Memorial for African Burial Ground Set for East Harlem

Elmendorf Reformed Church, now at 171 E. 121st St. Its pastor, Patricia Singletary, heads the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force. She said, "“We just want the burial ground to be memorialized, properly commemorated and preserved.” (Photo by "Joseph", Creative Commons license)

Elmendorf Reformed Church is headed by Rev. Patricia Singletary who also leads the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force.

An African Burial Ground memorial in East Harlem will take the place of an MTA bus depot at 2460 Second Ave. that had been scheduled for renovation, according to an article in Amsterdam News. Author “W.A.T.E.R. 17” reports:

A major ancestral awakening of New York City’s sordid slave history occurred in 2008, when Department of Transportation employees unearthed a 17th century African gravesite while refurbishing the Willis Avenue Bridge. The MTA offered to renovate the area in 2010.

The burial ground can be traced back to the mid-17th century.

The land—previous property of the Reformed Low Dutch Church of Harlem, later known as the Elmendorf Reformed Church, from 1665 to 1869—started as a cemetery after land-grabber Peter Stuyvesant had enslaved Africans, in the mid-1600s, build a nine-mile road from lower Manhattan to what was then a rural area named Nieuw Haarlem. He erected a church on First Avenue between 126th and 127th streets, setting aside a quarter acre of land later known as the “Negro Burying Ground” and eventually, “The Harlem African Burial Ground.”

Church records indicate that an unknown number of free, as well as enslaved, Africans from all over Manhattan are buried there.

Today, the pastor of Elmendorf Reformed Church, now located at 171 E. 121st St., also heads the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force. She said:

“We just want the burial ground to be memorialized, properly commemorated and preserved.” 

W.A.T.E.R. 17 notes that “In 2010, the MTA planned to upgrade the dilapidated depot next year, but activists’ demands that it be converted into a memorial scuttled the plan.” Visit Amsterdam News to read the significance of the burial ground, according to task force members and local clergy, especially in place of a bus depot.

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