It was just a short seven years ago that the park at 165th Street and 46th Avenue was officially recognized as a cemetery.
Between 1840 and 1898, 500 to 1,000 people, primarily Native Americans, African Americans and victims of four major epidemics, were buried on the site because they were not welcome at Flushing Cemetery, which sits just across the street.
More than half were children under five years old.
Now, the burial ground lacks regular care, constantly overgrown with weeds and other plants. Last week, Councilman Peter Koo joined volunteers from Green Earth Urban Gardens to clean up the historic site.
“Take some time to give some much-needed respect today to those who have been deprived of it in the past,” said Koo. “Our country has a long history of slavery, racism and murder that we must never forget. The Olde Towne Flushing Burial Ground intends to honor those lives in maintaining these grounds.”
However, keeping the burial ground clean is not all that community members have been fighting for. For years, activists have been fighting for a proper memorial for those buried on the site.
Ten years ago, two memorial walls were placed on the site, marked with the names on the only four remaining headstones in 1919.
Now after more research, the names of all the close to 1,000 people buried there are known, and the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy is fighting to have all them memorialized.
The presence of a memorial is now in the works. On Thursday, Koo met with Borough President Melinda Katz, who has set aside money for a memorial.
Conservancy member Eddie Abrams has fought for years for justice for the people buried on the site.
“I’m proud of all the years we struggled to have this acknowledged,” said Abrams. “This is wonderful and does my heart so much joy to see that people are concerned about history, and this is history.”
History of the burial ground:
• In 1936, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses built a park at the site. During construction workers found evidence of a burial ground, including pennies placed on the eyes of the dead, a historic burial practice.
• Local historian George W. Pople discovered that Flushing suffered a cholera epidemic in 1840 and a small pox epidemic in 1844. The town was afraid that the victim’s bodies would contaminate church burial grounds and purchased the site from the Bowne family to use as a separate burial ground.
• The new playground, completed in 1938, included a pool, baseball field and swings. During reconstruction of the park in the 1990’s, local activist Mandingo Tshaka learned of the history of the site.
• In 2004, Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilman John Liu funded a project that brought a paved area with a central stone commemorating those buried on the site. Trees and shrubs were put in as well as a new playground.
• In 2009, the site was renamed The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground.