Pushing to Landmark an Elmhurst African Burial Ground

The first church building of the United African church. A cemetery was built behind the building, which was rediscovered seven years ago. (Courtesy of Elmhurst Histories and Cemeteries Preservation Society via Jackson Heights Post)

Last month, the Elmhurst Histories and Cemeteries Preservation Society asked the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for an evaluation of 47-11 90th St. in hopes of attaining landmark status for the property, reports Meghan Sackman for Jackson Heights Post. Seven years ago, construction workers came upon a coffin containing what would turn out to be Martha Peterson, an ex-slave. An investigation of the site found that it once served as a burial ground for former African-American slaves that dates back to the early 19th century.

The discovery of the burial ground halted developer Song Liu’s ability to build on the lot. After Liu, who had purchased the site in 2011, filed plans in September to construct a five-story building, Elmhurst Histories and Cemeteries submitted an application to LPC to prevent any future development there.

The property, according to the group, was purchased by four formerly enslaved men in 1828 shortly after they were granted their freedom. Elmhurst, previously called New Town, was one of the first municipalities in New York State to liberate slaves.

The liberated peoples formed the United African Society, and then built what would later be known as the African Methodist Episcopal Church with a cemetery behind it right on the property, according to James Ng, treasurer of the Elmhurst Histories and Cemeteries group.

Decades later, after congregation members moved around and split up, some of their descendants started to hold services at St. Mark’s American Methodist Episcopal Church. How are they involved in the battle to preserve the burial ground? Go to Jackson Heights Post to find out, and read more on the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and what Elmhurst History and Cemeteries is doing to spread awareness of the burial ground.

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