The final resting place for nearly 1,000 people of mostly African-American and Native American descent was memorialized in a solemn occasion at the sacred grounds in Flushing.
Members of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy and elected officials unveiled a new memorial wall that includes the names of over 300 people buried there.
Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff said the memorial design was based largely on input from the local community, with the conservancy playing a major role in its design and completion.
“We know that the people laid to rest at this burial ground built a thriving community here in Flushing,” said Fialkoff. “They fostered a spirit of tolerance, diversity and openness that still exists today. It is our hope that this memorial will give New Yorkers a way to rediscover this sacred, historical space.”
From as early as the 1880’s, the cemetery was used for the burial of mostly African Americans and Native Americans, who at the time were not allowed to be buried across the street in Flushing Cemetery proper.
In 1935, the site at the intersection of 46th Avenue and 165th Street was paved over by the city to create a park.
Borough President Donovan Richards said the memorial serves as a symbol of long overdue respect for those buried there.
“The unveiling of this plaza is a major milestone in a decade’s long effort to right the terrible wrongs done to those who were buried here on this sacred ground,” said Richards. “I feel honored because I know I would not be here if it was not for the sacrifice of my ancestors, like those buried here today.”
The plaza features new benches and ornamental trees, as well as a butterfly garden.
Spearheading the local effort were conservancy co-chairs Robbie Garrison and Mandingo Tshaka.
“I am ecstatic,” said Garrison. “It’s been almost 30 years coming and it’s finally gotten here.”
Tshaka began researching the site’s history in 1990, which resulted in an archaeological study being conducted in 1996. Death records for the town of Flushing from 1881 until 1898 show that 62 percent of the buried were African American or Native American, while 34 percent were unidentified. More than half were children under the age of five.
The plaza once known as “Martin’s Field” was renamed to The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground in 2009.
In 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Borough President Melinda Katz allocated $1.6 million for a new memorial.
Katz recalled the time spent over the last few years to make the memorial become a reality.
“This project was about not running away from our history and the mistakes we made in the past,” said Katz. “There was a lot of controversy over what this should look like, but there was no controversy that we should be here.”