Photo by Christina Santucci
By Phil Corso

City officials have vowed to keep a closer eye on the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground after the leader of its conservancy spoke out against the area’s neglect.

Parks Department crews have spent recent weeks cleaning up the sacred site, which Bayside activist and Co-chairman of the Burial Ground Conservancy Mandingo Tshaka said was quickly slipping into a space of overgrown weeds and vegetation. Tshaka joined with elected officials and the 109th Precinct to revisit the area last Friday and mull over its condition as well as its oversight.

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) visited the burial ground alongside representatives from the 109th Precinct and Parks Department as well as state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), state Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) and others to discuss who could help and how.

A Braunstein spokesman said the sacred area was not previously in his district, but now falls in a somewhat ambiguous spot where several other elected officials’ district lines meet. The district boundaries for the state Assembly and Senate were redrawn last year as part of a process that occurs every 10 years.

Nonetheless, the spokesman said Braunstein and the other elected officials would be working with Community Board 7 to map out future projects to make the burial ground more recognizable and pay proper tribute to the dead. Those plans, however, will take some time and funding, he cautioned.

“There are no specifics. We’re just discussing what we can do,” the spokesman said. “We do agree that there could be some changes to make it a little more clear that it is a burial ground.”

Braunstein’s spokesman also said the 109th Precinct promised to continue to check up on the site to reduce any instances of vandalism or misconduct.

The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground is the final resting place for more than 1,000 people, most of whom were African Americans or native Americans buried there between 1840 and 1898, Tshaka said. The city Parks Department took ownership of the property in 1914 when it was renamed Martins Field and turned into a playground.

But after Tshaka teamed up with then-Councilman John Liu and Borough President Helen Marshall, he 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.

The Bayside activist has since been advocating for the burial ground to look less like a park and more like the sacred site that it is, calling on the Parks Department to restore headstones that the city had removed in years past despite funding being set aside for new ones. His message was heard loud and clear when he met with officials at the site last Friday, officials said.

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

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