The Lack of Respect African Americans Received in Regards to Their Bodies After Death

The lack of respect from the African Americans in the burial ground can be compared to Fortune’s Bones and the lack of respect he had while alive and deceased. Throughout history African Americans are ridiculed, tortured and disrespected. With the African Burial Ground National Monument, it is a step to finally give them the respect and peace that they deserve.

In Fortune’s Bones, Fortune, was a slave, his wife’s name was Dinah, he had two sons, Africa and Jacob, and two daughters, Mira and Roxa. Dr. Preserved Porter, was Fortune’s master and a physician whose specialty was setting broken bones. Fortune lived in Waterbury, Connecticut, it the late 1700s. “His wife was worth ten dollars. And their son a hundred sixty-six(Nelson, 13).” This quote shows how most African Americans were not treated like human beings. You cannot give humans a price and sell them for money, they are not an item. The one thing that shocked me a lot was how much of a price difference there was between Fortune’s wife and his son. His wife was worth only 10 dollars, where his son was worth 66. This is still unacceptable but the older woman was worth so much less than the young boy. This was because the boy had more to offer, he could work longer and harder than the woman. Fortune died in 1798, and Dr. Porter died in 1803. “In Dr. Porter’s will, he left Dinah to his wife, Lydia. He gave Jacob to his daughter Hannah. No one knows what happened to Africa, Mira, and Roxa(Nelson,14).” Not only did Dr. Porter give away people to his family as gifts, but he separated a family from their loved ones. He separated this family in a time when they needed each other most, after a loved one died. I found it sickening that these people could just be written away in a will, they had no choice of what happened to themselves and it was their own life. It’s sad that these people lived in fear, not knowing what was going to happen next in life, whether it was being separated from your family forever, or not making it after a hard day of work. Not only was Fortune’s life hard as he was living it, but it was just as difficult when he was deceased. “When Fortune died, he wasn’t buried. Instead, Dr. Porter preserved Fortune’s skeleton to study(Nelson, 16).” Not only did Fortune have a difficult life while he was alive, but now even when he has passed away they will not let him rest in peace. Dr. Porter took apart Fortune, bone by bone, he boiled the bones to clean them of fat and drilled the bones to drain them of fluid. Fortune should have been buried in a cemetery so that he could rest eternally in peace, but he was not so fortunate. While studying Fortune’s bones, scientists found that Fortune’s lower back had been broken, then healed and his shoulders, hands, and feet all had been injured. This proved that Fortune’s life had lots of strenuous labor, but the scientists could not discover the diseases Fortune supposedly had and the cause of his death. Fortune’s bones were passed down throughout Dr. Porters family for generations until Fortune’s name was lost and forgotten and the bones were renamed as, Larry. Over the centuries “Larry” was lost in an attic, until he was discovered by a crew of workers hired to renovate a new building. Over the years, not only was Fortune’s name forgotten, his story was too. People made up so many rumors about who it was but no one knew Fortune’s story. Eventually Fortune’s bones were placed in the Mattatuck Museum, one Waterbury resident even said, “Larry was the thing to see when you go to the museum. I don’t think anybody ever envisioned that this was truly a human being(Nelson, 22).” Fortune was kept there for years until he was taken out of his case and put into storage. “The museum now believed that displaying the skeleton was disrespectful. It wasn’t just a bunch of bones. It was the remains of someone’s son, maybe father(Nelson, 26).” In the 1990s, historians researched Fortune and found local records and archaeologists and anthropologists studied Fortunes bone and found the truth about Fortune’s life, how he worked, suffered and even how he died. Fortune finally had the ability to rest in eternal peace. 

The fact that Fortune did not get the respect he deserved until he had been deceased for so many years can be compared to the African Americans buried at the African Burial Ground National Monument. The African Americans buried here did not get to rest in peace either, they suffered when the ground they were buried on was dug apart and their remains were rediscovered. “Excavations began in July 1991, several skeletal remains were recovered. One year later, 390 burials were removed and GSA intended to remove 200 additional burials.”

Archaeologists and anthropologists studied the bones they found and discovered the remains were individuals with filed teeth in hourglass shapes, which is a popular cultural tradition in West Africa. “Based on lesions found on the bones, slaves suffered from hard physical labor and malnutrition. Some of the anthropologists assert that the bone pathologies indicated slaves were literally “worked to death.” This is almost exactly like Fortune’s life, he was worked to death and when he was dead, he was still treated like he did not mean anything. These African Americans did not have names to know who they were, just like how Fortune’s name was changed while his bones were getting passed along. These people were treated like they were good enough to be treated like human beings, they did not get the respect that they deserve and it is sad to think people thought it was okay to treat others like this. The African Burial Ground National Monument ensures that these bodies are kept at rest, and in peace, not bothered at all. The African Burial Ground National Monument is designated a National Historic Landmark, so it is protected and can not be dug up and built on. On October 1, 2007, the memorial was completed and opened for visitors and you can still visit it in Manhattan New York City today. Mayor David Dinkins had spoke about the memorial and had said, “The African Burial Ground is irrefutable testimony to the contributions and suffering of our ancestors.” Although these African Americans did not have respect and peace for a long time, just like Fortune, they are able to have it now. This memorial gives all of these African Americans, their families and ancestors security that they will not be bothered and will now be able to be honored and respected as they deserve.

It was very upsetting to me to read about Fortune and these African Americans who had a life full of suffering and torture, were not able to pass with peacefulnes and dignity attached to them. The African Burial Ground is a step in the right direction but there are still so many cases where slaves and other African Americans never get to rest eternally and obtain recognition.

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