East New York African Burial Ground officially recognized

JEROME BAILEY | 10/17/2013, 11:50 a.m.

The words, “Your enduring strength and beauty will never be forgotten,” are engraved on the plaque hanging from the wall of an apartment building across from the newly renamed African Burial Ground Square. The New Lots area on Livonia Avenue between Barbey Street and Schenck Avenue in Brooklyn was renamed on Saturday after the remains of enslaved Africans were found beneath the area three years ago. The renaming and plans for the renovation of a playground into an Afrocentric park aim to tell the story of East New York’s former enslaved African people.

“Everyone is proud of being African today, and I hope it will last forever,” said Councilman Charles Barron, leader of the project.

The renaming was completed by the collective work of the office of Barron, Man Up! Inc., ARTs East New York and the New Lots Public Library. About 50 community leaders from the 57th and 60th districts, church members and supporters gathered this weekend at New Hope Family Worship Center on Livonia Avenue. State Sen. Eric Adams, candidate for Brooklyn borough president, was also in attendance. After a brief program, concluding with a presentation by Barron about the plight of enslaved Africans, the crowd marched from the church around Schenck playground to unveil the street signs.

The crowd grew as they marched, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets! Teach the children! We are African people!”

They unveiled each of the street signs, which read “African Burial Ground Square” around the playground in the allotted area. According to the Gotham Gazette, at least 70 streets in New York City are named after former slave owners.

“When you continue to walk down the streets of those who enslaved you, you can feel spiritually deprived,” said Adams.

On the verge of giving up on finding slave remains, the councilman’s office and Catherine Green, co-founder of the project, started opening up maps and found one from 1878 that showed an African burial ground, leading them to put their ideas into action.

“We wanted our idea to be realized today. We want to be archives for our people so that they can never be forgotten,” said Green.

Green hopes that the project will become a catalyst for people in East New York to know that they come from a place of strength and love.

“We can’t expect our community to move ahead until we know the value of our people,” said Green.

The change of Schenck playground’s name is up to the next mayor. Assemblywoman Inez Barron has already stated that the burial ground would be one of her biggest priorities, according to Green.

“I’d like to see it completed tomorrow,” said Green with a laugh. Realistically, she hopes for the project to be complete over the next five years.

Sheriff Marcus, 16, frequently plays basketball at the playground on the newly named street. He was there with friends when the crowd marched in.

“We need lights so we can play at night. We need better courts. This is our park,” said Marcus.

It looks like Marcus will get his wish. According to Barron, the playground will be renovated with new lights and basketball goals sporting fiberglass backboards and lasting nets. Other renovation plans include a cultural theme and a monument that tells the story of the burial site. Surrounded with new swings, Sphinx figures and other artifacts of the African diaspora, the playground will include a red, black and green Pan-African flag hanging high above the area.

“We want to make the park look like an African village,” said Green.

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has approved the renovation of the park, but they won’t begin until New York City funds the project, according to the councilman’s office. The office plans to reach out to the Brooklyn borough president and city agencies to increase funds. The councilman’s office also plans to have a section in the New Lots Public Library dedicated to the African Burial Ground.

Many supporters of the renaming were involved with the 2010 African Burial Ground Visitor’s Center opening in lower Manhattan after the remains of 427 African slaves were found beneath a parking lot near New York’s City Hall, gaining world attention.

“The people here can stand with their chest sticking out, filled with pride because they know that they brought life to East New York,” said Barron.