For over a decade, Queens residents have been pressuring the city into maintaining a historical cemetery in Flushing where slaves were buried.
The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground, located at 45-12 165th St., served as a burial site to more than 1,000 African-American slaves and Native Americans since the late 1800s. According to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), death records from 1881 to 1898 reflect that 62 percent of the buried were African-American or Native American, 34 percent were unidentified and over half were children younger than age 5.
Residents worry that the historical site is being overlooked due to the proximity of Martin’s Field, a next-door playground equipped with a baseball field, wading pool and swing sets. The playground was built in 1938 next to the site once known as “Pauper Burial Ground” or “Colored Cemetery of Flushing.”
Alongside community members, state Senator Tony Avella voiced complaints that the cemetery’s memorial wall is covered by weeds and lacks the proper maintenance it deserves.
“It is extremely disappointing that the DPR has treated an African-American and Native American burial site with such disrespect,” Avella told QNS. “It is time for the city and DPR to do the right thing by the community and those that are buried here.”
Meghan Lalor, a spokesperson from DPR, responded with a different perspective on the burial ground’s appearance.
“The park is regularly maintained by a mobile crew, and tended by horticultural and mowing crews, as well as volunteers,” she told QNS. “We just had a volunteer group clean up in the park last Friday.”
A QNS reporter also visited the burial ground on Friday, July 22 and saw a volunteer group cleaning up the area.
Furthermore, Councilman Peter Koo collaborated with volunteers from Green Earth Urban Gardens to clean up the burial ground on Wednesday, August 3. The team effort included weeding, mulching and planting. Koo donated $12,000 toward the Parks Equity Initiative cleanup project last year.
“Our country has a long, dark history of slavery, racism and murder that we must never forget. The Old Town Flushing Burial Ground intends to honor their lives, in maintaining these grounds, we let the bones beneath our feet know that the times have changed,” councilman told QNS on Wednesday and commended the Green Earth Urban Gardens team. “However, I think we all know that we have much work still to do. For when we are all equal, we can begin to truly understand each other, and finally live among one another in peace.”