African American Cemeteries Forum
Rye Cemetery NY
Forgotten black veterans will be honored at Rye cemetery
RYE — Community leaders plan to gather today in the African-American Cemetery for the first time to honor 22 black veterans buried there.
They also hope to generate interest in their effort to restore the Civil War-era burial ground, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and sits next to Greenwood Union Cemetery on North Street. The ceremony starts at 10 a.m.
"Many of them risked their lives for their country," said Tom Kissner, second vice president of the Port Chester-Rye chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "The people sleeping here can't take care of themselves. Someone alive has to protect the place."
The Halstead family gave the 1-acre parcel to the town of Rye in 1860. Some 119 blacks, including 97 civilians, were buried there from 1860 until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act ended racial segregation.
Kissner said shallow dips on the site may indicate that slaves were buried there without markers before 1860.
"These people built the town of Rye," said David Thomas, president of Building Community Bridges, a local group that is helping with the restoration. "They are citizens and members of our community. We should remember and honor them with dignity."
The leaders want to reverse decades of neglect and get rid of poison ivy, cut brush, lift giant headstones that have toppled or sunk and replace missing metal. Some markers are so faded it's unclear who is buried there.
Little is known about many of the families, except for scant details on their headstones. It's believed the family of a man named Robert S. Brown kept the cemetery records in their home, but the documents were apparently lost sometime in the early 1900s, Kissner said.
The leaders want a volunteer to research the families, and they hope eventually to make the cemetery a place where people can learn about local history.
"People can come here and learn, and people can come here to meditate or reflect or just pay their respects to some gallant heroes who have mostly been forgotten," Kissner said.
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