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Juneteenth Celebration at Rye’s African American Cemetery

(PHOTO: A Juneteenth celebration was held at the African American Cemetery on June 17.)
(PHOTO: A Juneteenth celebration was held at the African American Cemetery on June 17.)

Reported by Brette Moore, Edited by Matt Capaldi

This past Saturday morning, the Friends of the African American Cemetery orchestrated a profound Juneteenth commemoration and grave cleanup event. The gathering served as a powerful testament to the significance of Juneteenth, a day that holds great historical importance for African Americans across the United States.

Town of Rye Supervisor Gary Zuckerman led the proceedings alongside a distinguished group of individuals. Notable attendees included Westchester County Legislator Catherine Parker, State Assemblyman Steve Otis, State Senator Shelley Mayor, and Rye Mayor Josh Cohn. 

In a remarkable collaboration, the Friends of the African American Cemetery enlisted the support of The Osborn and its CEO Matt Anderson. This alliance brought local residents to participate in the cleaning and beatification of the cemetery’s monuments to commemorate Juneteenth.

In addition to the service project, Zuckerman announced to those assembled that The Town of Rye has been awarded an African American Civil Rights Grant from the National Parks Service. Those at the event were able to witness the presentation of a groundbreaking machine, that will enable the identification of unmarked graves through advanced archaeological techniques. Through this grant funding, the Town will be able to employ Ground Piercing Radar services provided by Heritage Consultants.

(PHOTO: The new tool used at the African American Cemetery to identify unmarked tombstones.)
(PHOTO: The new tool used at the African American Cemetery to identify unmarked tombstones.)

With the aid of this cutting-edge radar machine, Dr. David Leslie and Brena Pisanelli of Heritage Consultants will delve into the depths of the cemetery, employing state-of-the-art technology to survey and locate hidden graves. Through their dedicated efforts, the once-unmarked resting places will be acknowledged and documented, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the African American experience in the local community.

The “driving force” behind the restoration efforts in the cemetery, as described by Friends Group President David Thomas, can be traced back to an initial engagement in 2009 when Thomas first set foot in the cemetery and was confronted with a scene of neglect and obscurity.

“There was over 4-5 feet of bamboo over there, and these small graves you couldn’t even see,” Thomas said. “Everything was overlooked and overgrown.”

Thomas embarked on a remarkable journey to revive the cemetery, enlisting the support of organizations such as the Jay Center and the Boy Scouts of America. Together, these dedicated teams joined forces, recognizing the importance of connecting the gravesites to their rightful ancestors. 

By breathing life into these forgotten histories, the Rye community honors the struggles, triumphs, and contributions of those laid to rest in the cemetery. Through tireless work, the Friends of the African American Cemetery created a space for reflection, education, and remembrance, bridging the gap between past and present.

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