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Office of the Secretary

For Immediate Release:
Feb.28, 2006
John Wright
(202) 208-6416

Secretary Norton Announces President's Designation of African Burial Ground as a National Monument

NEW YORK -Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton today announced President Bush's decision to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect and preserve the history of the African Burial Ground in Manhattan, N.Y. President Bush signed the proclamation yesterday, designating the African Burial Ground Memorial as the African Burial Ground National Monument.

"In a bold act and by Proclamation, President Bush has set apart and preserved this African Burial Ground as a national monument of the United States of America," Norton said. "As a nation, we will not forget the mothers and daughters, fathers and sons buried here. As a nation, we give to persons of African descent a place of reconnection with their beginnings, ancestry, culture and heritage."

With the historic action taken by President Bush, the African Burial Ground becomes the newest national monument and the 390th unit of the National Park Service. By giving it this higher level of recognition, the African Burial Ground National Monument will preserve this history for all time and shed new light on many lost chapters.

The African Burial Ground was re-discovered in 1991, when construction began on a federal office building in lower Manhattan. The site was designated by the Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark in 1993. The burial ground is part of an original seven-acre site containing the remains of approximately 15,000 people, making it the largest and oldest African cemetery excavated in North America.

"After facing this painful past, we come together to preserve this sacred ground," said Norton. "This burial ground teaches slavery's shame. It also teaches that repentance and remembrance lead to renewal."

Building planners were aware that the site once held a cemetery, but assumed there would be no vestige of the past still to be found. Instead, 20 feet below the surface, lay the remains of free and enslaved Africans. In 2003 the remains of 419 were re-interred. Archeologists have confirmed the site to be of unprecedented national and international historical significance.

"By creating this monument, we recognize that, as a nation, we were once blind and separated by the shame of slavery," Norton said. "Now we see, united by the hope that comes from repentance, remembrance and renewal."

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which is celebrating its 100th year of enactment, the President of the United States is authorized to declare by public proclamation, historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.