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Home arrow Working with Section 106 arrow Section 106 in Action arrow Archive of Prominent Section 106 Cases arrow New York: Construction of Foley Square U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, New York
New York: Construction of Foley Square U.S. Courthouse and Federal Building, New York
(Closed Case Follow-up)

Agency: General Services Administration

In December 1991, ACHP and the General Services Administration (GSA) agreed upon measures to mitigate the impact of constructing a Federal office building in New York City at the site of the African Burial Ground. A National Historic Landmark, the burial ground is an 18th-century cemetery for enslaved Africans that offers a rare glimpse into their life and experience. Agreement on mitigation was the culmination of a difficult Section 106 review, and recent efforts to reinter human remains from the site have proved equally problematic.

In 1990, an unknown number of skeletal remains were destroyed and removed from the construction site before local archeologists were alerted to the situation and subsequently contacted ACHP. GSA had not addressed construction of the office building during consultation two years earlier to develop a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on a related courthouse annex construction project, despite knowing of the potential presence of the burial ground. GSA had also failed to include the local community in consultation, particularly the African American community of New York.

Despite local and national protests, GSA proposed to completely destroy the hundreds of burials within the project site and erect the new Federal building as originally designed. Following congressional intervention, a compromise mitigation plan was reached and incorporated into an amended MOA for the proposed courthouse and Federal building.

The amended MOA requires GSA to: 1) develop and implement a research design for the cemetery and other archeological sites within the project area; 2) sensitively remove all exposed human remains; 3) analyze the disturbed human remains and associated grave artifacts; 4) reinter the human remains and associated grave artifacts; and 5) develop a memorial, interpretative site, and public outreach program. Additionally, GSA was required to submit quarterly reports to ACHP and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) summarizing actions taken to comply with the amended MOA.

While GSA has continued to work with contractors to implement the amended MOA, ACHP has not received timely or consistent status reports. In the spring of 1999, GSA did seek ACHP’s guidance regarding how to conclude the mitigation plan, particularly the approved research design. ACHP provided comments, but did not hear from GSA again until about 18 months later, when the agency notified ACHP of its intent to reinter the human remains in August 2001.

Three weeks before the proposed reburial ceremony, GSA submitted a letter reporting on the status of its responsibilities under the terms of the amended MOA. While continuing to endorse reinterment as soon as possible, ACHP questioned whether GSA had documented that the terms of the MOA had been satisfactorily fulfilled.

The status of the scientific analysis of the grave-associated artifacts that will be reburied with the human remains is of particular concern, as is GSA’s failure to coordinate with a broad segment of the community. The National Park Service (NPS) has voiced serious concerns regarding GSA’s compliance with the research design, especially completion of the artifact analysis. NPS also noted that GSA failed to consult with NPS regarding the implications of the proposed reburial on the overall integrity of the site and its status as a National Historic Landmark. Such concerns appear to have been a significant factor in GSA’s decision to postpone the planned reburial ceremony.

Because of concerns about effects to the integrity of the site and the lack of appropriate coordination, ACHP supported GSA’s decision to reschedule reinterment. Not anticipating an indefinite postponement, ACHP has requested that GSA provide a detailed and comprehensive status report demonstrating satisfactory compliance with the terms of the 1991 MOA and approved research design. Further, ACHP has asked GSA to schedule a consultation meeting with ACHP, NPS, LPC and other consulting parties to review and consider the status report and the proposed reburial.

It should be noted that GSA’s archeology laboratory and Office of Public Education and Interpretation were located in the World Trade Center complex. Fortunately, the human remains and some associated artifacts from the African Burial Ground were not housed at that facility at the time of the September 2001 terrorist attack. No GSA staff were injured, but the status of the many artifacts that were on site, as well as records and files, remains uncertain.

Staff contacts: Charlene Dwin Vaughn and Laura Henley Dean

Updated June 6, 2002

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