All of these descriptors come to mind when we think back on our visit to African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City. Sandwiched between our visits to famous landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Federal Hall, we’ll admit though, when we planned our visit to African Burial Ground National Monument it was more of an exercise in “check it off the #parkchasing list” than anything else.
In almost every case though, these tiny parks prove us completely wrong. Shortly after we stepped off the busy streets of lower Manhattan and into the Visitor’s Center, it was apparent we’d arrived somewhere special–and we were about to learn a whole new history of the land we were standing on.
Here's our African Burial Ground National Monument trip report including:
Where is African Burial Ground National Monument?
New York, NY 10007
African Burial Ground National Monument is located in lower Manhattan. There are two components to the site, the main Visitor Center is located located at 290 Broadway, on the first floor of the Ted Weiss Federal Building. The outside memorial is located at the intersection of African Burial Ground Way and Duane Street just around the corner.
The location on Google maps is the outside memorial. To collect passport stamps and see the exhibits, walk the short distance around the corner to the Visitor Center entrance. Expect to go through a metal detector and additional security screening procedures as you would for entering any federal building.
How To Get There
As with most of the national park sites in New York City, it’s best to arrive via public transportation or on foot.
The African Burial Ground National Monument is accessible by multiple subway lines within a 4-block radius, including:
1, 2, 3 [Chambers Street]
A, C [Chambers Street]
R [City Hall]
4, 5, 6 [Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall]
J, Z [Chambers Street]
We added our visit on to a walking tour of lower Manhattan national parks, including Castle Clinton National Monument, Statue of Liberty National Monument, and Federal Hall. The monument is a short 15 minute walk from Federal Hall, Wall Street, and the 9/11 Memorial.
Why was the National Monument created?
In the early 1990’s, the United States government began construction on a new federal building to house the General Services Administration (GSA) at 290 Broadway in lower Manhattan.
During the excavation, intact human skeletal remains were found below the city’s street level on Broadway. Scientists and researchers from around the country were brought in as a larger 6-acre burial ground was uncovered. Investigations found the burial ground contained nearly 15,000 intact skeletal remains. Remains of enslaved and free Africans who lived and worked New York dating back to the 1630’s–well before the city was a booming cultural and financial hub.
An extensive campaign began to stop the construction of the new GSA building over the top of the burial ground. Civic leaders, African American community activists, and historians from around the country petitioned the federal government and New York City leadership. Advocates worked to establish better standards for the scientific research, protect the remains, and create an appropriate memorial to the lives that were foundational in the earliest years of New York City. News reports from the time document a great disconnect between the demands of the community and ultimately what the federal government did with the 290 Broadway property.
The African Burial Ground National Monument was established by President George W. Bush in 2006 to establish the nation’s earliest and largest African burial ground rediscovered in the United States.
What to See at African Burial Ground National Monument
During our 90-minute visit to African Burial Ground National Monument, we made stops at both the monument and the visitor’s center.
Here’s what to see during your visit:
The Visitor's Center
The visitor’s center, located on the first floor of 290 Broadway has a theater, large exhibit area, ranger desk, and gift shop. The visitor center exhibits detail the complicated history of enslaved Africans in colonial New York City, the burial ground, and the controversial creation of the monument.
Be sure to view the commissioned artwork around the lobby of the Ted Weiss Federal Building and the visitor’s center.
The Park Movie
As you enter the monument, ask a ranger or desk volunteer about the next showing of the park film. The movie (about 20 minutes long) is a good place to start for first-time visitors to learn the back-story on the burial ground and the excavation and construction that occurred during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The Outdoor Memorial
Of course, you’ll want to visit the outdoor monument. During our 2019 visit, the Ted Weiss Federal Building was undergoing facade work, so a scaffolding structure was built up and around the outdoor memorial making it inaccessible to the public. However, it’s definitely a must-stop location for every visit.
In 2007, the Ancestral Chamber and outdoor memorial was completed “to physically, spiritually, ritualistically and psychologically define the location where the historic re-interment of remains and artifacts of 419 Africans has taken place.” (AARIS architects)
To read more about the memorial, check out this NPS guide: Ancestral Libation Chamber – Memorial on the African Burial Ground National Monument
Become a Junior Ranger at African Burial Ground National Monument
Traveling with younger visitors? Collect Junior Ranger badges on your #parkchasing visits?
Kids and adults alike can earn a Junior Ranger badge at African Burial Ground National Monument. The book can be picked up at the ranger desk near the Visitor’s Center front entrance or can be downloaded and completed ahead of your visit on the NPS.gov website.
When to Visit African Burial Ground National Monument
Every season in New York City has it’s perks. There’s not really a bad time to enjoy the 11 national park units in the city, just times where it might be busier than others.
However, if you’re looking for a visit to the Outdoor Memorial, note that it’s closed from November 1st to March 31st each year for the winter season. The visitor’s center is open Tuesday – Saturday 10 AM to 4 PM (except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.)
How to visit all the other national parks in New York City
Interested in adding African Burial Grounds National Monument to a larger New York City national parks vacation?
Check out our itinerary for a full list of the park units AND suggestions for transportation, when to visit each site, and other historical markers to visit in the city.
Some of the closest National Park Service units to African Burial Grounds National Monument include:
- Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island
- Federal Hall
- Castle Clinton National Monument
- Lower East Side Tenement Museum National Historic Site (affiliated site)
Other National Parks to Learn about Racial Inequality & African American Heritage
As we’ve written here before, we’re well aware of the racial inequalities that exist in the outdoor industry and in the use of our public lands.
In recent studies of the National Park System, Black Americans make up about 7 percent of visitors, while they are 13 percent of the U.S. population. Moreover, 78 percent of visitors are White.
A visit to African Burial Grounds National Monument is just one way you can learn more about racial inequality and how the stories of enslaved Africans like those buried in the colonial burial ground ultimately helped to shape the story of race in our country.
To find out more about other national park units that you can learn about racial inequality and African American Heritage, check out our featured post: “70 National Parks to Learn About Racial Inequality.”