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Enslaved Africans Rain Garden unveiled in Yonkers

Enslaved Africans Rain Garden unveiled in Yonkers
Enslaved Africans Rain Garden unveiled in Yonkers 02:14

YONKERS, N.Y. -- The celebration of Juneteenth is off to an artistic start in Yonkers, where the memory of enslaved people is now enshrined on the shores of the Hudson River. 

CB2's Tony Aiello served as master of ceremonies at Friday's opening of the Enslaved Africans Rain Garden. 

They stand on land where the people they represent once were bound in slavery: four statues telling the stories of five Africans taken from their home and enslaved on the Philipse Estate. 

It was 13 years from conception to ribbon-cutting. In 2020, we visited with sculptor Vinnie Bagwell as she prepared the model of Bibi the Elder. 

"I want people to understand that they had lives, they had thoughts, they had feelings, they had goals, they had dreams, and all of that was stolen from them," Bagwell said at the time. 

Yonkers unveils Enslaved Africans Rain Garden 08:47

Bagwell fills her work with rich detail, humanizing those who suffered such inhumanity before slavery was abolished in New York 193 years ago. 

She wants the garden to be a place to remember a painful past and inspire a better future. 

"Think about how far we've come as a country and how much further we have to go to erase racism and discrimination from our society," Bagwell said Friday. 

Times do change. Four Black women now form the majority on the Yonkers City Council.

Looking at this chapter in Yonkers history evoked strong emotions in City Council President Lakisha Collins-Bellamy. 

"I became overwhelmed because I felt the presence of my ancestors. I was reminded of their determination, their perseverance and their courage," Collins-Bellamy said. 

The garden rewards repeated visits with so much detail on the figures. 

"Each and every time, Vinnie, I've looked as these sculptures, I've seen something a little different. I learn something a little more," Mayor Mike Spano said. 

It is a place to pause, reflect and remember a chapter of history that must not be forgotten.

Sadly, the statues have already suffered minor vandalism. Yonkers Police will likely step up patrols and add surveillance cameras.

The artist is asking the community to respect the statues.

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