An open letter to city Parks Commissioner Veronica White:
The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground is in Flushing on 46th Avenue between 164th and 165th streets. It is a 19th-century cemetery where approximately 1,000 souls rest. Many of the dead are children, victims of epidemics. Most of the interred are African Americans or indigenous Americans.
The site, desecrated by the city in the 1930s in order to make a playground and wading pool, is under the auspices of Parks. I am the co-chair of the conservancy that advocates for this hallowed place.
I was shocked during a recent visit to the cemetery to discover that the vegetation that was planted at the site, during the restoration that took place several years back, was overgrown and choked with weeds. The lawn had finally been mowed after being so overgrown, but the cut grass had browned and was thick over the site, making the grounds unkempt looking.
Some of the cut grass was scattered over the memorial disk at the center of the site. There was a huge limb that had fallen and was blocking one of the pathways. Another limb was hanging precariously from a tree. There were piles of garden debris all over the site. There was litter and refuse receptacles had not been emptied.
Both permanent plaques detailing what the site is about had been marked with graffiti. The rock wall, which contains some names of known interred people, has been vandalized and vegetation is beginning to cover up the names on the stones. Sections of interior fencing were missing. At the 165th Street entrance, bags of garbage were piled up. Some of the bags were opened, apparently by animals. I found the appearance of the cemetery unacceptable and disrespectful.
After I made several calls, there was a positive response to address the problems at this cemetery. On the morning of July 2, about two dozen Parks people showed up at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground and began to clean up the site. By that afternoon, things were improved, but there is still work to be done. The conservancy is thankful for the work done so far.
Your department is responsible for maintaining this burial ground. It is apparent that this site had been neglected by your agency. We fear the neglect may have been intentional. This must change immediately and the cemetery must be maintained on an ongoing basis. This is not only for the sake of the surrounding neighborhood, but for the sake of all those souls who rest at this holy place. This problem must not be allowed to reoccur.
We are inviting you to visit the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground at your earliest convenience. Please contact me so the conservancy can arrange to meet you at the site. The conservancy would like you to see how beautiful and tranquil this place is.
We would also like to speak with you about ongoing issues at the site, including maintenance problems, signage concerns and the need to restore the headstones that were willfully destroyed by the city many years ago. 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.
The dead must be respected and remembered by us all, no matter where they are buried.
Mandingo Osceola Tshaka
Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy