Multi-American

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Ground Zero's distant past: Before Little Syria, a burial ground for slaves

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Photo by Wally Gobetz/Flickr (Creative Commons)


A plaque outside New York's Civic Center in Lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Ground Zero


Earlier this week, in a post about the so-called Ground Zero mosque, I highlighted a great post from KPCC contributor Marc Haefele on the history of the Ground Zero site in Lower Manhattan, lately tied to a vociferous controversy over the planned construction of an Islamic cultural center a couple of blocks from the location of the former World Trade Center. In the post, he described the area's history a century ago as Manhattan's old Arab District, referred to then as "Little Syria."

Mother Jones has now peeled away another layer of the historical onion, pointing out that before Little Syria existed, Lower Manhattan was the place where African slaves were buried. From the story:

Before the World Trade Center was even designed (with Islamic architectural elements, incidentally), the ground was indeed sacrosanct: The bones of some 20,000 African slaves are buried 25 feet below Lower Manhattan. As at least 10 percent of West African slaves in America were Muslims, it's not out of bounds to extrapolate that ground zero itself was built on the bones of at least a few Muslim slaves. That is to say, hallowed Muslim ground.

For some time, activists, historians, and city officials have been working together to excavate and preserve the bones of the slaves buried under present-day lower Manhattan. A recent excavation of a 14,000 square foot section of the six-acre burial ground found that 92 percent of the 419 skeletons were of African descent, and 40 percent were children under 12. The bones of the 419 slaves were eventually reinterred.


The short piece is a fascinating read. Also, the New York Times has since followed the Little Syria story.
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