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Understanding the Portsmouth African Burying Ground

 

Only the beginning

The dedication of the memorial park was the overture, not the finale. "It isn't over

Soon, I predict, the discovery of the coffins beneath the street will be as central to Portsmouth history as George Washington's visit, Paul Revere inciting the raid on Fort William & Mary, the great downtown fires, or the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War.

What Portsmouth did, in creating the memorial, was wonderful, emotional, and right -- but it didn't fix the problem. We cannot repair the past. And, lacking a time machine, I'm not certain we can ever fully understand the past.

The park is, at one level, simply a new place to sit, to ponder, and to talk. But that talk is inevitably informed by the surroundings, by the curvature of the stones and the anonymous sculptural figures. I have been to the new park half a dozen times since it opened. It is the first thing my friends want to see when they visit.

Our conversation drifts toward the topic of race, discrimination and diversity. We talk about fairness and equality, about government and law and activism. We are talking, not just about  the unnamed people buried under the street. Soon we are talking about what it means to be human.

"I'm not surprised by all the attention the park is getting, because from the beginning, one of my mantras was ---this is not just a local story," Valerie concludes.

Copyright © 2015 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the print version of the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday. He is the author of 12 books. His latest, Mystery on the Isles of Shoals, closes the controversial Smuttynose ax murder case of 1873. (See SmuttynoseMurders.com) It is available in local stores and in narrated form by Audible.com. The author can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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All photos copyright J. Dennis Robinson/ SeacoastNH.com

 

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