Parks crews restore sacred Flushing site

Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

An abundance of overgrown weeds and vegetation at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground were the end result of a city Parks Department staff changeover and equipment malfunction that have since been corrected, a spokesman said.

Mandingo Tshaka, a Bayside activist and co-chairman of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy, fired off a letter to Parks Commissioner Veronica White earlier this month demanding the sacred site be properly maintained after he passed through only to find it littered in greenery and graffiti.

And though Parks cleanup crews have since been regularly visiting the site, Tshaka said he was still saddened to see how dirty the grounds must get to warrant the city’s response just across the street from the manicured Flushing Cemetery.

Tshaka said he wondered if the city was intentionally neglecting the site.

“Yes, it is nice they’re cleaning it up now,” Tshaka said. “But the question is, are they going to continue doing it?”

A Parks spokesman said the department underwent a turnover in staff and a maintenance equipment malfunction last month, which led to a brief period when the site was maintained less frequently. He said the city regularly cleans the burial ground several times a week.

But Tshaka said he only saw a response after he started making calls and writing letters to the city.

“They’re doing it now, but only because I complained,” Tshaka said. “If they can keep Kissena Park well-maintained, which is just around the corner, why can’t they keep this site maintained?”

TimesLedger Newspapers visited the 46th Avenue burial ground Tuesday morning to find a Parks crew working to remove overgrown weeds there, and one site manager also said it was Tshaka who helped spur the cleanup efforts into action.

Nevertheless, the Bayside activist said the city needed to do more to properly honor the sacred site beyond maintaining its regular schedule of cleanups.

Tshaka first became involved with the burial ground in the 1980s, back when it was known as Martins Field. He had discovered that more than 1,000 people, most of whom were African American or native American, were buried there between 1840 and 1898.

The property was handed over to the Parks Department in 1914 when it was renamed as Martins Field and turned into a playground. But after Tshaka recruited help from heavy hitters like then-City Councilman John Liu and Borough President Helen Marshall, the team was able to relocate the playground to the north side of the site and celebrate the official recognition of the burial ground in a 2006 ceremony.

But in the years since, the Bayside activist said the city must do more to honor those whose remains were buried there.

In its current state, Tshaka said the burial ground looks like a park and is sometimes inappropriately treated as such, with people stopping there to eat lunch or walk their dogs. Tshaka also called on Parks to restore several headstones that the city had removed in years past despite the borough president setting money aside for new ones.

“The site must be recognizable as the resting place that it is, just as Flushing Cemetery across the street is recognizable as a resting place,” Tshaka said in his letter. “The dead must be respected and remembered by us all, no matter where they are buried.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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