By Nathan Duke
Bayside community activist Mandingo Tshaka said he was pleased after the city renamed Flushing’s Martins Field to honor the remains of African Americans and native Americans who had been buried there more than 100 years ago, but he has also called for the site to be locked up at night to prevent vandalism.
The city Parks Department changed Martins Field’s name to the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground in mid-December. The site, between 164th and 165th streets along 46th Avenue in Flushing, had originally been a cemetery for 19th-century blacks and American Indians who had died of small pox and cholera.
“It’s wonderful,” Tshaka said of the renaming. “It’s hallowed ground and it must be respected as such. I’d have loved to have it named after me, but that would have caused too much of a furor.”
Several new signs at the burial ground have been put up to notify community residents of the site’s historical significance.
A Parks Department spokeswoman said signs with the park’s new name were put up on Dec. 16.
The park had been named for Everett Martin, a local conservationist, but Tshaka called the cemetery’s former namesake a “racist.”
The city had paved over the burial ground more than 70 years ago to build a playground and pool at the site, which had violated city law. In 2006, the city performed $2.7 million in renovations at the burial ground, such as adding a steel picket fence, new sidewalks and a playground with a commemorative plaque.
The burial site, which dates back to the 1840s, was originally known as the Colored Cemetery of Flushing. More than 1,000 people were buried at the site between 1840 and 1898.
“The city never apologized for what it did,” Tshaka said. “They left the remains exposed.”
Tshaka has led the fight for the park’s restoration for at least 20 years, along with the help of the Martins Field Conservancy. He said he believes the city should lock up the burial ground at night.
“Since Kissena Park is just around the corner, why couldn’t someone who locks up the park come over here when they are done at night?” he said. “We don’t want vandals or people with dogs to get in.”
Tshaka said he would like for the cemetery to be locked around 6 p.m. each evening and reopened the next morning.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.