Albany native recounts NYC legacy battle

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Architectural designer Peggy King-Jorde will speak on "The African Burial Ground: What It Took to Preserve an African American Legacy in New York City" Thursday at the Albany Civil Rights Institute's Monthly Community Night.

King-Jorde was a key player in the fight to preserve the remains of more than 400 18th-century Africans and African Americans buried in Lower Manhattan. The skeletal remains were discovered when construction began on a new federal building in New York in 1991.

After much controversy, the building was completed and the site became a National Monument with a memorial that commemorates the lives and burials of colonial Africans and African Americans, in what one historian has called "the oldest known African cemetery in urban America."

Peggy King-Jorde has spent two decades in the public and private sectors in architectural design, cultural resource management and development, construction, project management, public art, and community relations.

A native of Albany, she grew up in a family noted for its public service. Her grandfather, businessman C.W. King, attended the Tuskegee Institute and worked there as Booker T. Washington's student carriage driver.

Her father was C.B. King, the only black attorney practicing in southwest Georgia at the time of the Albany Movement and the person after whom the federal courthouse in Albany is named. Her mother was the director of the Head Start program for Albany preschoolers.

Reflecting on her childhood in Albany, King-Jorde noted, "I grew up in a family where the parents' professional lives were geared towards really meaningful things."

The discovery and preservation of the African Burial Ground is part of an interesting rediscovery of New York's slave past. According to ACRI director Lee W. Formwalt, "We don't often think of northern colonies, especially New York, as slave societies and yet they were. New York City was one of the worst with over 20 percent of its 18th-century population consisting of enslaved Africans and their children."

The African Burial Ground National Monument, which contains the remains of between 10,000 and 20,000 people is a tangible link to that past, and a reminder, according to Formwalt, that slavery and race were, and are, not just Southern problems, and their consequences are something America still faces as a nation today.

The Monthly Community Night will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at ACRI, 326 Whitney Ave. The event is free and open to the public.