Today, title to the site of the African burial ground on Pine Street in Kingston was transferred to the African-American heritage organization, Harambee, from the Kingston Land Trust (KLT) with a conservation easement granted by Harambee to the KLT to protect the site in perpetuity.
The two nonprofit organizations purchased the site in 2019 in collaboration with Scenic Hudson. With this new arrangement of ownership and protection, Harambee and the KLT will continue to remain in partnership “in service of the site and the public good.”
Records of the site date back to 1750 when the trustees of Kingston identified a section of the common area outside the walled settlement of Kingston to be used as a burial ground for enslaved Africans, who at the time were denied church burial. The site’s unofficial use for this purpose may date back even further. In the mid-1800s the land was portioned off into private property and used first as a lumberyard and then as a private residence. By the time Harambee and the KLT set out to raise awareness about the site’s existence, there were no remaining above-ground indicators of the burial ground, despite the existence of the hundreds of graves still contained within.
“This land is our ancestors’ final resting place and they can surely rejoice that they are now officially in the care of their own, and we can now create a space of education on their sacrifices that allowed us to be here today,” says Tyrone Wilson, executive director of Harambee. “We will not let their work and death go in vain; what a monumental day today is.”
As a land trust, the Kingston Land Trust has the power to acquire conservation easements granted by Article 49, Title 3, of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law. Harambee identified the KLT as the appropriate land trust to hold a conservation easement for the Pine Street African Burial Ground due to the alliance built between KLT and Harambee during the joint campaign to protect the site in 2019. The conservation easement was written collaboratively by the Kingston Land Trust and Harambee over the past year, with guidance from Scenic Hudson. Plans for the terms of transfer of ownership and the conservation easement were presented by all three organizations to the community for feedback at a public meeting held at the Ulster County Restorative Justice Center in February 2020.
Even before today’s official transfer of ownership, Harambee has had full access to and leadership at the site. With support from the Kingston Land Trust and other organizations and volunteers, the grounds have been cleaned up from decades of neglect and a community-based design process for use of the space was initiated in 2019. Garden beds and log-stools were installed this summer and African heritage crops were grown, all with the support of the Kingston Land Trust, KaN Landscape Design, Grow Well Kingston, the Kingston YMCA Farm Project, Youth Design team and other community volunteers. The KLT commissioned monitoring and pruning of the site’s massive locust trees identified by the community as a compelling natural link to history. Harambee is renovating the house for future programming and will continue to implement aspects of the design proposed last March by the Pine Street African Burial Ground Youth Design Team into their plans to convert this residential backyard containing the burial ground into a memorial site that is open to the public.