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TimesLedger Newspapers has followed the campaign of Bayside community leader Mandingo Tshaka, who has fought for more than 10 years to honor the impoverished people buried beneath what became a Flushing playground.
We confess that at first we were skeptical. We reasoned that children of all races used the playground at Martins Field and that little would be accomplished by turning it into a cemetery for people whom almost no one remembers. We were wrong and this fight has only increased the respect we already had for Tshaka.
The longtime civil rights activist understood Martins Field was symbolic of something deeply wrong in 19th-century America. The graves of the mostly African and native Americans were unmarked. In essence, they were treated as non-people and no one cared if their families would have a place to go to say a prayer or just remember their ancestors.
Last week, Martins Field was renamed “Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground.” It is estimated that more than 1,000 people, most of them minorities, were buried in this field between 1840 and 1898.
When Tshaka became aware of this injustice he began working with then-City Councilman John Liu to find a way to honor the dead buried beneath Martins Field. The site had been given to the city Parks Department in 1914 and a playground was built in 1936 as part of the former federal Works Progress Administration.
It is possible the city was unaware of the bodies buried beneath this soil. And it is understandable that the families living near Martins Field did not want their children to lose a place to play. The playground has been moved to the north end of the site where it is believed no bodies are buried.
Liu, now city comptroller and the first Asian American to hold a citywide office, recognized the importance of the renaming of the park at a ceremony last Sunday.
“We have reclaimed this as a place with real history. Today the new name recognizes the history that is beneath us,” he said.
We congratulate Tshaka and all who helped him fight this battle.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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