Flushing burial ground redesign in the works

By Madina Toure

The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy and elected officials are pushing for additional markers on the burial ground, but the Parks Department said no design plan is under way.

Mandingo Tshaka, a Bayside activist and co-chairman of the conservancy, became involved with the burial ground in the 1980s.

He discovered that between 1840 and 1898, more than 1,000 people, most of whom were African American and Native American, were buried at the site on 46th Avenue between 164th and 165th Streets.

A plan that was approved by Community Board 7 in 2010 called for a memorial, including a 6-foot obelisk and four granite stone markers, according to a letter dated July 11, 2014 to Queens Parks Department Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski from state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) and other elected officials.

The plan also called for a steel barrier installed around the in-ground stone markers. Former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall gave a $100,000 grant for the project.

But a Parks Department spokeswoman said that there are currently no plans to install additional markers at the site. She said the conservancy proposed adding more markings but in early 2012, its initial design that included headstones was not approved by Parks or the Public Design Commission.

Since then, the agency has not received any revised designs that fit within the city’s guidelines, she said.

When Tshaka and a reporter visited the burial ground last weekend, the site appeared to be in somewhat better shape—compared to when Tshaka had visited a week before—and Parks Department workers were working on fence installation.

There were still fences that were either partially or completely torn down and the grass was in need of manicuring.

Tshaka said the site is treated like a park and is not maintained as well as Flushing Cemetery across the street.

“It was unkempt,” Tshaka said about his earlier visit. “They had nothing here. The grass was high. It didn’t look manicured here like it is now.”

Parks acquired the property Dec. 2, 1914 and turned it into a playground.

In 2004, Marshall and then-Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) allocated a combined total of $2.67 million in funding after Tshaka sought their help.

The Parks spokeswoman said the agency reconstructed the site in 2006 after consulting with community members and the conservancy as well as with design approvals from Community Board 7. The playground was relocated to the north side of the site, which was renamed Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground in 2009.

The design includes a granite disc memorializing those who were interred and a stone wall engraved with names from the original four headstone markers.

The Parks spokeswoman said that prior to construction work, an archaeological research report and archealogoical testing were done.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is calling on Parks to continue to maintain the site properly.

“The burial ground is the final resting place for hundreds of people,” Katz said. “Such sacred ground on park property must still be treated with dignity and respect.”

Braunstein, state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and others previously visited the site.

“Moving forward, I will continue to work with all parties to ensure that there is a proper memorial at this site,” Braunstein said in a statement.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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