African Burial Ground National Monument: 2013 New York Stories 2

In 1991, I was living in New York when the burial place of Africans who were enslaved and free were discovered at what is now 290 Broadway in downtown Manhattan. Their remains were buried from the late 1600’s to the 1794. It is only recently in 2013 that I am fully understanding and appreciating the African Burial Ground in the context of a long history of Africans and people of African descent . . . my history . . . our history.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The National Parks Service offers a broad experience at the monument including an indoor video and exhibition at the museum, and an outdoor memorial.

Some of the focus is on the spiritual implications of a people in bondage holding onto their humanity by burying loved ones in the midst of oppression and violence. Only humans bury their dead. The curators offer insightful social and cultural context to the lives of people of African descent including how some labored and family lives.

Learn more reading Audrey Peterman’s “African Burial Ground National Monument: Peace at Last” in Our True Nature: Finding a Zest of Life in the National Park System.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Advertisements

Arrival: 2013 New York Stories 1

I really had to practice some self control when I arrived at Laguardia Airport in Queens outside New York City. Super Shuttle took an hour to arrive at the airport. Shame. And the driver was no bargain even with GPS. Shame. He almost left the back door open. I visualized my luggage, strewn across the BQE-Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

I  did look to my left and saw soccer players playing under the dark of night lit by powerful lights. What a pleasure.

We took the Kosciusko Bridge into the Lower East Side. Darkness . . . Illusion of brightness in the bright lights.

Back to the driver. He jumped over a stop and had to double back. I really wanted to get in the passenger seat and direct him. We were a few blocks from my hotel so I grabbed up my bags knowing I was a few moments from freedom. I yelled to the driver, “There’s my hotel on the left.”

I jumped out of the van and yelled at the other passengers, “Good luck, ya’all!”

They looked at me like frightened birds, appearing as though their last hope had ejected from the shuttle.

So here I am back in my homeland . . .  bright lights, big city . . .  Singing a different song having lived in so many places . . . But so quickly returning to the core of my New York self.

Memory of 911: No Photos, No Images, Just Memories

911 has profoundly affected the nation. I’m originally from New York having grown up in Queens and worked in Manhattan including downtown. So now-gone World Trade Center and the death of so many people has changed me too.

I was living in Los Angeles when the planes hit the Twin Towers. I was getting ready for work at a local university. The TV was off so I had no idea that NYC, the United States, and the world was changing. My mother rang me and told me to turn on the television. I won’t describe what I saw because so many of us saw the footage repeatedly on CNN and other channels.

I called my cousin who worked steps away from the World Trade Center. People everywhere were jamming phone circuits. I like so many other people were worried about family and friend could not get through. I called my mother again and I learned my cousin had not gone into work that day. She was safe.

In shock, really feeling like a zombie, I went to work. LAX, the international airport in Los Angeles, stood between me and work. The airport and the streets around were shut down by the authorities. So I drove and drove until I found a hole to go through.

At the university, I went to administration and asked if classes were in session. No one had ever experienced anything like this so I got no answers. They too were in shock.

I headed to my first class and five of my students were waiting for me. We all knew what had happened and were stunned. I asked them what they were thinking and feeling. Each student shared. And then we all cried. I didn’t go to any of my other classes.

I did go to Faithful Central Church in Inglewood where a service had been quickly organized for the evening. I wept and fell over unable to stand up to the atrocity and destruction. Three women caught me before I hit the ground. The women held me for a long time.

A few days later I had to get on a plane for work. There were military everywhere with semi-automatic weapons. It was the beginning of the restrictions on traveling and luggage. I was scared to get on a plane but I forged on. It’s that New England stoicism I suppose.

In November, just a few months later, I went to New York to meet my cousin and my parents. My cousin resisted me when I said I wanted to walk around downtown. I did get out alone though.  The cut-through of buildings I’d used in the past  as a short-cut to avoid crowds on the streets were heavily guarded and were no more. Military were everywhere. I was asked to show my ID, which was my driver’s license. It was disorienting downtown  in a different and frightening way. It was not the bright lights, big city disorientation.

My parents arrived downtown a few hours after my arrival. We ate lunch with my cousin and then my father wanted to go to the World Trade Center. He had worked most of his adult life at Banker’s Trust across the street from the towers so this place had great significance for him.

We walked over and my father stood silent in front of the barriers that made it impossible to see anything that remained of the buildings. Fliers covered the wall of missing friends and family–all those missing loved ones. My mother did not understand his silence and started to rush him to go. She had not worked in Manhattan so the destruction meant little to her. I turned to my mother and said, “You have to give him time, Mom. This is where he spent most of his work life. This is where he met his colleagues and most of his friends here at Bankers Trust across from the World Trade Center.” So we waited. He said nothing but turned away from where the towers once stood and walked. We followed silently behind him.

I will always remember the World Trade Center and the people. I cannot count how many times I got off the subway early in the morning with a flood of dresses and suits with people. All of us ran swiftly through of the towers on marble floors. I ran up the stairs instead of taking the escalators with my jacket or sweater flapping around me into the streaks of sunlight and the drift of clouds, into the cool air of fall. That was my World Trade Center.