NYCEDC + HABG Initiative Announce Next Phase of Archaeological Work at Harlem African Burial Ground




A view of the former site of the first Harlem burying ground/African Burial Ground in 1903, viewed from 127th Street near the Willis Avenue Bridge. At that time the site was part of the Sulzer’s Harlem River Park. Image via

In the summer of 2017, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force unveiled ten presentation boards in the lobby of the State Office Building on West 125th Street. The boards told an incredible story of a burial ground located on East 126th Street, under the current bus depot, with history dating back to the 1660s ~ and exhumations continuing to this day.

This August, 2023, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative (HAGBI) announced the beginning of a new phase of archaeological work at the historic footprint of the Harlem African Burial Ground, located within the site of the decommissioned 126th Street Bus Depot in East Harlem on 126th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

Image of Church and Farmlands in 1820. The yellow is the historical boundary of the Harlem African Burial Ground. The blue is the historical boundary of the Cemetery for persons of European decent.

To complement the archaeological work, NYCEDC released today a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an education and engagement team to raise awareness about the Harlem African Burial Ground, its history, and the archaeological process to the East Harlem and Harlem communities and beyond.

Both enslaved and free New Yorkers of African descent were buried at the Harlem African Burial Ground from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s. For over a decade, NYCEDC has worked in partnership with HABGI and its predecessor, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, to develop a vision and goals for memorialization of the Harlem African Burial Ground and revitalization of the bus depot site.

“The Harlem African Burial Ground honors and memorializes a part of New York City’s history that too few New Yorkers get the chance to confront,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “This new phase of archaeological work is another major step towards building a permanent memorial that will pass along the lessons and memories of the past, while also addressing the needs of the community by building affordable housing and creating family-sustaining jobs for East Harlem residents. Pulling back the curtain on this powerful history will shed light on the perseverance of our city’s Black community.”

“This is a watershed moment in the long effort to properly honor New Yorkers who were buried here while increasing awareness of this historic site,” said NYCEDC President & CEO Andrew Kimball. “We are proud of the collaborative effort and close partnership we’ve had with the Harlem African Burial Ground Initiative, Mayor Adams, Councilmember Diana Ayala, Borough President Mark Levine and every elected and community official and look forward to working with them to realize this project.”

Following today’s announcement, NYCEDC and HABGI will co-host a community town hall on September 18th at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College to provide additional information about the history of the Harlem African Burial Ground and these next steps.

The HABGI is co-led by Dr. Patricia A. Singletary, former pastor of Elmendorf Reformed Church, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, former District 8 Councilmember and New York City Council Speaker, and also includes Sharon Wilkins, former deputy Manhattan Borough Historian, and Melinda Velez. This partnership led to a first phase of archaeological work at the site, commissioned by NYCEDC in 2015, during which archaeologists made a discovery of over 140 disarticulated human remains of at least two individuals, likely of African descent, which physically affirmed the Harlem African Burial Ground’s existence within the bus depot site.

Map indicating location of historic burial ground on East 126th Street. Image via CB11 presentation May 12, 2022

In the above map, the location is clearly marked as a red rectangle along the river, with yellow marking the site of the current burial ground. This location is directly underneath a current New York City Transit Authority Bus Garage.

The new phase of archaeological work will establish the complete distribution of human remains across the bus depot site. It will begin with the co-development of a workplan with HABGI and support from the Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) this year, followed by fieldwork, laboratory analysis, and reporting in 2024 and 2025. This phase of archaeological work will be led by Michael Pappalardo and Dr. Elizabeth Meade from AKRF Inc., who managed the 2015 archaeological work at the site, collaborating with two highly qualified bioarcheologists, Dr. Rachel Watkins and Dr. Aja Lans, both well-established experts specializing in human remains of African descent. During the archaeological process, the site will be managed by Armand Corporation, a Black- and woman-owned construction and program management firm.

“From New York’s earliest days, free and enslaved Black people made their mark on our city, a fact that’s made clear at this sacred site in Harlem,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo. “We applaud EDC and the project partners for starting this next phase of archaeological exploration to more fully understand what this site tells us about our African ancestors, and I look forward to further dialogue and community engagement rooted in the more complete picture of our shared past that emerges.”

“Collaborating with the HABGI predecessor organization and NYCEDC in 2015 to discover physical evidence of the Harlem African Burial Ground was a great professional honor,” said A. Michael Pappalardo, RPA Archaeologist and Elizabeth D. Meade, PhD, RPA, Senior Technical Director – Archaeologist. “We are excited to continue our work at this significant location with Drs. Lans and Watkins and to assist the HABGI in recovering the burial ground and reclaiming it as a sacred space.”

To complement the archaeological work, NYCEDC, in coordination with HABGI, released today an RFP to select a team to work on a wide-reaching, multidisciplinary education and engagement effort to increase awareness and understanding of the Harlem African Burial Ground to the East Harlem, Harlem, and New York City communities, its history and cultural significance and this next phase of archaeological work at the site. Info sessions for the RFP will occur on September 7th virtually and September 12th in-person at the Metropolitan Hospital Center, and proposals will be due on October 4th.

The archaeology work and education and engagement effort will support the realization of the 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground and mixed-use project, which will revitalize the bus depot site. The project, which was developed through a community-based planning process with the HABGI and approved through the ULURP process in 2017 with support from Community Board 11, will honor and memorialize the Harlem African Burial Ground with a public outdoor memorial on the entire historic footprint of the burial ground, and an indoor cultural education center providing public programming about the burial ground and its history.

The project will also address affordable housing and job creation needs in East Harlem on the remainder of the site through a mixed-use program including roughly 600 to 700 units of housing, a minimum of 80 percent of which will be income-restricted affordable homes, job-creating commercial space and additional community space. NYCEDC plans to release public RFPs for both an operator of the cultural education center and steward of the outdoor memorial and for a developer of the mixed-use project over the next couple of years after the conclusion of the archaeological fieldwork on site.

For more information on the RFP for the education and engagement effort, please visit the RFP webpage. To learn more about the Harlem African Burial Ground, please visit the HABGI’s Instagram and NYCEDC’s 126th Street Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial and Mixed-Use Project webpage.

Map bounded by 2nd Ave., Harlem River, 1st Ave., E.126th St. Image ID: 5089366. Image via New York Public Library

Let’s take a walk back in time to our initial post on the Harlem African Burial Ground in 2017.

The site takes us back to 1660 when Nieuw Haarlem was charted by Dutch settlers on indigenous land. In the mid-1660s, Low Dutch Reformed Church (predecessor of today’s Elmendorf Reformed Church) was founded. The church had two distinct cemeteries. One for people of European decent, and one for both freed and enslaved people of African decent.

Those buried in the European section of the cemetery were transferred from that location in around 1869. But those of African decent, buried at that location, remained. In time, the ground was leveled and parts of the Harlem River shoreline were filled in.

The site became home to a beer garden and casino from 1885-1917, named Sulzer’s Harlem River Park. From 1917 to 1918, the land became barracks for the 15th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment ~ an all-Black unit. It became  home to movie studios from 1918 to 1945, with one of the studios belonging to William Randolph Hearst. From 1945 to 1962, the site was the Third Avenue Railway Company trolley barn. The current New York City Transit Authority bus Garage was built there in 1947. From 1962 to today, it has been the home of the MTA/New York City Transit Authority Bus Garage, as an active facility until 2015, image below.

The bus depot on East 126th Street, currently slated for demolition.

Taking a walk back in time ~ before the Transit Authority Bus Garage facility became inactive, the African Burial Ground was uncovered during a documentary study for the Willis Avenue Bridge in the early 2000s. Dr. Patricia A. Singletary, Pastor of the current Elmendorf Reformed Church, along with Councilmember for District 8, Melissa Mark-Viverito, formed The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force (HABGTF) to advocate for a memorial on that site.  NYCEDC was later asked to lead the redevelopment project.

Reclaiming History, Reinvesting in East Harlem: The Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial Project opened at La Marqueta in 2019.

Phase 1B of the archeological investigation uncovered more than 140 disarticulated human bones or bone fragments on the site. The Task Force got to work, putting on paper a projected vision in a 2017 Points of Agreement letter. In the letter, the Task Force focused on five areas: Establishing a permanent outdoor memorial and cultural center to honor and commemorate the HABG’s history and those who were buried there; Develop a mix of uses at that location, including mixed income affordable housing and job-creating commercial uses; Enhance the streetscape and pedestrian connections to the surrounding neighborhood. (The East River Waterfront Esplanade and Piers Project ~ The Harlem Greenway ~ abuts this site); included in their focus would be possible ways to support the cost of construction and operation of the memorial and cultural center; Finally, the inclusion of housing which would be 80% affordable, along with commercial and retail space ~ the outdoor memorial, cultural center and a community facility.

Presentation in the State Office Building Lobby in 2017

This brings us to the presentation boards in the lobby of the State Office Building in 2017, where we first became aware of the project. This public presentation invited the community to learn about the historic site, and the efforts currently underway to protect and preserve it.

It also was the year that the Harlem African Burial Ground site was placed on both the National and State Register of Historic Places.

Reclaiming History, Reinvesting in East Harlem: The Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial Project opened at La Marqueta in 2019.

In 2019, the exhibition Reclaiming History, Reinvesting in East Harlem: The Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial Project opened to the public at La Marqueta. The exhibition was an update on the progress of the Task Force, which included a panel discussion by the exhibition sponsors, The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, Council Member Diana Ayala, NYCEDC, and NYC Cultural Affairs.

The East Harlem site is City-owned, as opposed to the African Burial Ground located downtown at 290 Broadway, which is Federal land.

New Exhibition at La Marqueta on the East Harlem African Burial Ground

This pictorial exhibition and timeline presented by The Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force showcased the past, present, and future of the Harlem African Burial Ground, bringing a new memorial and cultural center to East Harlem, and honoring the historic Harlem African Burial Ground, as well as adding affordable housing.

Image via CB11 presentation, May, 2022

The African Burial Ground Task force is looking ahead with renderings of what they hope to achieve in the following four images taken from their website (below).

A Request for an Expression of Interest (RFEI) was originally sent out. However, due to new archeological findings, including remains, the RFEI was cancelled until work on the burial site is complete, at which time a cultural developer will be added to the Team.

Image via

These four renderings (above and below) would preserve the original cemetery footprint, and allow visitors to visit the historic and sacred space.

image taken from

The renderings allow for open space for the community, bordered by a communal garden.

Image via

At night, fiber optic cables emanating from light boxes at the periphery of the cemetery footprint would create points of light, intended to embody the soul of every person interred. Adjacent to the outdoor space would be an education and cultural center.

Image via


Reclaiming History, Reinvesting in East Harlem: The Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial Project opened at La Marqueta in 2019.

The site of The African Burial Ground is located at 2660 Second Avenue at 126th Street in East Harlem. This site is two short block away from the historic mural Crack is Wack by Keith Haring, located on the handball courted on 128th Street and Harlem River Drive.

Follow The African Burial Ground Task Force on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

While you’re there, don’t miss an opportunity to visit one of our favorite shops ~ Demolition Depot ~ displaced from East 125th Street in East Harlem due to the coming of the Second Avenue Subway, now located across the street from the site of the African Burial Ground, at 159-161 East 126th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues.

Follow East 125th Street, a Work in Progress.

Did you know that remains of early New Yorkers were discovered in Washington Square Park as recently as 2021?