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  • Writer's pictureNia Clark

S4 E5 Newtown (Queens)

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

The first church building of the United African Church and Cemetery, established by the United African Society of Newtown, which was later known as St. Mark’s A.M.E. Church

Newtown was settled by free African Americans in 1828, after New York state abolished slavery in 1827. It was nearly forgotten to history until, in 2011, a construction crew digging on a site in the present-day Elmhurst community of Queens, New York happened upon an iron coffin that contained the well-preserved remains of a Black woman. Forensic evidence and research proved the woman was the daughter of a prominent Black couple in the free African American community of Newtown in the 19th century. The re-discovery revealed the existence of many more unmarked graves as part of a larger burial site that sparked a major effort to save it. Guests in this episode include, author, historian and Professor, Dr. Prathibha Kanakamedala. She is an Associate Professor of History at Bronx Community College CUNY, a faculty member in the M.A. in Liberal Studies Program, and the inaugural faculty co-ordinator of the Public Scholarship Practice Space housed at the Center for the Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center. Her research looks at community-building, race, and citizenship in Brooklyn and New York’s 19th-century free Black communities.

“ 1799, New York State will pass its first gradual emancipation act. It's going to take another 28 years to slavery to end in New York. But, there is no black person living in Newtown just waiting around for 1827, which is when slavery will finally end. Far from it. They are community building...They are already a free black community, but they really are nuancing. What will sort of equality look like? What will democracy look like post 1827. And really at the center of that community then is a church, and that's the African Methodist Episcopal Church...historian Clarence Taylor's work has...shown...Black churches really were at the center of that community. And they were so much more than just sites of faith. They were sites for folks to come together to organize and mobilize, whether that was around voting drives, or...women's rights, education, what would land ownership look like, property ownership, which was intricately tied to voting at that time." ~Dr. Prathibha Kanakamedala

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Guests in this episode

Dr. Prathibha Kanakamedala

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