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Developers Dig Up 19th-Century Body —Which Changes Everything

The New York City parcel was once a black burial ground
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 23, 2019 4:05 PM CDT
Stock image.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – A plot of land in New York City is rich in black history. It's also worth millions of dollars. And that combination has developers trying to satisfy a church that has final say over the former African American burial ground, the New York Times reports. "It has been extremely hard for the church to find a partner that is willing to help us, to look at this piece of real estate from a historical perspective," says Rev. Kimberly Detherage of the St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has historical ties to the $13.8 million parcel. The current owner, a firm called 90 Queens Inc, began developing the land in 2011 when it ran into a well-preserved body that officials initially considered a crime victim. But she was likely one of hundreds of blacks buried there over the years. (PBS made a documentary about the find.)

Black ownership of the land goes way back: A white farmer deeded it to five black residents after the state approved emancipation, and a Presbyterian church erected there in 1838 eventually became the African Methodist Episcopal one—which sold the land when it moved to another Queens neighborhood. But an archaeological restriction gives it the right to be consulted on new developments. Now 90 Queens Inc wants to build a condo building with a museum on the ground floor, but the church isn't quite on board and hopes the city or another institution might help run whatever gets built there. The near-one-acre parcel is one of many black burial grounds developers are encountering nationwide and residents are trying to protect, Forbes reported earlier this year. (Read more black history stories.)

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