In 1991 in lower Manhattan, a team of construction workers made an astonishing discovery. Just two blocks from City Hall, under twenty feet of asphalt, concrete and rubble, lay the remains of an 18th-century "Negro Burial Ground". Closed in 1790 and covered over by roads and buildings throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the site turned out to be the largest such find in North America, containing the remains of as many as 20,000 African Americans. The graves revealed to New Yorkers and the nation an aspect of American history long hidden: the vast number of enslaved blacks who laboured to create our nation's largest city. "In the Shadow of Slavery" lays bare this history of African Americans in New York, starting with the arrival of the first slaves in 1626, moving through the turbulent years before emancipation in 1827, and culminating in one of the most terrifying displays of racism in US history, the New York City Draft Riots of 1863. Drawing on extensive travel accounts, autobiographies, newspapers, literature and organizational records, Leslie M. Harris extends beyond prior studies of racial discrimination.
She traces the undeniable impact of African Americans on class, politics, and community formation, offering vivid portraits of the lives and aspirations of countless black New Yorkers. Written with clarity and grace, "In the Shadow of Slavery" is an ambitious new work that should prove indispensable to historians of the African American experience, as well as anyone interested in the history of New York City.