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Queens Chronicle

Respect the dead

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Posted: Thursday, July 11, 2013 10:30 am

Dear Editor:

(An open letter to Parks and Recreation Commissioner Veronica M. White)

The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground on 46th Avenue between 164th and 165th Streets is a 19th-century cemetery where approximately 1,000 souls rest. Many of the dead are children, victims of epidemics. Most are African American or indigenous Americans. The site, which was desecrated by the City of New York in the 1930s in order to make a playground and wading pool, is under the auspices of the Department of Parks and Recreation. I am the co-chairman of the conservancy that advocates for this hallowed place.

I was shocked during a recent visit to the cemetery to discover that the vegetation planted several years back was overgrown and choked with weeds. The lawn had finally been mowed, but the cut grass had browned and was thick over the site, making it very unkempt looking. Some of the cut grass was scattered over the memorial disk at the center of the site. A huge limb was blocking one of the pathways. Another was hanging precariously. There were piles of garden debris all over. There was litter as well, and refuse receptacles had not been emptied. Both plaques detailing what the site is about had been marked with graffiti.

The rock wall, which contains some names of known interred people, had been vandalized and vegetation was beginning to cover up the names. Sections of fencing were missing. Bags of garbage were piled up, some open. I found the appearance of the cemetery unacceptable and disrespectful.

After I made several calls, there was a positive response. On July 2, about two dozen Parks people began to clean up the site. Things were markedly improved and the conservancy is thankful; however, there is still work to be done.

It is apparent that this site had been neglected by your agency. We fear that may have been intentional. This must change immediately, not only for the sake of the surrounding neighborhood, but for the sake of all those souls who rest at this holy place.

We are inviting you to visit the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground at your earliest convenience, to see how beautiful and tranquil it is. We would also like to speak with you about maintenance, signage and the need to restore the headstones willfully destroyed by the city so many years ago. The site must be recognizable as the resting place it is, just as Flushing Cemetery across the street is recognizable as a resting place. The dead must be respected and remembered by us all, no matter where they are buried.

Mandingo Osceola Tshaka
Co-Chairman, Olde Towne of Flushing
Burial Ground Conservancy

Welcome to the discussion.