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New York City celebrates Black heritage with landmark status for historic cemetery

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On the eve of Juneteenth, Mayor Eric Adams and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) announced the designation of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in Oakwood Heights, Staten Island, as an individual landmark.

This historic cemetery, established in 1935, is the only existing non-sectarian burial site founded specifically for New York City’s Black community.

During an era when discrimination barred Black New Yorkers from many burial sites, Frederick Douglass Memorial Park provided a dignified final resting place. The 14.88-acre site honors generations of Black Americans, including prominent figures such as jazz singer Mamie Smith, trumpeter Tommy Ladnier, and baseball player Sol White.

“On the day before Juneteenth, New York City remembers our shared history by shining a light on a memorial park that opened its doors when others turned Black New Yorkers away,” said Mayor Adams.

“Frederick Douglass Memorial Park offered a dignified and dedicated space for the Black community to honor those who transitioned. Today, our administration plays its part by commemorating those who stood up against injustice and by officially designating Frederick Douglass Memorial Park a landmark.”

The cemetery’s designation reflects the LPC’s commitment to recognizing sites of Black cultural significance. LPC Chair Sarah Carroll emphasized the importance of preserving places that celebrate the resilience and contributions of Black New Yorkers.

“Frederick Douglass Memorial Park represents the enduring strength and resilience of New York’s Black community, who created a place of beauty in the face of injustice and overcame racism and discrimination to ensure their loved ones had a dignified resting place,” said Carroll.

“Today’s designation reflects LPC’s ongoing commitment to recognizing, protecting, and celebrating places of Black cultural and historical significance, and ensures that Frederick Douglass Memorial Park will be preserved for future generations to come.”

The announcement precedes Juneteenth, a poignant reminder of the nation’s journey toward freedom. It builds on efforts like the “More Than a Brook: Brooklyn Abolitionist Heritage Walk,” an audio tour launched by Mayor Adams and LPC to explore Brooklyn’s abolitionist history.

“This sacred ground at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park gave Black New Yorkers and their families a much-needed refuge to mourn and remember their loved ones with the dignity they deserved,” said New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo.

“As we approach Juneteenth, I applaud LPC’s decision to landmark this important site, preserving a critical piece of our city’s history and making sure it remains a key part of our collective understanding of our past.”

Frederick Douglass Memorial Park continues to serve as an active cemetery, maintaining its role as a community resource. The site also features a monument to its namesake, designed by Angus McDougall and dedicated in 1961, which stands as New York City’s first monument to the famed abolitionist and orator.

Local leaders and community members praised the designation, recognizing it as a crucial step in preserving the rich history and legacy of Black New Yorkers.

“This designation of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park as a landmark is an important achievement for the Staten Island community,” said New York State Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton. “This cemetery offered a place where Black New Yorkers could be laid to rest with the honor they deserved. Now, decades later, the ancestors of so many of my constituents remain buried here with dignity.

“This landmark status is not just about preservation; it’s about celebrating the resilience and contributions of those who came before them. It is truly a milestone to honor the rich history and legacy of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park for the past, present, and future generations.”

Frederick Douglass Memorial Park’s landmark status ensures its preservation for future generations, allowing it to continue serving as a place of reflection and honor. This designation highlights the ongoing efforts to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to New York City’s history and culture.

“We are thrilled that Frederick Douglass Memorial Park has been selected to receive such an honor,” said Brandon Stradford, president, Frederick Douglass Memorial Park Board. “On behalf of the families of the loved ones entrusted in our care, we say ‘Thank You.'”

With this landmark status, New York City reaffirms its commitment to preserving the sites that embody the city’s diverse heritage and the stories of all its residents.

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