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City must show respect for the dead at Old Towne

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An open letter to city Comptroller John Liu:

As the co-chairman of the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy, I am writing to you to ask for your assistance with a crucial issue facing the 19th-century cemetery.

As you are aware, the conservancy for this cemetery has been advocating for years that the four headstones destroyed by New York City in the 1930s be replaced. We would also like to see recognition in the form of a permanent monument erected to honor all of the others interred at this site, which altogether brings the number buried at the cemetery to about 1,000 souls, all well-documented.

Borough President Helen Marshall gave $100,000 to replace the four headstones and honor the other deceased. After various meetings with her, representatives from the city Parks Department, Community Board 7 and the city Design Commission, we have not made any progress toward achieving these goals and Parks dismisses any ideas we may have.

In fact, the conservancy believes the lack of progress may have been deliberate.

When the city consolidated in 1898, the administrative code directed the city comptroller and the five borough presidents to maintain and protect the burial and town grounds owned by the city. That code remains in effect to this day. In the early 1900s, the burial grounds came under the aegis of the city Parks Department.

As we look at city history, the prevailing attitude has been that people of color did not count, even when it came to preserving and respecting their burial grounds. Resting places for African Americans in Manhattan, for example, continuously shifted northward over the passage of time.

My people were pushed from what is now Sarah Roosevelt Park to Washington Square to Bryant Park to Central Park Seneca Village. As the land was developed, graves were frequently uncovered and desecrated, paved over or built over.

The Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground is also a victim of this unfortunate attitude on the part of the city. While much has been achieved with your help, the work is not finished. We therefore ask you to intercede to expedite the placement of the four headstones and memorial monument that the conservancy seeks for the burial ground.

The dead must be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve and the site must be identifiable as the cemetery that it is.

After the tornado damage was repaired and new signs were placed, the wording on one of the signs has been written with incorrect history. This also has not been discussed, as Parks has taken the stance of no headstones, no meeting. The last presentation from the conservancy to Parks was totally rejected, with no further action.

We implore you to help us honor those who are buried at this site.

Mandingo Osceola Tshaka

Co-chairman

Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground Conservancy

Flushing

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