Seeking Proper Burial Grounds for Unknown Remains

In alignment with The New York Times’ 1619 Project to commemorate the 400th year since the start of American slavery, New Paltz looks for a final resting place for African American bodies from the 1800s.

A ship carrying the first 20 African slaves arrived in modern-day Virginia on August 20, 1619. This was the start of hundreds of years of slavery that took place in America. 

Now 400 years later, residents are still unsure of how to properly honor bodies that were from a time period of slavery.

The Times’ 1619 Project “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are,” according to a New York Times article.

This project has started discussion about where the resting place for these bodies should be, and what should be done to honor them.

These bodies were first buried in Newburgh “near the corner of Robinson Ave and Broadway, some of which is under the current City Courthouse and former Broadway School,” according to Newburgh City Planner Alexandra Church.

When the Newburgh City Courthouse was built in 2008, excavators found around 17 bodies at the site that were determined to be the remains of African Americans from the 19th century. 

“We do not want future generations to have to revisit this, and to wonder as we have, why this historic burial ground, and those buried here, received so little respect,” said previous City Manager Jean-Ann McGrane in 2008 when the bodies were discovered.

At the time, Associate Professor of Anthropology Kenneth Nystrom took temporary custody of the remains, according to a post by the City of Newburgh in 2008. The bodies are currently in storage at SUNY New Paltz but need to be placed in a permanent resting spot.

Church explained that a Newburgh committee has proposed numerous sites in Newburgh, although there is no confirmed plan.

Members from the community have proposed some memorial ideas, such as building a contemplative park in Newburgh with a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. as a new home for the bodies.

“I think a commemorative park is a great idea, the bodies should be able to rest without disturbance again,” said third-year public relations major Jamie Schuette.

For now, the bodies will stay in storage at SUNY New Paltz until the committee decides on a final resting spot and memorial.