ALBANY, GA - On Thursday, February 24, the Albany Civil Rights Institute (ACRI) will hold its second Monthly Community Night in 2011 with architectural designer Peggy King Jorde speaking on "The African Burial Ground: What It Took to Preserve an African American Legacy in New York City." King Jorde was a key player in the fight to preserve the remains of over 400 eighteenth-century Africans and African Americans buried in Lower Manhattan. The skeletal remains were discovered when construction began on a new federal building in New York in 1991. After much controversy, the building was completed and the site became a National Monument with a memorial that commemorates the lives and burials of colonial Africans and African Americans, in what one historian has called "the oldest known African cemetery in urban America." The African Burial Ground has been called "the single-most important, historic urban archaeological project undertaken in the United States."
Peggy King Jorde has spent two decades in the public and private sectors in architectural design, cultural resource management and development, construction, project management, public art, and community relations. A native of Albany, she grew up in a family noted for their professionalism and public service. Her grandfather, businessman C.W. King, attended the Tuskegee Institute and worked there as Booker T. Washington's student carriage driver. Her father was the celebrated C.B. King, the only black attorney practicing in southwest Georgia at the time of the Albany Movement. Her mother was the director of the Head Start program for Albany preschoolers. Reflecting on her childhood in Albany, King Jorde noted, "I grew up in a family where the parents' professional lives were geared towards really meaningful things."
Peggy King Jorde has carried on that tradition. She went to Columbia where she studied architecture and served as a planner in New York Mayor David Dinkins's office of construction. It was there in 1991 that she first heard of the African burial ground. She sent memo after memo to city administrators telling them of the archaeological site's importance for African American history. As the press began to cover this project and the likelihood that "archaeological resources stood to be compromised," she was officially assigned to the project. For the next several years, King Jorde worked to insure that the remains were preserved, and after archaeological study at Howard University, reinterred at the site. Eventually a memorial was established and today visitors can view this stunning outdoor site any time of the year.
The discovery and preservation of the African Burial Ground is part of an interesting rediscovery of New York's slave past. According to ACRI director Lee W. Formwalt, "We don't often think of northern colonies, especially, New York, as slave societies and yet they were. New York City was one of the worst with over 20 percent of its 18th-century population consisting of enslaved Africans and their children." The African Burial Ground which contains the remains of between 10,000 and 20,000 people is a very tangible link to that past, and a reminder, according to Formwalt, that slavery and race were, and are, not just southern problems, and their consequences are something we still face as a nation today.