Councilmember Mathieu Eugene officially endorsed the plan for an African burial ground memorial at the former site of PS 90 in Flatbush on Nov. 10, instead of a planned affordable housing project and vocational training center that would have incorporated a memorial as well.
Eugene’s announcement comes after over a year of deliberation on the project by a community task force, which recommended the construction of just a memorial, and after mayor-elect Eric Adams announced he could not support the construction of housing on the site.
“I support the decision of the task force to only build a memorial on the designated land. I believe the community deserves a project that will respect and honor the memory and legacy of our ancestors while fulfilling the needs of the community,” Eugene said in a statement. “From the beginning of this conversation, I have believed it will take all of us working together to determine the best use of this land, and that is the reason why I advised the creation of the community task force, in order for us to achieve a consensus.”
The former site of PS 90 on the corner of Bedford and Church Avenues has sat vacant since the school was demolished in 2016. Historic maps dating to the 19th century of the old town of Flatbush demarcate that general area as the ‘Negro Burial Ground’ — a cemetery segregated from the churchyard of the nearby reformed church — which remains a well-maintained burial ground to this day. The African burial ground is thought to date to at least the 17th century when Flatbush was a Dutch settlement.
There are historical references to at least two enslaved people being buried at the site, both in the book “A Historical Sketch of the Zabriskie Homestead in Flatbush, LI” published in 1881. It references the burial of a 110-year-old woman named Eve, who was said to be enslaved by the Vorhees and Ditmas families, in the ‘burial ground for colored people,’ as well as the burial of a woman named Phyllis Jacobs.
The announcement in 2020 of a planned affordable housing project and vocational training center at the vacant lot sparked outrage among some in the neighborhood who felt the site should be preserved as sacred, with protests taking place in front of the lot weekly at one point. Following the demolition of the school, management of the lot was turned over to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development who have since undertaken a bidding process to find a developer for the project.
Adams made his opposition to the project clear in mid-October, at which point Eugene told Brooklyn Paper he was open to building whatever the task force recommended on the site.
In his announcement, Eugene, who is leaving office at the end of 2021 due to term limits, said he had allocated $4 million towards the construction of a memorial.
“I support the construction of a memorial and will do everything in my power to ensure that this project is a success for the community,” he said.