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Old burial grounds on Martin’s Field to be restored

The asphalt left over from the playground that has stood for the past 70 years is in the process of being torn up, according to a worker on the site, and iron fencing is being constructed around the perimeter of the former burial ground. The former handball courts on the north end of the park will be converted into a playground.According to activist, Mandingo Tshaka of Bayside, who spearheaded the campaign to restore the old paupers' graveyard, designs for the burial ground will include an earth mound, paths and trees. There will be four entrances, two located on 46th Avenue, one on 164th Street and one on 165th street.In March 2004, the city's Department of Parks and Recreation unveiled the plans for the park, effectively squelching the ongoing dispute between the members of the predominantly white community surrounding the site who wanted a larger park and activists, led by Tshaka, vying for a proper burial ground.Tshaka said he first learned of the desecrated burial ground when he read an old book, first published in 1932, called "Private and Family Cemeteries in the Borough of Queens." The book revealed that the Buns family had buried several family members on the grounds in the 1800s.During the later construction of the park, workers found the bones, he said."They were so callous, they left the remains out," he said. "They never reached out to the Flushing community. The city never reached out to the families and they obliterated the headstones."In 1999, the city surveyed the grounds and discovered two large pits beneath the surface, he said. They were marked as mass graves."When Flushing had a cholera and small pox epidemic in the 1850s, the good Christians would not accept those white remains in their cemeteries, so they threw them over here with people they already hated," he said. "It's got a terrible history here."Walking along the newly constructed sidewalk outside the park, Tshaka smiled smugly as he proclaimed victory. "We won. I said to my minister the other day, 'Victory is mine,'" Tshaka said. "It's been a long battle, but there's a saying, 'The race is not given to the swift, but to he who endures'"He said the battle for the cemetery did little to hinder his outlook."I'm the most tenacious individual you've ever met," he said. "I'll count every pebble in here to prove my point with facts, not B.S."Now that construction is underway, Tshaka said he is satisfied with the outcome, but one minor detail still irks him.The park was originally named after Everett P. Martin in the 1930s, a local conservationist."It's inappropriate," Tshaka said. "He knew there was a cemetery here. I feel it should be named after a prominent African American or a native American. It was suggested that they name it after me, but I'm still living. I think they should name it the Bun Cemetery."Workers said construction is scheduled to be completed by October.Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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