Slave Cemetery Found Under Bronx City Park

view from inside Manhattan's African Burial Ground National Monument
view from inside Manhattan’s African Burial Ground National Monument

In our video teaser for “America Underground,” LaShaya Howie of NYC’s African Burial Ground National Monument boldly declared that she was “100 percent sure” there are burial grounds still hidden beneath New York City. Turns out our favorite Park Ranger was 100 percent right.

The Daily News reports that students and teachers at Public School 48 in the South Bronx made a “startling discovery” last week: A familiar neighborhood park was once a burial ground for Indian and African slaves. The article points to heartbreaking evidence of segregation and desecration — not only during the time that the cemetery was established, but also when Drake Park was designed over 100 years later.

“[A] small whites-only cemetery was preserved inside the three-acre Drake Park when it was built in 1909. That cemetery, dating to before the Revolutionary War, was deliberately kept by the city while the cemetery for slaves was turned into parkland.

“Those interred in the whites-only cemetery were mostly from the slave-owning families that controlled much of Hunts Point during the 18th and 19th centuries. They include the Hunts — who gave Hunts Points its name — and the Leggetts and the Tiffanys, who still have Bronx streets named after them. … 

“When the city began building Drake Park four years later, it preserved the white cemetery but turned the slave cemetery into a sloping, grassy area of the park.”

So far, the Parks district has been rather vague about their next steps. Given the impassioned civic action taken to memorialize its downtown counterpart, it is possible that Parks will do something honorable. And hey, Harlem’s African Burial Ground (discovered in 2010) is in the good hands of a devoted task force determined not to let it fall fully into the hands of the MTA. I’ll keep you posted if the developments unfold …

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