Readers, we have some real treats for you in this post. As you may know, our February Reading into History book is Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground. On February 24th, from 3 – 5 pm, we will host our Wrap for this book with co-author and conservator Gary McGowan. This book is out of print BUT, you can now download the book FOR FREE right here!
This Book Wrap will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn about this remarkable place from a person who actually worked on it. Read the book and come! Even if you don’t have time for the book, come to the Wrap anyway to learn about one of the country’s most important historic sites. Finally, make sure you read our interviews below with Gary McGowan and co-author Joyce Hansen. Ms. Hansen will not be able to join us at the Wrap, but is very excited that we are exploring her book!
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: What were you like between the ages of 9 and 12?
Gary McGowan: I liked to spend a lot of time outdoors in nature. I was also very involved in the fine arts, such as painting, drawing and working in clay.
Joyce Hansen: Between the ages of 9 and 12, I was a shy day dreamer who was unsure of herself. I loved books and read all of the time.
DCHM: What is your favorite time period in American history? Why?
GM: My favorite time period is the early Dutch period because the environment had not been tremendously manipulated or changed by the European settlers at that point. The indigenous peoples, flora and fauna were in its most pristine state, prior to the influx of European culture and ways of life.
JH: My favorite period in American history is the Civil War and Reconstruction. Slavery ended, but its effects persisted for many years. The complex story of how African-Americans and other Americans persisted in trying to create a fair and just society remains an interesting and important history-especially this year when we’re celebrating the signing of The Emancipation Proclamation.
DCHM: What is your favorite place in New York City? Why?
GM: The lower tip of Manhattan around Battery Park because this was where the earliest Dutch settlement was, from Wall Street South to the tip of Manhattan. Also I have a fondness for this area, as I have Dutch ancestral connections to lower Manhattan.
JH: My favorite place in New York City, besides the Morrisania section of the Bronx where I was born and grew up, is Harlem. I spent as much time there as I did in the Bronx. My father had a photographic studio on 135th Street and now when I come to New York, I always stay in Harlem. It feels like home.
DCHM: What made you want to write Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground?
GM: I was hired as an archaeological conservator for the project and was involved in many aspects of the project. My interest came from feeling that this segment of the population had been under represented; and it was a way to bring a voice to this enslaved population, if not directly, but rather through their cultural and physical remains.
JH: When I was asked to consider writing this book about a burial ground in New York City, my first response to myself was no. How could such a book be written for youngsters? All I could picture in my mind were bones. But then I met Gary McGowan and Marc Aronson, the editor of the book. I met both of them in the research lab in the World Trade Center where some of the artifacts were being analyzed. Gary was so excited about the project and when he began talking and showing me some of the articles found in the grave sites (no bones), I became excited as well and began to recognize that there was a wonderful story here that needed to be told.
DCHM: What three words best describe Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence: The Story of New York’s African Burial Ground?
GM: Informative, Historical, Testimonial.
JH: For me, the three words that best describe Breaking Ground, Breaking Silence are discovery, enlightening and fascinating.