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Friends of the African American Cemetery Veteran’s Day Event is Saturday, 9am

On Saturday, November 10, 2018, The Friends of the African American Cemetery (FOAAC) are having a veterans day ceremony at 10am and they are doing headstone cleanup and restoration at 9am. Both parts of the program are open to the public.

The public is invited to join other volunteers to help clean the historic headstones of veterans, at the African American Cemetery (adjacent to Greenwood Union Cemetery), 215 North Street, in the Town of Rye. The opportunity is a unique and valuable way to honor all veterans and service members.

The FOAAC strives to conserve, rehabilitate, and transform African American Cemeteries.

African American Cemetary Rye

(PHOTO: Veteran's service in 2016 at the FOAAC.)

Preserving these headstones is of crucial historic importance, not only to Town of Rye but to the rest of New York and the entire United States. Land for the cemetery was originally donated to the Town of Rye in 1860, by Underhill and Elizabeth Halstead. Their wish and expressed desire was that the cemetery be forever maintained. Now current residents can participate in helping keep the promise that Town of Rye made to the couple for their civic generosity, more than 150 years ago.

All inquiries should be directed to David Thomas at (914) 886-5710 or send an email to afamcemetery@gmail.com.

Rye's African-American Cemetery was established in 1860 when the Halstead family donated it to the Town of Rye to be used as a burial ground for African Americans. Although it was officially made a cemetery in 1860 it had most likely been used as a burial ground for African Americans long before that. There are an estimated 300 people buried at the cemetery, although many of them do not have headstones or formal markers. This cemetery was open up until 1964 when the segregation of cemeteries ended and the cemetery was closed for good.

There are 22 veterans of the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. One of the men buried there is named Samuel Bell who was a soldier in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first black military units of the Union Army during the Civil War — the one chronicled in the 1989 Denzel Washington movie, "Glory." Another interesting person buried there is Robert Purdy, who escaped slavery and fled to Mamaroneck to start the Barry Avenue AME Zion Church, on North Barry Street on the border of Mamaroneck and Rye Neck. Other notable figures are a navy sailor who was in Washington on the day of Abraham Lincoln's assassination and a man who ran an Inn and restaurant on Milton Road in Rye.

Following its closing in 1964 the cemetery fell into a state of disrepair and was largely forgotten. Luckily, various community projects were were enacted in order to give new life to the cemetery. In 2003 the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Every year on Veterans Day and Memorial Day there are events at the cemetery to honor those who are buried there.


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