Located at the corner of Duane and Elk Streets in Lower Manhattan, New York, the African Burial Ground National Monument is a tribute to the more than fifteen thousand 17th- and 18th-century free and enslaved Africans that were buried in a 6.6-acre site that sits at this spot, which was once part of the outskirts of New Amsterdam (later New York City).
The idea for the monument arose in 1991 after the first body was discovered during excavation for a new federal office building that was to be built at the site. Remains of more than 400 of those individuals were eventually discovered at this location. The previously undiscovered cemetery had been covered with development and landfill since the time of the burials and the discovery of the initial body prompted an outcry by the local African community to build a monument that would honor the dead and draw attention to the plight of early Africans in America. Two years after the initial discovery, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2003, the remains of the hundreds that were discovered were rewarded with a final resting place at the site, where a ceremony was held to mark the re-interment.
Ground was broken for the monument, which is maintained and operated by the National Park Service, in September 2005. A contest was held to determine the design, with the winning creation belonging to Haitian-American architect Rodney Leon. His 25-foot granite monument is entitled "The Door of Return'', which references the infamous Doors of No Return, a name given to slave ports in West Africa. Leon's monument was officially dedicated in October 2007 and is considered a successful collaboration of a number of entities, including not only the National Park Service but also the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Howard University, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the African American community of New York City.
In addition to the monument, the onsite Visitor/Interpretive Center includes displays and exhibits pertaining to African-American history and culture in New York City and also displays commemorative art commissioned specifically for the African Burial Ground National Monument. Guests may explore on their own or take advantage of ranger-led tours of the center. Located inside an adjacent federal office building, the Visitor Center is open during regular business hours. Also offered through the interpretive center is a 90-minute walking tour that explores the African presence in the early days of New York. Reservations are suggested, especially for large groups.
Special events, workshops, and programs for all ages are held year round but especially during February, which is designated as Black History Month. Most activities are offered free of charge.