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Mayor Adams, Landmarks Preservation Commission Designate Staten Island's Frederick Douglass Memorial Park As Individual Landmark

June 18, 2024

Frederick Douglass Memorial Park is Only Existing Non-Sectarian Cemetery
Founded by — and Specifically for — New York City’s Black Community 

When Discrimination and Segregation Excluded Black Community from Burial Sites,
Frederick Douglass Memorial Park Served as Welcoming, Dignified Place 

Announcement Comes Day Before Juneteenth, Builds on Adams Administration and LPC’s
Continued Efforts to Celebrate and Honor Black Americans

NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Eric Adams and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) today announced the designation of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in Oakwood Heights, Staten Island as an individual landmark after LPC voted to do so unanimously. The Frederick Douglass Memorial Park is the only existing non-sectarian cemetery founded by — and specifically for — New York City’s Black community. The memorial park opened in 1935, offering a dignified cemetery for Black New Yorkers at a time when discrimination and segregation excluded them from other burial sites across the city and limited them to substandard facilities and services. The 14.88-acre burial site memorializes Black heritage and honors the generations of Black Americans who are buried there. The announcement comes one day before the nation celebrates Juneteenth, building on the Adams administration and LPC’s continued efforts to celebrate and honor Black Americans.

“On the day before Juneteenth, New York City remembers our shared history by shining a light on a memorial park that opened its doors when others turned Black New Yorkers away,” said Mayor Adams. “Frederick Douglass Memorial Park offered a dignified and dedicated space for the Black community to honor those who transitioned. Today, our administration plays its part by commemorating those who stood up against injustice and by officially designating Frederick Douglass Memorial Park a landmark.”

“I congratulate the Landmarks Preservation Commission for spotlighting the Fredrick Douglass Memorial Park, a location that now gives visitors a permanent place for reflection,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “This designation furthers LPC's commitment to promote equity and inclusion across the five boroughs by preserving the rich history of New York City’s Black community.”

“Frederick Douglass Memorial Park represents the enduring strength and resilience of New York’s Black community, who created a place of beauty in the face of injustice and overcame racism and discrimination to ensure their loved ones had a dignified resting place,” said LPC Chair Sarah Carroll. “Today’s designation reflects LPC’s ongoing commitment to recognizing, protecting, and celebrating places of Black cultural and historical significance, and ensures that Frederick Douglass Memorial Park will be preserved for future generations to come.”

“This sacred ground at Frederick Douglass Memorial Park gave Black New Yorkers and their families a much-needed refuge to mourn and remember their loved ones with the dignity they deserved,” said New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo. “As we approach Juneteenth, I applaud LPC's decision to landmark this important site, preserving a critical piece of our city's history and making sure it remains a key part of our collective understanding of our past.”

“Juneteenth is a bittersweet reminder of our nation's long journey towards freedom for all,” said New York Chief Equity Officer and Mayor's Office of Equity and Racial Justice Commissioner Sideya Sherman. “The Frederick Douglass Memorial Park honors African American's legacy of endurance and perseverance in the face of injustice. By designating this cemetery a landmark, LPC has taken an essential step in preserving our shared history and amplifying the stories of Black New Yorkers within our city's historical narrative.”

For nearly a century, Frederick Douglass Memorial Park has served as the burial site for thousands of Black New Yorkers from all walks of life, from regular citizens whose stories are part of the city’s collective heritage to prominent figures like jazz and blues singer Mamie Smith, jazz trumpeter Tommy Ladnier, and professional baseball player and author Sol White. To this day, Frederick Douglass Memorial Park remains an active cemetery that continues to benefit the community it was first intended to serve, preserving the rich history of New York City’s Black community and providing a dignified resting place in a picturesque, park-like setting. Finally, the memorial park features a monument to its namesake, Frederick Douglass, and is regarded as New York City’s first monument to the famed abolitionist, activist, and orator. The bronze monument, located near the site’s entrance, was designed by Angus McDougall and dedicated in 1961.

LPC today also voted unanimously to calendar the Jacob Day Residence for consideration as an individual landmark. In the late 19th century, the row house at 50 West 13th Street in Manhattan was the home and place of business for Jacob Day, a prominent Black entrepreneur, abolitionist, and advocate for voting rights and economic opportunities for Black Americans after the Civil War. Calendaring is the first formal step in the designation process. Once calendared, LPC will hold a public hearing on the proposed designation at a future date, followed by a public meeting during which the commission will vote on the designation.

To celebrate Juneteenth, earlier this month, Mayor Adams and LPC announced the “More Than a Brook: Brooklyn Abolitionist Heritage Walk,” an interactive audio tour that explores Brooklyn’s history as a critical neighborhood for the National Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad. The three-part audio experience guides participants through Brooklyn's rich abolitionist history, incorporating 19 stops and highlighting the many landmark sites along a 4.5-mile walkable path. Both the designation of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park and the “More Than a Brook: Brooklyn Abolitionist Heritage Walk” reflect LPC’s ongoing commitment to equity and inclusion in all their work as part of the agency’s Equity Framework. This framework helps preserve places that tell the story of all New Yorkers and reflect their collective heritage, making the significant history embodied in landmarks more accessible; as well as expands educational outreach efforts to reach new and diverse audiences.

In April, Mayor Adams announced new economic data showing that the unemployment rate for Black New Yorkers has significantly decreased since the start of the administration. Between January 1, 2022 and April 1, 2024, the Black unemployment rate in the five boroughs decreased from 10.7 percent to 7.9 percent — a 26 percent decrease, or to the lowest point in half a decade. This marks the first time since 2019 that the Black unemployment rate in New York City has fallen below 8 percent.

“Frederick Douglass Memorial Park is New York City’s only non-sectarian cemetery specifically for our black community,” said U.S. Representative Nicole Malliotakis. “We appreciate the mayor naming this site an individual landmark to recognize and memorialize generations of Black Americans who’ve greatly contributed to our city’s history and culture.”

“This designation of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park as a landmark is an important achievement for the Staten Island community,” said New York State Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton. “This cemetery offered a place where Black New Yorkers could be laid to rest with the honor they deserved. Now, decades later, the ancestors of so many of my constituents remain buried here with dignity. This landmark status is not just about preservation; it’s about celebrating the resilience and contributions of those who came before them. It is truly a milestone to honor the rich history and legacy of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park for the past, present, and future generations.” 

“The designation of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park as an individual landmark is a long-overdue recognition of Staten Island’s rich Black heritage,” said New York State Assemblymember Charles D. Fall. “This cemetery, which served as a dignified resting place for Black New Yorkers during times of segregation and discrimination, will be preserved for future generations. As we approach Juneteenth, I want to thank Mayor Adams and the Landmarks Preservation Commission for highlighting the importance of preserving and celebrating the legacy of Black Americans on Staten Island and beyond.”

“With Juneteenth upon us, we must remember how Black History has shaped New York City. Granting landmark status to Staten Island’s Frederick Douglass Memorial Park demonstrates our commitment to preserving the story of Black New Yorkers in all Five Boroughs,” said New York State Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar. “Future generations will learn how this cemetery was a refuge by and for the Black community, providing dignified burials. As we celebrate and honor Black Americans this Juneteenth, this is the time to recognize how the contributions of our Black community have shaped the very fabric of New York City.”

“I am pleased that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has moved to recognize Frederick Douglass Memorial Park as a landmark,” said New York State Assemblymember Michael Reilly. “This preserves the legacy of one of our nation's greatest abolitionists and statesmen, ensuring that Staten Islanders will continue to learn about our community’s abolitionist history for generations to come.”

“Many chapters of American history are reflected in a rich array of historically significant sites throughout Staten Island, from Conference House to Historic Richmondtown to Sandy Ground,” said Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella. “Among those is the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park, which Mayor Adams and the Landmarks Preservation Commission are working to preserve. We commend the mayor and commission for their work, as this designation will raise public awareness about the site itself and the legacy of Frederick Douglass.”

“This recognition is long overdue and will solidify Frederick Douglass Memorial Park’s place in our city’s history,” said New York City Councilmember Kamillah Hanks. “Landmark status will provide the necessary support and resources to maintain and enhance the park, allowing it to continue serving as a place of reflection, remembrance, and celebration of African American heritage. By achieving landmark status, we ensure that future generations recognize and honor the contributions of African Americans to our city’s rich history.” 

“I’m thrilled that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has given Frederick Douglass Memorial Park, the only African American cemetery in New York City, its rightful recognition and honor,” said New York City Councilmember David Carr. “It has served as a dignified place of final rest for Black New Yorkers who were denied this right by segregated cemeteries in other parts of the city, and as a peaceful park for people of all backgrounds to come reflect on and celebrate life since 1933. It is my hope that this landmark will remind New Yorkers that we are all equal in the eyes of God.”

"The Board of Directors is thrilled that Frederick Douglass Memorial Park has been selected to receive such an honor," said Frederick Douglass Memorial Park Board President Brandon Stradford. "On behalf of the families of the loved ones entrusted in our care, we extend a heartfelt 'Thank You.'"

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