Thursday, January 9, 2014

Church hopes to preserve slave burial ground

Aerial view of site of United African Society in 1924
From the Daily News:

A local church is hoping to preserve a long-forgotten burial ground for freed slaves that was discovered on the Elmhurst site where a five-story condominium building is slated to go up.

Leaders of the Saint Marks A.M.E. Church in Jackson Heights plan to meet on Thursday with the owners of the property, at 90-11 Corona Ave., to plead their case.

The church was founded in 1828 on the site of the burial ground as the United African Society. Over the years, the congregation’s name and location changed.

“The site is very significant because it is believed to be one of the first places where former slaves organized and started their own church,” said the church’s pastor Kimberly Detherage.

“In a time when people are tearing things down and building, it’s important to know our history,” she said.

The construction crew found the body of a woman in 2011 when a machine accidentally dredged up her iron casket as they were tearing down a decades-old warehouse. She is believed to have died in the 1850s.

“We dubbed her the Iron Lady,” said John Houston, owner of the Triboro Funeral Home, in Corona, where she is stored. “The body is so well-preserved they thought it was a [recent] murder.”

After the discovery, construction was halted and the owners of the site, 90 Queens Inc., hired an archeologist to research the burial ground. Bones of 15 more bodies were unearthed in October.

Houston said there’s no telling how many more are buried there.

The city issued a partial stop work order at the site, which is across the street from Newtown High School.

“We were never aware there was a graveyard there,” said the project’s construction manager, who declined to give her name. “We covered everything back and are talking to the Health Department to find out ... the proper way to [handle] this.”

The property owners did not immediately return calls.


Anonymous said...

Trump uncovered a cemetary in the lower west side a few years back and it stopped things for a few days until they dug up the bodies - which is what they will do here despite the terrible site for a building.

From experience cemeteries are never completely cleared - years later bones are found when the ground is dug up for development.

This is a major fail for the buildings department as a title search would have revealed bodies here.

On one hand the records in Queens are so f*ked up that they can build high-rises on the waterfront brownfields without the foggiest notion on what is in the ground.

On the other hand, the civic culture of Queens lets the door open to this.

Every effort to preserve something is very site specific (and therefore doomed to fail) or

every effort to work together has people running for the exits (can you imagine what a borough wide effort at preservation would look like from the boro historian or the Four Borough Preservation League?)

Anonymous said...

At best, the bodies will be relocated to another cemetery far from the neighborhood where they lived and died.

Considering its original name, United African Society, the community still had a strong connection to its ancestral continent at the time of the cemetery's founding.

Where are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson when we need them? What about Charles Barron?

Anonymous said...

we can only hope that the community organizers will not spin this situation into a "black vs. white "guilt trip.

the martins field site in flushing was spun into a racial one.

Anonymous said...

the Chinese developers don't care about blacks or slaves or anything prior to 2013. move out of their way. so they can take control and make all American's their slaves

Anonymous said...

I hope something happens here that is positive for Queens. The system is just so obscure I really can’t stand to read these horrific outcomes anymore.