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Sara D. Roosevelt Park

M’Finda Kalunga Garden

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The M’Finda Kalunga Garden is named in memory of an African-American burial ground that was located on nearby Chrystie Street between Rivington and Stanton Streets.

Dutch colonists brought the first Africans to the New Amsterdam colony in the late 1500s. By 1748, African-Americans, slave and free, made up 20% of the city’s population. In addition to being banned from membership in churches, at best relegated to balconies and back pews, New York’s black residents endured curfews, meeting prohibitions, and burial restrictions.

In 1794, the African burial ground near City Hall was closed, and by October of that year, the Common Council of New York City received a “petition from the Sunday Black men of this City praying the aid of this board in purchasing a piece of ground for the internment of their dead.” By April, the land was granted in what was deemed “a proper place,” near the dilapidated ruin of James Delancey’s mansion. The land purchase was bounded to the east by First Street (now Chrystie) and to the north and south by Stanton and Rivington Streets. By the late 1700s, the growing population of the city forced northern expansion. The burial ground began to deteriorate, and in 1853, it closed forever. The human remains were disinterred, and the site was soon built over. The M’Finda Kalunga Garden, just a few hundred yards away, memorializes this moment in history. M’Finda Kalunga means “Garden at the Edge of the Other Side of the World” in the Kikongo language.

The garden was founded in 1983, as a project of the Roosevelt Park Community Coalition. This coalition, formed in 1982 in response to an overwhelming drug problem in the park, created several committees to assess and to solve the variety of problems facing the neighborhood. The original aims of the garden were more social than horticultural. The organizers viewed their work as a beachhead from which to launch initiatives that would make the community a better place to live. In the following years, more gardeners joined the project, and the garden began to take shape.

About 20 regular gardeners now maintain individual beds, and contribute to the upkeep of communal areas, such as the shrubbery and bulb plantings. The garden’s mailing list is nearly double this number. Keys and individual plots are earned on an apprenticeship basis, when would-be members work with current members on shared plots, and demonstrate their commitment to maintaining the garden. Community business is handled in a democratic fashion at monthly meetings. Scheduled events include Clean-Up Day, Kids Day, senior center hours, and fundraisers.

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