Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has signaled his support to keep the site of an ancient African burial ground in Flatbush as an open space with a memorial, rather than converting it into affordable housing.

“As we continue the fight to preserve our history and recognize the significant role enslaved Africans played in shaping it, I cannot support developing this sacred site in Flatbush, an area with a rich history stretching back centuries,” Adams said in a statement.

In 2020, the City announced plans to convert the site at 2286 Church Ave into affordable housing with around 100 affordable apartments and a youth community facility. The lot, at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Church Avenue, has been vacant since 2015 and was once the site of the Flatbush District No. 1 School, P.S. 90 and the Beth Rivkah Institute.

When the plans were released, the met with immediate community opposition and result in the formation of the Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition, which has fought for the land to be recognized and protected for its history.

Shantell Jones, the civic and community engagement coordinator for the organization, told BK Reader she envisioned a memorial plaque with the names of the enslaved people who were buried there mounted on a brick wall, along with lots of flowers and plants in the space.

The Flatbush African Burial Ground Coalition rallies outside of Borough Hall. Photo: Christopher Edwards for BK Reader.

“I see it as a pilgrimage site, just like the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan,” the coalition’s lead organizer Shanna Sabio told BK Reader. “Brooklyn deserves its own monument.”

The group, which recently held its first rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall, is now seeing the results of their advocacy.

Adams, who served as co-chair of a task force on the project, said in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio that he supported preserving the vacant lot as a public space and memorial to those interred there.

“I stand in solidarity with the vision for a memorial and open space,” he said in the letter. “Our borough absolutely needs to build more affordable housing, especially in Flatbush, but I cannot support building it on an area shown to have human remains of enslaved people below.” 

He added that while was sympathetic to the “pressing need for affordable housing in the area,” he thought other sites could help to meet the need.”

Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, who supported the development when the plans were announced, told Brooklyn Paper that he would take the recommendations of the task force, which is gathering public input, and he wanted the site to serve the community in the best way possible. 

“My hope is to see us come together to see what is the best thing we can do for the community,” he said.

“If the community decides that we should create something that will remind us of the struggle our ancestors went through, I don’t have any problem with that.”

In his letter, Adams recommended that either Parks Department or the Economic Development Corporation should take over management of the site from HPD.

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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