New database highlights African American burial grounds across NY state

From downstate to upstate, numerous African American burial sites dot New York. Some are in full view, while some are obscured. Yet all are reminders of both the rich history of Americans and the shameful past of segregation.

These sites include prominent ones like the African Burial Ground National Monument in Lower Manhattan. Also in the ranks are ones hidden within larger cemeteries like Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. There are those forgotten for years until supporters stepped forward to preserve them like the Pine Street African Burial Ground in Kingston. Some are even buried literally by development like the African Methodist Episcopal Church Cemetery in Staten Island.

A number of individuals buried in these sites were enslaved in a state that didn’t ban the practice for two centuries. The New York legislature ended it on March 31, 1817, by approving July 4, 1827, as the date of final emancipation.

At a time when enslaved individuals weren’t even counted as a whole person, little thought was given to marked, dignified resting places for them. At several groundssites, the enslaved deceased were usually wrapped in sheets and buried in crude wooden coffins, with the burial sites marked by stones or wooden markers that wore away as the years passed.

Rye’s African American Cemetery is one burial ground that has been saved from obscurity in recent years.

The cemetery, located inside the Greenwood Union Cemetery, a 50-plus-acre burial site in two municipalities in New York’s Westchester County, was formed in 1860 from land donated to the Westchester County town of Rye. Rye is adjacent to the city of the same name.

The people buried there include 30 African American veterans of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II.

However, many of the 380 graves in Rye’s African American Cemetery have yet to be identified. 

David Thomas, who in 2010 formed the Friends of the African American Cemetery, said in an interview with the USA TODAY Network in 2021 that the vigilant efforts of community volunteers will help keep alive the memory of the ancestors buried there. 

“We are always trying to make the site better with the help of the town, the city, the county, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts with their Eagle Scout projects,” Thomas said. “It’s a labor of love, and from a history standpoint, there’s a lot of history there that is unknown, and we are bringing that to the forefront.”

The following is an unofficial database of African American burial grounds in New York, compiled by this reporter through research and information provided by various sources. It’s aim is to help the public in tracking these sacred sites. It will grow with your input.

If you know of other African American burial sites in New York that belong in this listing, please send the information to Ricardo Kaulessar at kaulessar@northjersey.com. 

Gravestones are pictured at the African American Cemetery at the Greenwood Union Cemetery in the Town of Rye, New York, photographed March 18, 2022.

Cemeteries:Black cemeteries with unmarked graves hold mystery, history volunteers work to unlock

New York:Community comes together in Orange County to revitalize the largest known African-American cemetery

New York:Here’s how you can celebrate Harriet Tubman’s bicentennial starting March 10

Historic Black cemeteries in New York state

Note: The location of the cemeteries identified on this map reflect proximity. They are not exact markers.

The possible site of The Heady Cemetery on Spring Valley Road in New Castle, New York, photographed March 18, 2022.

Ricardo Kaulessar is a culture reporter for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Region How We Live team. For unlimited access to the most important news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: kaulessar@northjersey.com

Twitter: @ricardokaul 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.