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Martin’s Field site work to be done in ‘06

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The site is the final resting place for some 1,000 African and native Americans who lived in the late 1800s. During a cholera and smallpox epidemic in Flushing in the 1850s, white Christians would not accept African and native Americans into their cemeteries, so the bodies of those groups were buried at the grounds, according to Mandingo Tshaka, a descendant of one of the families interred at Martins Field. "The city completely disregarded this hallowed ground," Liu said, referring to the city's plan to build a playground over the site years ago."They could no more think of doing this to Ground Zero or anywhere else," said Tshaka, a Bayside activist who led the effort to have the burial grounds recognized.The councilman said the project will be conducted in two stages. The first stage, expected to be finished in October, involves putting up a steel picket fence and new sidewalks around the perimeter of the site. There will also be a new playground constructed on the northern end of the park by the handball courts. As part of the second stage, bushes will be planted and work to the interior of the park will be done. Liu said full completion of the project should be accomplished sometime in 2006. Funding for the construction, totaling $2.7 million, was secured by Liu and Borough President Helen Marshall.Controversy surrounding what should be made of the site between activists like Tshaka and community residents who wanted the park to be larger had dragged on for 15 years before an agreement was reached last year, Liu said. "I think the residents are happy with the solution," said David Copel, an area resident. Peter Durniak and Mary Denicola, who both live near the site, said they were not upset that the park will not be as large as they originally hoped.Tshaka mentioned that the Martin's Field site marks the first time the city has recognized an African and native American burial ground. He said that there are several other sites in the city, including one in Hollis and another near Winchester Boulevard in Douglaston, but these were never officially recognized.Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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