants of Africans who have shaped our vibrant city. This work honors the legacy of those buried here, shares their narratives, and preserves an invaluable part of our collective heritage,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “The unveiling of this history will not only deepen our understanding but also inspire a renewed commitment to inclusivity, education, and remembrance for the communities of East Harlem, Harlem, and beyond.”

The new phase of archaeological work will establish the complete distribution of human remains across the bus depot site. It will begin with the co-development of a workplan with HABGI and support from the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) this year, followed by fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and reporting in 2024 and 2025. This phase of archaeological work will be led by Michael Pappalardo and Dr. Elizabeth Meade from AKRF Inc., who managed the 2015 archaeological work at the site, collaborating with two highly qualified bioarcheologists, Dr. Rachel Watkins and Dr. Aja Lans, both well-established experts specializing in human remains of African descent. During the archaeological process, the site will be managed by Armand Corporation, a Black- and woman-owned construction and program management firm.

“From New York’s earliest days, free and enslaved Black people made their mark on our city, a fact that's made clear at this sacred site in Harlem,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo. “We applaud EDC and the project partners for starting this next phase of archaeological exploration to more fully understand what this site tells us about our African ancestors, and I look forward to further dialogue and community engagement rooted in the more complete picture of our shared past that emerges.”

“Armand Corporation is honored to manage the next phase of the archaeological work in preparation for the 126th Street African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project,” said Armand Corporation President & CEO Barbara A. Kushner “As a Black- and minority-certified business, Armand looks forward to preserving the history of our early New York City ancestors.”

“Collaborating with the HABGI predecessor organization and NYCEDC in 2015 to discover physical evidence of the Harlem African Burial Ground was a great professional honor,” said A. Michael Pappalardo, RPA Archaeologist and Elizabeth D. Meade, PhD, RPA, Senior Technical Director - Archaeologist. “We are excited to continue our work at this significant location with Drs. Lans and Watkins and to assist the HABGI in recovering the burial ground and reclaiming it as a sacred space.”

“We are honored to be working with the East Harlem community to ensure that the Black Ancestors at the site are properly cared for,” said Drs. Rachel Watkins and Aja Lans.

“East Harlem has always been rich in culture and history, and it is our duty to teach and spread this history,” said New York State Assemblymember Edward Gibbs. “The release of this RFP will allow the Harlem African Burial Ground to become a learning hub in our community. It is crucial that we ensure Harlemites and New Yorkers learn about the Harlem African Burial Ground, its history, and the archaeological process in a responsible and respectful manner. ”

“The upcoming phase of archeological work at the Harlem African Burial Ground is vital to preserving a critically important piece of history for East Harlem and the greater Harlem community,” said New York State Senator Jose Serrano. These efforts will help to provide an opportunity to educate New Yorkers on the historical context of the site while also serving as a way to uplift the community through the revitalization of the 126th St bus depot, and the creation of new jobs and much-needed affordable housing.”

“The history of our African ancestors, is the history of our state and our nation,” said New York State Senator Cordell Cleare. “The acknowledgement of slavery in New York is the first step toward repairing the vestiges of the inhumane treatment and systemic oppression of Black people throughout the country.”

“For many years, Community Board 11 has called for the recognition of all people who have contributed to our East Harlem. From the Lenape Indians who gave so much, including our island’s very namesake (Manahatta), to the current vibrant and diverse mosaic community that exists today, we have advocated for the inclusion of all people. Since this historic discovery, Community Board 11 worked avidly with the members of HABGI and the community partners to support a holistic vision that recognizes the cultural contributions and history of African Americans to East Harlem, Harlem and the greater New York City,” said Manhattan Community Board 11 Chair Xavier A. Santiago. “As the next phase of archaeological work begins, it remains our steadfast position that this location not only serves as an educational memorial but as a greater anchor for the economically sustainable revitalization of the 125th Street Corridor and thus begin a renewed Harlem Renaissance.”

To complement the archaeological work, NYCEDC, in coordination with HABGI, released today an RFP to select a team to work on a wide-reaching, multidisciplinary education and engagement effort to increase awareness and understanding of the Harlem African Burial Ground to the East Harlem, Harlem, and New York City communities, its history and cultural significance and this next phase of archaeological work at the site. Info sessions for the RFP will occur on September 7th virtually and September 12th in-person at the Metropolitan Hospital Center, and proposals will be due on October 4th.

The archaeology work and education and engagement effort will support the realization of the 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground and mixed-use project, which will revitalize the bus depot site. The project, which was developed through a community-based planning process with the HABGI and approved through the ULURP process in 2017 with support from Community Board 11, will honor and memorialize the Harlem African Burial Ground with a public outdoor memorial on the entire historic footprint of the burial ground, and an indoor cultural education center providing public programming about the burial ground and its history.

The project will also address affordable housing and job creation needs in East Harlem on the remainder of the site through a mixed-use program including roughly 600 to 700 units of housing, a minimum of 80 percent of which will be income-restricted affordable homes, job-creating commercial space and additional community space. NYCEDC plans to release public RFPs for both an operator of the cultural education center and steward of the outdoor memorial and for a developer of the mixed-use project over the next couple of years after the conclusion of the archaeological fieldwork on site.

For more information on the RFP for the education and engagement effort, please visit our RFP webpage. To learn more about the Harlem African Burial Ground, please visit the HABGI’s Instagram and NYCEDC’s 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project webpage.

New York City Economic Development Corporation is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization that works for a vibrant, inclusive, and globally competitive economy for all New Yorkers. We take a comprehensive approach, through four main strategies: strengthen confidence in NYC as a great place to do business; grow innovative sectors with a focus on equity; build neighborhoods as places to live, learn, work, and play; and deliver sustainable infrastructure for communities and the city's future economy. To learn more about what we do, visit us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.