Memorializing the Inwood African Burial Ground & Lenape Ceremonial Site
Confronting and making history
In late 2020, BRC learned the site it planned to purchase at 3966 Tenth Avenue, for the purpose of building and operating a high-quality shelter for people experiencing homelessness, had a history as a burial ground for enslaved Africans and as a Lenape Ceremonial Site.
In 1903, as the neighborhood was being developed, the burial ground was destroyed and the remains of those who had been buried there were dishonored and discarded, and there is currently no recognition of any of the site’s history in the immediate area or acknowledgment of those who were previously buried there.
Learning this, BRC knew we had to pause, and reflect. We concluded then that to walk away from this history of trauma would not serve the need that existed and exists to help heal it. And so we chose to engage and include, to listen and to learn, with the help of the community, and to let this collective wisdom guide us. We listened to the voices of hundreds of stakeholders: the descendant communities, the current community, historians, spiritual leaders, and other experts, the workforce and clients of BRC, and so many other wise people.
That process of inclusion and listening led to the establishment of the Advisory Group for the Inwood Sacred Site (AGISS), which recognized the direct connection between the history of this site, its relationship to the persecution and dehumanization and marginalization of people and communities of color, and the root causes of homelessness today which disproportionately impact communities of color. Recognizing these connections between our city’s history of racism and the racism that still exists in our society, the AGISS recommended that BRC proceed with its residential program but do so in a manner that incorporates the site’s history, restores dignity to those who had been laid to rest there, and affords an opportunity and a space for reflection and education.
An overview of the history of the site, produced by Cole Thompson, a local Inwood Historian.