Will there be a Slave Memorial at Drake Park?

Drake Park in Hunts Point, which a local historian is trying to have a memorial created for the slaves that were once there.
Schneps Media Jason Cohen

The six-year effort to create a memorial for slaves at Drake Park in Hunts Point still has no resolution.

In 2014 teachers and students from P.S. 48 in Hunts Point determined an area that is now Joseph Rodman Drake Park was once an Indian and African slave burial ground based on a photograph from 1910.

However, there is no monument acknowledging the slaves buried in the park in an area outside the fenced-off grave. Drake Park currently contains a fenced-off cemetery that harkens back to a time when wealthy slave-owning families had mansions in Hunt’s Point.

Later that year, former Senator Jeff Klein announced he was allocating $180,000 in state funding to memorialize the slave workers likely buried in an overgrown patch of land there.

But nothing ever came to fruition.

However, his successor, Senator Alessandra Biaggi, believes she has discovered the snag and now has the ball rolling again.

A spokesman for Biaggi explained that the senator’s office discovered that Klein’s office designated money for the park, but never submitted a Legislative Intent Form to the Parks Department.

“When we learned of this we reached out to the Senate Finance Committee about the status of the funds,” said a Biaggi spokesman.

Biaggi’s office sent the paperwork to Parks last week and is awaiting its return. Once her office receives the letter, they can then send it to the funding source, who will then release the money, which can be used to create the memorial.

But, the Parks Department doesn’t seem to be on the same page. A spokesman for Parks said they are actively working with Biaggi’s office, but didn’t mention anything about the legislative form.

According to the Parks Department, in 2014, Senator Klein was interested in securing a state grant to further commemorate the burial ground.

In order for the grant to be executed, a consensus on what the community and stakeholders wanted at the site was performed. However the cost estimates for the desired memorial far exceeded the scope of the proposed grant.

“We are committed to honoring the history of our parkland,” the Parks Department said in a statement. “After the students and staff of P.S. 48 rediscovered the slave burial ground in Drake Park, we installed an updated historical interpretive sign to memorialize the site’s history. We look forward to continuing our discussions with State Senator Biaggi regarding the future of Drake Park.”

While this back and forth is taking place, local historian Philip Panaritis and Justin Czarka of The Hunts Point Burial Project, applied for historical status with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission nine months ago and will present their case to the commission in the spring.

After seeing no activity for several years, Panaritis hopes things are finally headed in the right direction.

“Once (the historic designation) is done no one can touch it,” Panaritis stressed.

He hopes the park gets recognized as historic and Parks and Biaggi’s office figures out how to pay for the memorial.

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