Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground
Students in a Queens College Public History class worked with the Burial Ground Conservancy to document the history of the site.
In Spring 2016, Queens Memory collaborated with Prof. Johnathan Thayer’s graduate Public History class at Queens College on its semester-long research project on the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground, a local history site that has been the focus of a great deal of community activism. The Burial Ground was originally used for African-American, Native American and “pauper” burials, but in the 1930s was paved over and turned into a NYC park called Martin’s Field, featuring a children’s playground. A group of local residents (the OTFBG Conservancy), including some descendants of those buried at the site, have fought a long battle with the city to get the land rededicated as a cemetery, and have finally won some progress in recent years. The Public History students planned to research the site’s history and conduct interviews with Conservancy members as well as others connected with the site.
Members of the Conservancy worked with the students directly and also suggested other participants. In some cases students discovered other interview subjects on their own.
The project was very successful by all accounts. The students undertook a variety of individual research efforts that culminated in a presentation attended by many community members. The information they uncovered about the history of the site — particularly a list of burials obtained from the NY Municipal Archives — aided the Conservancy in its successful effort to have the cemetery recognized as a state and federal Historic Site. The students also contributed two oral history interviews and many photographs to the Queens Memory collection.
In the three years following the class, several project participants discussed the work at academic conferences. In addition, an exhibit at the Queens Museum, Monuments to an Effigy, was inspired by the history and work done at the site.
Queens Memory plans to continue collaborating with the Burial Ground Conservancy and another Public History class at Queens College (also taught by Prof. Johnathan Thayer) in the Fall of 2020. For this second phase, which will be conducted remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will consult with Conservancy members early on about their next goals for the site, and will work closely with students to help shape their individual projects.
The Public History class was taught by Prof. Johnathan Thayer of Queens College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Lori Wallach, Queens Memory’s Outreach Coordinator at the college, helped train students to do interviews and prepare materials for submission to the archive. Conservancy officers Mandingo Osceola Tshaka and Robbie Garrison were the main representatives for the Burial Ground, and Chief Little Fox (Samuel Steven Boyd Jr.) of the Matinecock Nation provided important information on the Native American history of the site.
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