Elected officials and community activists gathered at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the reclamation of the pauper cemetery which was once turned into a playground known as Martin’s Field. Primarily, It is estimated 1,000 people were laid to rest on the plot of land containing the remains of African Americans and American Indians, as well as those people who had died of highly infectious diseases between 1840 and 1914 when it was turned over to the city Parks Department.
According to community activist and Bayside resident Mandingo Tshaka, stories of construction workers discovering bones, some of which were taken home as souvenirs, when the cemetery was renovated into a playground began to circulate. The headstones were removed and lost to history, making every burial an unmarked grave. For many years the site was used as a playground.
Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), former Councilman John Liu and Tshaka, the founder of the Olde Towne of FlushingBurial Ground Conservancy, led the ceremonies to pay homage to the dead.
The burial ground is located on 46th Avenue between 164th and 165th streets, across from Flushing Cemetery.
“Dating back to the 1880s, and possibly earlier, this location in the heart of Flushing was used as an African-American and native-American burial ground that only recently was recognized by the city of New York. It was thanks in large part to the efforts of people in the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy, particularly Mandingo Tshaka, that a memorial was placed at the site,” Koo said. “Much progress has been made to recognize this site as a burial ground, but more needs to be done” Koo said.
There have been complaints about children playing on the sacred ground and nearby residents walking their dogs on the site.
“With today’s ceremony, we let the bones beneath our feet know that times have changed and that we are here to offer respect to those who have been deprived of it in the past,” Koo said.
Members of the conservancy said no effort was made to relocate bodies during an August cleanup of the burial ground.
“Seventy years ago in 1935, the city of New York, in an act of indifference, intolerance and disrespect, paved over 1,000 souls here in this 19th century African and native American cemetery. That is the history of all 18th and 19th century African American cemeteries in New York City,” said Conservancy Co-Chair Robbie Garrison. “With the help of city officials, the site was reclaimed and renamed to reflect all who are still interred here at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground.”
She pointed out that the goal of the conservancy is to have burial ground “fully recognized as a cemetery and also gain city, state and federal registration as a historical burial site for native Americans, protecting the site into perpetuity.”
Avella said he was honored to be involved in the effort to recognize the land as a burial ground.
“It is more of an honor, however, to be able to acknowledge and recognize the lives of those who were buried here over 100 years ago and the impact they had on the city of New York,” he said.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall
©2016 Community News Group
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