The African Burial Ground and the 9/11 Memorial
Why do we have Memorials? Consider this inscription, from the African Burial Ground in New York.
For all those who were lost
For all those who were stolen
For all those who were left behind
For all those who were not forgotten
Or this, from the mission statement of the 9/11 Memorial:
May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.
In 1991, while preparing to build a thirty-four story federal office building, a forgotten burial ground was discovered. In use from the middle 1630’s until 1795, it contained over 15,000 skeletal remains of enslaved and free Africans. After community protests and discussions, some of the remains were re-interred and a visitor center and memorial constructed to commemorate their contributions to New York and honor their memory. Prior to final re-interment, the remains were placed in hand-carved coffins. Each crypt is marked with a mound.
As described by the National Park Service, the African Burial Ground is the oldest and largest known excavated burial ground in North America for both free and enslaved Africans. It reminds us of the historic role slavery played in building New York City. The site honors both the spirit of those buried here and those who fought for the respectful protection of this site for this and future generations.
Less than a mile from the African Burial Ground is the 9/11 Memorial. There are two reflecting pools which sit where the Twin Towers once stood. The name of every victim is inscribed around the perimeter. It is a burial ground also, as recovery of disintegrated remains must have been difficult. The adjacent museum has a database of each victim along with photographs and biographical information.
Back to my original question: Why do we have Memorials? They can be an inspiration. We can recall great deeds and people of the past. They can be a warning as we remember tragedies and work to prevent them. They can be personal as we remember people important to us. And they can be a teaching tool, to learn about history. After all, as stated by the twentieth century philosopher Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”. Sadly, he also stated that “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. Let us hope that is not the case.