Posts Tagged ‘Second African Burial Ground’

A 19th century cemetery on Chrystie Street

June 15, 2011

If you ever find yourself at Sara D. Roosevelt Park below Houston Street, take some time to consider the New Yorkers who were once interred beneath your feet.

This was the site of the Second African Burial Ground—replacing the original cemetery for black New Yorkers located near City Hall that had been closed in the 1790s.

Back then, residents of African descent made up almost 20 percent of the city’s population. Since they were restricted from white cemeteries, another one had to be built.

So in 1794, a group of black residents petitioned the city to purchase land for a new burial ground. City officials granted four lots “near the dilapidated ruin of James Delancey’s mansion,” explains the Parks Department:

“The land purchase was bounded to the east by First Street (now Chrystie) and to the north and south by Stanton and Rivington Streets. By the late 1700s, the growing population of the city forced northern expansion. The burial ground began to deteriorate, and in 1853, it closed forever. The human remains were disinterred, and the site was soon built over.”

Sara D. Roosevelt Park (above) opened in 1934, 80 years after the burial ground had been closed and mostly forgotten.

In the 2000s, when the New Museum on nearby Bowery was under construction, some human remains were found, according to the website of the M’Funga Kalunga Community Garden in the park, which hopes to build a prominent marker on the site.

The breadline of hungry men in Freeman Alley

February 22, 2011

This narrow little passage off Rivington Street between Chrystie Street and the Bowery now attracts well-heeled, hipster New Yorkers looking for a table at retro Freemans restaurant, at the end of the alley.

But in 1909, there was a different kind of clientele in Freeman Alley craving a meal—desperate men on a breadline.

The breadline stemmed from the Bowery Mission, which had just relocated to nearby 227 Bowery. That building, a former coffin factory, was remodeled so its rear entrance opened to the back of Freeman Alley. Apparently the alley’s end wasn’t closed at the time.

That’s where Bowery Mission planners wanted the breadline to form. So night after night, men queued up in Freeman Alley, hoping for some food.

Freeman Alley is a bit of a mystery. No one is sure if it honors early 19th century surveyor Uzal Freeman, or if the name refers to the Second African Burial Ground, a cemetery for black New Yorkers on the site of Sara Roosevelt Park that was closed in 1853.

[NYPL Digital Gallery photo of the Bowery Mission Breadline]