“Offers a richly detailed and carefully analyzed picture of the lives of people who simply ‘weren’t there’ according to the usual stories we tell ourselves about the American past. In this counternarrative, archaeology not only extends the existing archive, but also provides the basis for a penetrating critique of that archive and its gaps. A compelling illustration of what it might look like if archaeologists, and others interested in understanding the past, thought of preservation as a tool to protect communities.”—Anna S. Agbe-Davies, author of Tobacco, Pipes, and Race in Colonial Virginia
Based on ten years of collaborative, community-based research, this book examines race and racism in a mixed-heritage Native American and African American community on Long Island’s north shore. Through excavations of the Silas Tobias and Jacob and Hannah Hart houses in the village of Setauket, Christopher Matthews explores how the families who lived here struggled to survive and preserve their culture despite consistent efforts to marginalize and displace them over the course of more than 200 years. He discusses these forgotten people and the artifacts of their daily lives within the larger context of race, labor, and industrialization from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.
A Struggle for Heritage: Archaeology and Civil Rights in a Long Island Community draws on extensive archaeological, archival, and oral historical research and sets a remarkable standard for projects that engage a descendant community left out of the dominant narrative. Matthews demonstrates how archaeology can be an activist voice for a vulnerable population’s civil rights as he brings attention to the continuous, gradual, and effective economic assault on people of color living in a traditional neighborhood amid gentrification. Providing examples of multiple approaches to documenting hidden histories and silenced pasts, this study is a model for public and professional efforts to include and support the preservation of historic communities of color.
Christopher N. Matthews, professor of anthropology at Montclair State University, is the author of The Archaeology of American Capitalism and coeditor of The Archaeology of Race in the Northeast.