Sankofa? -- A book by David R. Zimmerman

SANKOFA? - How Racism and Sexism Skewed New York's Epochal Black Research Project.

A sankofa is an African mourning sign. A graveyard for slaves was dug up in Manhattan. New Yorkers hoped the bones would reveal much about these early Black Americans. The feds spent millions for scientists to probe their remains. But 20 years later, little new data has emerged. Journalist Zimmerman asked why.

He found: The research was wrecked by racism and by the firing of the one scientist — a woman — who might have written the required report.

This is his gripping story of how scientists, with government support, ruined a unique chance to comprehend — and so honor — New York's enslaved Black Pioneers.

The African Burial Ground, a cemetery for Black Slaves in New York City was dug up in the early 1990s.  This was one of the most important anthropological projects of the 20th century — not least because it opened a window on a fact of colonial American life, the enslavement in the North of Black People transported from Africa.

A major scientific venture was launched to study the bones for what they might reveal about the owners' lives in bondage, and also as a way to honor their lives and their tens of millions of African American descendants.

The research was undertaken by Howard University; a traditionally Black Institution in Washington, D.C., where the bones were sent. 

Fifteen years of scientific study, at a cost of over $50 million followed. 

But the long anticipated results, which have dribbled into the public realm in recent years, have created little comment because little that was of note was discovered.  Although much ballyhooed, the research failed.

The main reasons that it failed: were racism — Black Racism — on the part of scientific leader Dr. Michael Blakey, and sexism in which he disparaged and then fired the one researcher, a white woman from the South, who could have written the required reports and brought the project to a successful end.

These monumental failures were kept secret by Dr. Blakey and by the government agency, the General Services Administration (GSA) that sponsored his work.

SANKOFA tells how this happenedhow it has been hidden.

Writer David Zimmerman spent a decade tracking down scientists who did the work, and interviewing them to discover what they and others did or did not do.

This is a dramatic inside view of how a major research effort failed — at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

- David R. Zimmerman

Copyright © 2017 Sankofa by David R. Zimmerman, investigative science writer. All Rights Reserved.