Did you know there’s an African Burial Ground in Flatbush?
Anyone who walked by Wednesday morning’s demonstration at Borough Hall can tell you. At 8:00am, a group of around 30 activists gathered outside of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall to protest the planned building of affordable housing units at the site of a former burial ground for enslaved Africans.
The rally marks the growing coalition’s first direct-action event.
Activists called on Mayor Bill de Blasio, Councilmember Mathieu Eugene and Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) Commissioner Louise Carrol to halt plans to build affordable housing units on the vacant Flatbush lot.
“We’re not going to let them continue this pattern of ignoring the will of the people,” Tricia Olayinka Ben-Davies, a member of the coalition, told BK Reader. “We’re not going to let them continue the pattern of desecration of our ancestors. It stops with us.”
Wednesday’s rally was led by the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition (FABGC), a group comprised of activists and Flatbush community members. Similar organizations like African Graves Matter and the Flatbush Tenant Coalition were also at the rally.
The land, at the corner of Church Avenue and Bedford Avenue in Flatbush, has been vacant since the 2015 demolition of Public School 90. It’s been dubbed “Eve’s Garden” by activists, honoring an enslaved woman named Eve, reported to be buried there by an 1810 obituary.
Other records and excavations dating back more than a century provide evidence that the land was used to bury enslaved Africans.
Plans to build on the lot were first introduced by Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Eugene in October of 2020. The HPD recently announced that an RFP will be issued this fall, indicating the city’s intention to proceed with building on the lot.
Calls to stop development on the site started back to earlier this year, when majority white-led community garden groups began advocating for the lot to be used as a community farm. Out of this formed a Black-led coalition, focused on honoring the lot’s history as an African Burial Ground. The coalition has drafted a petition advocating for an end to development.
“In the era of Black Lives Matter, why are you trying to build on top of Black bodies?” said Shanna Sabio, a member of FABGC who spoke at the rally.
As of the rally, the coalition says the petition has surpassed 2,000 signatures.
Shortly after plans for development of the lot were made public, the City announced a task force to promote community input in their plans. The task force held meetings from December 2020 to September 2021, where the coalition's concerns were heard.
The coalition says it wasn't enough. “Those meetings have been poorly attended. When we do show up, they don’t listen to us,” Ben-Davies said.
Still, the City claims that community input will be considered. "The prospective development team will be selected, in part, based on their ability to incorporate the community-guided recommendations summarized in the Report into their proposal," the task force website reads.
And some officials are expressing support for the coalition. Brooklyn Borough Advocate Jibreel Jaloh spoke at the rally.
“New York was built by African people,” Jaloh said. “We need to remember that and we need to honor that.”
“And one simple way we can honor that is by stopping the RFP and having the community have a say on what happens on this land.
Ben-Davies added that once people found out what was really happening, "they’re activated and they wanna support."
The coalition’s next event will be a candlelight vigil at Eve’s Garden on October 9. The event will pay respect to the Lenape people indigenous to the area, and the Africans buried at the site.