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Black History (and Archaeology) Month: Drowning Lands Revisited

Erasure of Archaeology in Marginal Communities

Drowned, hidden and suppressed archaeologies lie in plain sight across America.

Archaeology today is mostly a service industry for construction plans, but the practice can also serve to dispel historic lies and to release the communities abused by those lies. The untold archaeology of the USA narrates stark inequality and the common practice of literally covering up unwanted history.

Marginalization of non-white communities continues across America, and the line of attack often lies along shores. For example, in Worcester, Massachusetts in recent years a minorty community next to Coe’s Pond has struggled against moves by the City to deprive them of historic access to that open space. The City’s move to fence off a majority-colored community comes after installation of upscale, majority-white housing across the pond and a plan to install a jogging trail around the pond – serving that upscale community. The case of Coe’s Pond is a ripple in literal flood of lost access, lost property, and lost archaeology of Black, Red and Poor White America.

MEAS marks Black History Month 2024 with a return to the deep history of flooding Black (also Red and poor White) communities:

Erasure is an aspect of genocide that removes the memory, historical and visible footprint of a people from the landscape and from public discourse. Erasure comes in so many forms and is only one aspect of the events that fall under its name; erasure coincides with forced removal, land seizure, land base loss, and loss of intergenerational wealth, alongside visibility and awareness.

Here, we will examine just one form of a major mode of genocidal erasure as practiced against many vulnerable minorities in America by the power-holding Euroamerican wealth minority. We’re talking about the drowning of historically Black communities in the name of public water supply for substantially White communities of higher economic standing. The dynamics presented here in large part pertain also to post-Colonial Indigenous communities and poor rural White communities.

Below: Central Park Reservoir sits atop historic Black Yorkville neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. Yorkville is affluent today, but west Yorkville was Black in earlier times. Evicted Black residents of Yorkville went to Seneca Village, now part of Central Park, from which they were also later removed.

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