Wednesday, March 2, 2011

History Lesson at Cypress Hills Cemetery by Lisa L. Colangelo - NY Daily News

Read original...

Bearing flowers, Naomi King went on a Black History Month tour of Cypress Hills Cemetery last week.

Myeisha Nixon stared at the elaborate gravestone for jazz great Eubie Blake as she listened to a brief lecture about his numerous accomplishments.
"It's fun and exciting to learn about new things," said the bubbly 10-year-old as she walked through Cypress Hills Cemetery last week to hear about the famous African-Americans buried on its sprawling grounds.
But the unusual setting made the trip a little more exciting - and eerie, she admitted.
"They can stack graves on top of each other!" she exclaimed, her eyes widening, when she learned that coffins in family plots are sometimes stacked.
The group of Brooklyn youngsters went on the tour as part of a Black History Month celebration organized by Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D-Brooklyn) and Cypress Hills Cemetery.
The cemetery has embarked on a campaign to celebrate its famous permanent residents, which include a number of African-American trailblazers.
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson is buried there, along with writer and historian Arturo Schomburg and Charlotte Ray, the first female African-American lawyer in the nation.
Taliayah Rios, 11, and Marianny Rodriguez, 10, left flowers at the gravesites of Charlotte Ray and Wallace Turnage, a slave whose thrilling story of escape was detailed in the book "A Slave No More."
"I thought it would be really creepy to come here," said Marianny. "But it's fun and interesting."
Towns said he was amazed to discover the rich history in Cypress Hills, a 210 acre site that straddles Brooklyn and Queens.
"I had lived in the community for over 40 years and never knew the treasures we had in Cypress Hills," said Towns.
"When youngsters see that these heroes chose this as their final resting place, it might make them take a second look at our community and remember it deserves respect. It's not a place where you litter and graffiti."
Stephen Duer and Allan Smith, co-authors of a book about the cemetery, served as tour guides answering questions along the route.
Some of the kids were captivated by the colorful, heartbreaking memorials and headstones for infants.
"We're a monument-loving society," said Duer. "In my opinion, every stone in a cemetery is a monument to a life lived and has a story to tell."