47-11 90th Street

1908-1928, AME Church

In 1828, one year after the abolition of slavery in New York State, newly freed African Americans formed a religious community and congregation of their own. The United African Society, later known as the African Methodist Episcopal Church, established a church and burial ground at this site.

St. Marks A.M.E Church started as a small church surrounded by a cemetery which would later be replaced by a new building thanks to the efforts made by the congregation and contributions from other local churches. Construction began in 1908, but only the shell of the building would be completed due to a lack of funds.

In 1911, the Queens Building Department deemed it unsafe and ordered posts to be set up in the basement to hold up the weight of the floor. This prompted renewed efforts to raise money, and by the end of the year, the church was completed and dedicated. Little is known about what happened to this building, but in 1928 the congregation moved to a new location in North Corona and attempted to move their deceased, but the City of New York declined the request and only twenty remains were successfully transferred.

While there are no physical markers that remain of this burial ground, documentation has determined that there are 310 interments, the majority of which remain beneath the earth today. Nearly forgotten, vast public interest of this site was awakened after Martha Peterson was found in an iron coffin in 2011. Ms. Peterson’s life — and death — was the subject of a special television program that aired on PBS in 2018.

Though small plot of land has survived as a touchstone to one of the earliest freed African American communities in the region and its history is nearly as old as freed African American society in New York State itself.

Photo courtesy of the Queens Library.