African Burying Ground

I recently attended a gathering at Temple Israel, where African American and Jewish community leaders spoke, celebrating the fundraising project that will support the Portsmouth African Burying Ground. The Chestnut Street memorial park will honor the 200 unnamed African slaves buried on that site, whose remains were discovered in 2003.

Akan Sankofa
Akan Sankofa
African American speakers included Rev. Lauren Smith, who spoke about the projects logo, the sankofa of Akan origin, a people of Ghana. She described the origin of this symbol as a bird reaching to retrieve an egg from its back, representing the phrase, “it is not wrong to go back for which you have forgotten.” This phrase, she explained, exemplifies the burying ground project. She says the people of Portsmouth and New Hampshire have embraced this discovery of people long forgotten. Governor Hassan signed a bill posthumously freeing of the former slaves, a gesture that represents New Hampshire’s sorrow in this aspect of its history.
Plan for Memorial Park
Plan for Memorial Park

Dr. Hilson, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Portsmouth, also spoke, focusing on the image of a bridge connecting the past and the present, as well as connecting different members of the Portsmouth community.

Vernis Jackson, chair of the African Burying Ground committee, spoke of the fundraising efforts, stating that the organization is on its way to raising the $1.2 million it needs to move forward with the ground breaking.

Artist Jerome Meadows designed a sculpture for the memorial parkway. Pictured is the half that represents Mother Africa, reaching around trying to touch the hand of the young slave on the opposite side. Please visit the organization’s website for more information about his art and to make a donation to help this project along.

Model of Meadows' sculpture
Model of Mother Africa– One Side of Meadows’ sculpture


Published by Sara Lesley Arnold

Librarian and writer

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