After the 1827 end of slavery in New York, abolitionists turned to liberating the enslaved in the American South. Years of sectional dispute split the nation into a slave South and a free North. The North's history of slavery was forgotten. The dramas of the Civil War and Reconstruction brought public attention to the South. As late as 1940, over 75% of American blacks lived in the South. White southerners dominated the nation's history of slavery times. Historians, novelists, and film makers, sympathetic to the South, romanticized the "old time" plantation era of genteel masters and mistresses and contented slaves.

Illustration from Thomas Dixon, Jr. The Clansman, An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. Grosset and Dunlap: New York, 1905.
As the Civil War approached, slavery in New York was all but forgotten. The South became identified with slavery, the North with free labor. After 1865, both scholarly and popular histories rewrote the slave era as a time of romance and gentle treatment, epitomized in the movie Gone with the Wind in 1939. Meanwhile, pioneering work, first by black scholars in the 1910s and 1920s and later by a generation of whites as well as blacks, began to reopen the subject. But nothing broke the silence over northern slavery more than the rediscovery of the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan in 1991. This brought contemporary New Yorkers face-to-face with the irrefutable evidence of the centrality of enslaved lives and deaths at the heart of colonial New York.
Buried Stories: Lessons from the African Burial Ground