Harlem African Burial Ground

View, above of East 126th Street between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue (note the 2nd Avenue El in the background). Photo is taken from the Willis Avenue Bridge. The Harlem African Burial Ground is in the foreground, under the person with the white top and black pants.

New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative (HAGBI) announced the beginning of a new phase of archaeological work at the historic footprint of the Harlem African Burial Ground, located within the site of the decommissioned 126th Street Bus Depot in East Harlem on 126th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. To complement the archaeological work, NYCEDC released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an education and engagement team to raise awareness about the Harlem African Burial Ground, its history, and the archaeological process to the East Harlem and Harlem communities and beyond.

Both enslaved and free New Yorkers of African descent were buried at the Harlem African Burial Ground from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s. For over a decade, NYCEDC has worked in partnership with HABGI and its predecessor, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, to develop a vision and goals for memorialization of the Harlem African Burial Ground and revitalization of the bus depot site.

“The Harlem African Burial Ground honors and memorializes a part of New York City’s history that too few New Yorkers get the chance to confront,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “This new phase of archaeological work is another major step towards building a permanent memorial that will pass along the lessons and memories of the past, while also addressing the needs of the community by building affordable housing and creating family-sustaining jobs for East Harlem residents. Pulling back the curtain on this powerful history will shed light on the perseverance of our city’s Black community.”

The new phase of archaeological work will establish the complete distribution of human remains across the bus depot site. It will begin with the co-development of a workplan with HABGI and support from the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) this year, followed by fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and reporting in 2024 and 2025. This phase of archaeological work will be led by Michael Pappalardo and Dr. Elizabeth Meade from AKRF Inc., who managed the 2015 archaeological work at the site, collaborating with two highly qualified bioarcheologists, Dr. Rachel Watkins and Dr. Aja Lans, both well-established experts specializing in human remains of African descent. During the archaeological process, the site will be managed by Armand Corporation, a Black- and woman-owned construction and program management firm.

“For many years, Community Board 11 has called for the recognition of all people who have contributed to our East Harlem. From the Lenape Indians who gave so much, including our island’s very namesake (Manahatta), to the current vibrant and diverse mosaic community that exists today, we have advocated for the inclusion of all people. Since this historic discovery, Community Board 11 worked avidly with the members of HABGI and the community partners to support a holistic vision that recognizes the cultural contributions and history of African Americans to East Harlem, Harlem and the greater New York City,” said Manhattan Community Board 11 Chair Xavier A. Santiago. “As the next phase of archaeological work begins, it remains our steadfast position that this location not only serves as an educational memorial but as a greater anchor for the economically sustainable revitalization of the 125th Street Corridor and thus begin a renewed Harlem Renaissance.”

To complement the archaeological work, NYCEDC, in coordination with HABGI, released today an RFP to select a team to work on a wide-reaching, multidisciplinary education and engagement effort to increase awareness and understanding of the Harlem African Burial Ground to the East Harlem, Harlem, and New York City communities, its history and cultural significance and this next phase of archaeological work at the site. Info sessions for the RFP will occur on September 7th virtually and September 12th in-person at the Metropolitan Hospital Center, and proposals will be due on October 4th.

The archaeology work and education and engagement effort will support the realization of the 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground and mixed-use project, which will revitalize the bus depot site. The project, which was developed through a community-based planning process with the HABGI and approved through the ULURP process in 2017 with support from Community Board 11, will honor and memorialize the Harlem African Burial Ground with a public outdoor memorial on the entire historic footprint of the burial ground, and an indoor cultural education center providing public programming about the burial ground and its history.

The project will also address affordable housing and job creation needs in East Harlem on the remainder of the site through a mixed-use program including roughly 600 to 700 units of housing, a minimum of 80 percent of which will be income-restricted affordable homes, job-creating commercial space and additional community space. NYCEDC plans to release public RFPs for both an operator of the cultural education center and steward of the outdoor memorial and for a developer of the mixed-use project over the next couple of years after the conclusion of the archaeological fieldwork on site.

The National Black Theater, At Night

The crane is now gone, the building has topped out. It’s all infill and interiors, now.