Landmarks Holds Public Hearing for Frederick Douglass Memorial Park in Staten Island

Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. Image Credit: LPC.

On May 21, 2024, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public hearing for the Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. The memorial park, located at 3201 Amboy Road in Staten Island, was created in the 1930s to provide a place for the city’s African American population to be buried with dignity and respect at a time where many cemeteries had separate entrances and less desired sections of cemeteries for people based on race. 

The park was founded in 1933 by Rodney Dade in partnership with Benjamin Diamond and Frederick A. Bunn. The trio commissioned J. Wallace Higgens, a civil engineer and landscape architect, to design the memorial park. The 14.88 acre park follows 20th century cemetery models focusing on landscaping and nature. Curving pathways, flat monuments, and watering and drainage systems can be found around the park. The park’s original design included a spot for a future memorial for abolitionist, writer, and activist Frederick Douglass.

The park first accepted burials on June 10, 1935. The Douglass monument was dedicated in 1961 and features a low-relief sculpture by English sculptor Angus McGougall. The cemetery office building on the north side of the park is associated with Staten Island architect James Whitford. The building was enlarged in 1961. The park’s front gates were replaced in 2018. 

Some of the notable people buried in the memorial park include jazz and blues singer Mamie Smith in 1946; jazz trumpeter Tommy Ladnier in 1939; and professional baseball player Sol White in 1955. The memorial park is still an active cemetery today.

Council Member Kamillah Hanks, who represents the district the memorial park is in, testified in support of the application. She is also the Chair of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Sitings, and Dispositions. Council Member Hanks stated, “It is with great honor and responsibility that I provide testimony this morning in support of the designation of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park. . . [the memorial park] is more than a cemetery, it is a profound testament to the enduring spirit and historical significance of New York City’s African American community.” Council Member Hanks continued to highlight the history of the memorial park and the contributions of some of its interred. Council Member Hanks had also signed a joint letter of support for designation with the other Staten Island Council Members, Joe Borelli and David Carr. 

Several others spoke in support of the designation, including multiple members of the board of directors of the memorial park. Brandon P. Stratford, the board’s President, Lynn Cuffee, the board’s Secretary. According to Mr. Stratford, between the board members alone they have approximately 70 family members buried in the memorial park, so the park holds major significance for them and as a board they want to protect and promote the memorial park. He stated, “the people interred there still have a voice,” and that it was important to uphold, share and contribute to the ongoing history of the city’s African American communities. Ms. Cuffee stated, “we thank you for recognizing the historical significance of our cemetery and the richness of African American culture that it represents to New York and to others who had to travel far to Frederick Douglass Memorial Park to rest in peace.” 

New York Landmarks Conservancy Director of Preservation Services Blaire Walsh also spoke in support, stating that the park deserves recognition for both “its history and its design.” Lucie Levine, Preservation Advocacy and Community Outreach Manager at the Historic Districts Council also spoke in support. 

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will vote on this designation at a later date. 

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the Editor of CityLand and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)




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