The city has scaled back its plans to memorialize an estimated 1,000 African Americans, native Americans and others who were buried during the 19th century in a pauper’s burial ground in Flushing that has since been converted into a park.
The city Parks Department originally planned to install an obelisk and four headstones at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground, a cemetery long known as Martin’s Field that was converted into a park in the 1930s.
But department representatives presented a new plan, which eliminated the headstones, to members of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy at a Community Board 7 meeting last month.
The decision has angered advocates, including conservancy co-chairman Mandingo Tshaka of Bayside, who says the change “wipes out a people’s history and it desecrates the dead” by failing to replace the four headstones known to have been placed there in the 1800s and because it makes the site look like a simple park, not a place for mourning.
“The way the site is designed, if you didn’t know, it looks like a park. And that was done deliberately,” he said. “They want the site to look like a park. It’s racism and it’s what the Parks Department has done to all of our burial sites.”
Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski said the planned memorial will be sufficient to honor the men, women and children who were buried at the burial ground, between 164th and 165th streets along 46th Avenue.
“The Parks Department has been working with the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy to honor and recognize this aspect of the park’s history for more than a decade. The site has a centrally featured historic marker and the names of the deceased are inscribed on a reconstructed stone wall,” she said in a statement. “Additional signs are in place on site. Many parks across the city honor unmarked graves and the obelisk, historic markers and signs are standard practice for a memorial.”
But Tshaka said that is not enough because the $100,000 Borough President Helen Marshall secured for the project should be used not only to purchase an obelisk, but also to install the headstones, which would make it more obvious that the site is a graveyard so people would respect it as they do Flushing Cemetery, which is across the street.
“The plan was two headstones on each side of the obelisk and beautiful trees behind it. Now they’ve come down to only an obelisk and a bench. Oh, hell no. It’s outrageous that we have to scramble and fight for everything we’re entitled to,” Tshaka said. “Nothing else will suffice.”
A hearing before the city Public Design Commission to vet the plans is scheduled to be held at City Hall in Manhattan Jan. 12.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn
©2010 Community News Group
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