Jesse Jackson claimed in a 2003 speech that New York's financial district was built on an "African burial ground." Since then I have seen this claim repeated may times on Facebook memes.

Is there any evidence to support the claim?

  • 1
    I don't think he meant it literally. Can you give examples of people believing or claiming Wall St. is physically built on an actual slave burial ground, rather than (what I take as his intended meaning) as a metaphor that the financial industry benefitted from the labor and deaths of slaves? Feb 25 '16 at 18:26
  • Yes I have seen that and I will post the picture if I can. If you can show that he meant that figuratively it would answer the question as well. So far as I can tell he meant it literally.
    – Chad
    Feb 25 '16 at 18:37
  • Also from my research it seems likely it is true but I am not finding many references that are non bias. Most of the sources are like Mother Jones, black lives matter, etc. places with an agenda to push this being true, even if it is made up.
    – Chad
    Feb 25 '16 at 19:10
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    I'd say links to those sources would help demonstrate notability, even if they do have an agenda. Also, the linked article doesn't have any context for the quote in your question; if we could find at least the full paragraph of his speech where he says that, I think it would help clarify the question. Rev. Jackson has a tendency toward ornate speech (metaphor, alliteration, etc.), hence my confusion. Feb 25 '16 at 21:34
  • I do not want to challenge those claims. I want to challenge the claim the Jackson made. Jackson is a notable person and the claim is documented. Feel free to vote to close if you feel this is not enough notability or address it on meta.
    – Chad
    Feb 25 '16 at 23:06

Yes, there is an African Burial Ground National Monument recognizing this.

From about the 1690s until 1794, both free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre burial ground in Lower Manhattan, outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, later known as New York. Lost to history due to landfill and development, the grounds were rediscovered in 1991 as a consequence of the planned construction of a Federal office building.

According to the 1859 book History of the City of New York: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present:

The negro burial ground was at the corner of Broadway and Chambers street, on the site now occupied by Stuart's marble building.

That intersection is on the northern edge of the financial district as defined here.

and in the 1855 book Reminiscences of the City of New York and Its Vicinity:

there is a timeline heading:

Part of the Negroes' Burial-ground, south of Chambers street, (in the present Park,) Question, as to ceding to the City, 1796.

under which it is explain that the portion of the burial ground south of Chambers street was taken over by the city in exchange for other land in 1796.

So, yes part of the financial district was built on the burial ground.

See also Manual of the corporation of the city of New York (1865) starting at page 567 for more details of the location of the burial ground and the creation of Chambers street though the burial ground.

And also the 1837 Documents of the Board of Alderman of the City of New York, vol. III, page 74:

In 1792, when Chambers-street was opened, it passed through the Burial Ground of the Africans

This and later similar road construction through cemeteries is referred to as "violations of the sanctity of the grave" by the board.

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    It would be interesting to know just how many other burial grounds are under the current structures of Manhattan (and other cities). Just in the interest of fairness, since Jackson &c seem (as usual, alas) to be using this as a supposed instance of racial discrimination, instead of what seems inevitable in the course of urbanization. Note e.g. the recent discovery of an English king's remains under a parking lot.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 27 '16 at 6:59
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    @jamesqf There is some discussion of that here: huffingtonpost.com/greg-young/… But certainly there was discrimination in that most in the burial ground were slaves, and blacks had to be buried separately outside the city. We don't have the full text of Jackson's speech, but just the fact that there was a cemetery with 15,000-20,000 mostly-slaves (with the city total living population being only 33,000 in 1790) is a testament to discrimination.
    – DavePhD
    Feb 27 '16 at 13:18
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    As best I can tell, Jackson is trying to claim discrimination because developers wouldn't build over white graves, which is demonstrably false. Searching for "colonial manhattan cemeteries" will find many hits, like this: huffingtonpost.com/greg-young/…
    – jamesqf
    Feb 27 '16 at 19:42
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    @jamesqf That's the same link as in my comment above. Jackson said "Wall Street is built on the backs of African people. It is an African burial ground down here. Wall Street was built on the shipping industry". I don't see where he said developers wouldn't build over white graves. The article in the OP says it was in the context of the shipping industry using slaves in the early history of New York, and the relationship of the shipping industry to Wall Street.
    – DavePhD
    Feb 27 '16 at 19:50
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    Still, the basic question here is whether that particular graveyard was significantly different from any other, no? To which the answer is not really, because old graveyards get built over all the time.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 28 '16 at 6:13

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