NYC Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff joined Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Senator John Liu, Assembly Member Edward Braunstein, Council Member Peter Koo, District Attorney Melinda Katz, and Co-Chair of The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy Robbie Garrison, to cut the ribbon on a new commemorative plaza at the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground. The $1.76 million plaza honors the site’s past as a burial ground for 500 to 1,000 people, mostly African Americans and Native Americans, with a memorial wall. The project design was guided by input from local community members, historians, and the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy.
“The reconstructed Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground memorial is a fitting tribute to those buried here who deserve dignity and respect and a space for reflection of the past and the promise of the future. This project is the result of the tireless efforts of the community,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Gabrielle Fialkoff. “We are grateful to the Council Member and Borough President’s offices for their support, and to the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy for their unfaltering dedication to preserving this site’s legacy.”
The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground’s unveiling is a major milestone in a decades-long effort to right the wrongs done to those who are buried here in this sacred ground,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “Their final resting place should be a place of dignity and respect, where their legacy can be properly honored and remembered. Thankfully, this new commemorative plaza, featuring this dignified and impressive memorial, goes a long way toward achieving that goal.”
John Liu, NY state senator stated “At long last this monument vividly restores the important history of this site, a burial ground unjustly desecrated and paved over by the city of New York decades ago in callous disregard for this final resting place of so many African and Native American residents in this community. History must be memorialized so terrible mistakes will not be forgotten and repeated.”
“With the new commemorative plaza at the Olde Towne Flushing Burial Ground, we properly honor and respect the lives of the hundreds of individuals laid to rest at this site many generations ago,” said Assembly Member Edward Braunstein. “This important project would not be a reality without the advocacy of Mandingo Tshaka, Robbie Garrison, and the entire Olde Towne Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy, who I commend for their tireless commitment to preserving the history of this sacred site.”
Council Member Peter Koo stated, “Dating back to the 1880s, and possibly earlier, this location in the heart of Flushing was used as an African American and Native American burial ground that has only recently been recognized by the City of New York. It was thanks in large part to the efforts of people in the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy that this memorial has seen the light of day. It wasn’t easy getting the city to acknowledge the history here, but with today’s ceremony, we let the bones beneath our feet know that times have changed and that we are here to offer respect to those who have been deprived of it in the past.”
This project constructed a new memorial wall composed of an etched barre gray granite top that includes the name of the site, a brief site history and 318 recorded names of those buried there. The center of the new plaza features a butterfly garden to offer a feeling of peace and tranquility. New benches have been placed around the plaza, surrounded by flowering ornamental trees. Previously existing Cardinal directions have been recreated in the new design to allow for the continuation of Native American ceremonies in the park.
The $1.76 million project was funded by Council Member Koo ($529,000), the Borough President’s office ($600,000) and Mayor Bill de Blasio ($631,000).
Once known as the “Pauper Burial Ground,” “Colored Cemetery of Flushing” and “Martin’s Field,” this site was renamed in 2009 “The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground.”
The ‘re-discovery’ of burial grounds within our municipality is an experience shared by many cities world-wide. The City of New York has buildings and parks that stand on former burial grounds. In the 1990’s, when Parks began a renovation of the site, local activist Mandingo Tshaka drew attention to its previous history. In response, Parks commissioned a $50,000 archaeological study in 1996. Archeologist Linda Stone concluded that the site served as the final resting-place for between 500 to 1,000 individuals. Death records for the town of Flushing exist for the period 1881 until 1898, and show that during this period, 62 percent of the buried were African American or Native American, 34 percent were unidentified, and more than half were children under the age of five.
This administration works carefully to make sure that the contributions and sacrifices of those historically overlooked are recognized. Other such memorials include:
- Slave Market Marker in Manahatta Park, dedicated in July 2015
- A marker was placed at the site of the former Negro Burial Ground at the northeast corner of City Hall Park in 2014
- Triumph of the Human Spirit, a monumental sculpture by Lorenzo Pace commemorating the African Burial Ground in Thomas Paine Park, Manhattan
- “Enslaved African Burial Ground” park signs installed at Rodman Drake Park in the Bronx in Jan 2021 to commemorate the burial site within the park