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Ceremony Marks Return of African Slaves' Remains to New York - 2003-10-04

Friday was a solemn day in New Nork, as the skeletons of over 400 Africans were ceremonially returned to the city where most had been slaves during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The bones, which were part of a graveyard containing the remains of an estimated 20,000 Africans, had been removed for research soon after their discovery at a construction site in lower Manhattan in 1991.

The ceremony of return, which took place at the Wall Street pier where the bones had arrived by ship, began with a sacred African prayer.

The caskets containing the bones of over 400 colonial era African slaves offered a somber contrast to the skyscrapers and activity Manhattan's financial district. New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, one of many politicians and civic leaders who spoke at the ceremony, reminded the crowd that the site once housed the second largest slave market in America.

"It's a painful landmark, a reminder of our city's portion in what the poet Langston Hughes called 'the american heartbreak,'" he said. "Once, the African-American residents of our city were bought and sold on this very spot. So it is fitting that here and now we reverently receive the earlthly remains of some of them. As mayor of New York, I welcome them home."

Extensive research at Howard University in Washington DC revealed that a large percentage of the exhumed slaves had suffered violent wounds to the head. Forensic evidence also suggested that many had been routinely forced to carry loads of between 40 and 80 kilograms.

Herbert Daughtrey, a local minister and civil rights leader, said that the african american community felt sadness at the suffering these ancestors had endured - but also anger.

"Yes, our emotion races with anger, and our anger will feed our determination that the story of our ancestors will be told until the last breath of our bodies escapes us," he said. "And we will never, ever cease to demand that this country 'fess up [confess] and do right." After the ceremony, the caskets were carried by horse-drawn hearses up broadway's famous "canyon of heroes" to their original burial place north of City Hall, where they will be permanently reinterred amid great honor and celebration.