In October 2020, the City put forth a controversial proposal that would allow the construction of affordable housing at the Flatbush African Burial Ground, located at 2286 Church Avenue. The move was swiftly met with backlash from members of the community who have been advocating to protect the sanctity of the land, which according to the FABGC (Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition) was first found on a map dating to 1885 and is thought to have been in use since at least the 1700s until the abolition of slavery in New York in 1827.
After being under the purview of another City agency for some time, the African Burial Ground was recently transferred to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department, who are to be the new stewards. As the agency’s Brooklyn Chief of Staff, Operations, Davey Ives, explained at the first community input meeting, held virtually on April 24th, he and his team are at the community’s disposal and will use all of their experience and resources to ensure that what is done at the Burial Ground is exactly what the community wants. He said that every option is open, from leaving the burial ground exactly as it is, to building a memorial, a community garden or a learning site with education programming, as various members of the community have alternatively proposed. Even the proposed name “Flatbush African Burial Ground Park” is up for consideration.
Also in attendance was Veteran Parks Department Landscape Architect Emmanuel Thingue, who said he felt really privileged to be working on such an important project, and that as a Haitian, he is very proud of his African ancestry and vested in doing a good job for the community and making sure the African Burial Ground is treated with great respect. As well, Chief of Staff Ives assured the community that the Parks Department would employ an archaeological firm to advise them throughout the process in the proper handling of human remains and archaeological artifacts, which, if disturbed, could be reinterred or displayed in a museum at the community’s discretion. He then facilitated in having the more than 100 attendees present break out into smaller listening panels to learn how the community wished to move forward.
There was a vast array of opinions on what the future of the African Burial Ground should look like. One member of the community expressed his frustration saying, “I do not understand why we are making it into a park,” citing the fact that places of burial are called cemeteries and are treated as such. Another attendee said that she felt no action should be taken until further research had been conducted. “We have not studied it. We don’t know what it is. We’re moving too fast,” she said. Another local resident said that as a conjurer, she would like to see herbalists and spiritualists consulted in the process and the cultivation of botanicals used in traditional spiritual practices at the Burial Ground. There was discussion of a tree of life to reflect the griot tradition of storytelling, a reflection pool and green space, a plaque explaining the history of the burial ground and even a listing of the names of those suspected to be buried there.
Ives explained that this was only the first of many “community input meetings” and that the overall process from start to finish could take as long as 3 and a half years to complete. He encouraged members of the community to reach out to the Department via email to share their input at firstname.lastname@example.org and to stay tuned for future meetings.