African Music, African Identity
In 1993 construction workers in the Wall Street area of New York City uncovered the remains of an African slave burial ground. The discovery stopped construction on the skyscraper they were building until steps could be taken to preserve at least a section of the historical site. The cemetery, artifacts from which were displayed at an exhibit mounted in a municipal building around the corner from the site, showed that African customs were very much in evidence in the early years of slavery in the American colonies.
For Michael L. Blakey, director of the slave burial project at Howard University, the discovery of the cemetery was significant for African Americans as a group, not just for historians: "A people's identity is largely historical. What we know of ourselves is primarily connected with the past. How we developed here is important to how we believe in ourselves and look to the future."1
The advancement of an historical sensibility has been especially crucial to African Americans because much of their history has been forgotten or distorted by racism and ignorance. An understanding of their African heritage has been a vital component.
Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century African-American intellectuals were ashamed of what they considered to be the vulgar habits of their