A Staten Island parking lot is drawing attention for being the final resting place for what’s estimated to be up to 1,000 Black people, including enslaved Africans.
At first glance, the New York borough parking lot looks normal — there is a MetroPCS store, a 7-Eleven, and other businesses sitting on the corner of Forest and Livermore Avenue, but as is often the case, the more interesting story of the plot of land lies a few feet beneath the surface.
According to historians, the lot is the location of the only Black burial ground on the Long Island North Shore from the 1850s to the early 20th century and is the final resting place for generations of Black people, a fact that is not hidden, but one that many locals are still surprised to learn.
“This was specifically for African American people. Some were slaves, some were the descendent of the enslaved, some were family, some were African American residents who never knew slavery,” historian Patricia Salmon told NBC New York.
The 2nd Asbury African Methodist Episcopal Church and cemetery were originally built on the land in the mid-1800s before the cemetery lands were deeded over to the African Methodist Church Cemetery of Staten Island organization by the Second African Methodist Episcopal Church of Staten Island in 1929.
The city of Staten Island took possession of the cemetery, which was missing headstones since as early as 1913, in 1950 due to $11,768 owed in back taxes.
It was sold in 1953 to Sidelle Mann of the Bronx and the land, as well as its history, has continually been developed over since the 1980s. The development was protested by the Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries of Staten Island (FACSI), however the developer maintained that there were no human remains found at the location.
The city of New York also denied the existence of a legal cemetery, although several documents including death certificates, burial records, and property maps, exist proving that legal or otherwise, a cemetery existed on the property.
The last known man born into slavery on Staten Island, Benjamin Perine, is one of the great numbers of those whose remains have been paved over in the lot and his great-great-great-grandchildren siblings Ruth Ann Hills and David Thomas, who still live in the area, are heartbroken to know so many have been forgotten.
“It breaks my heart. It’s personal to me,” Hills said to the station. “Yes, it is and I think it should be recognized that there are people that are there, my family members.”
With historians, activist organizations, and documentarians shedding more light on the burial ground’s existence, efforts are growing to preserve its legacy.
“It’s about knowledge that that place is there, knowledge that that place exists and knowledge that those people that’s there have value,” said Robert Perkins, the first Black man to become district leader of the Staten Island North Shore, who is working to put the cemetery “back on the map.”
“The truth of the matter it needs to be spoken about and something need to be done about it,” Perkins told the NBC affiliate. “We’re walking around eyes wide shut and it’s right there. It just makes me think. It makes me shudder to think but also excited to wonder what else is buried out here.”
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