Black Activist Histories of Cypress Hills Cemetery: A Walking Tour

Black Activist Histories of Cypress Hills Cemetery: A Walking Tour

Brooklyn, New York 11214, United States

Created By: Alyssa Moore

Tour Information

Welcome to Cypress Hills Cemetery.

This walking tour delves into activist histories of New York's Black communities. Through the exploration of five individuals who are interred here, it aims to offer a nuanced understanding of the many ways in which Black communities resisted structural racism and prejudice over time. Temporally, the tour covers several decades of activist histories, from the 1850s through the 1970s. At times, the individual narratives intersect with one another. Each individual's grave stop includes historical anecdotes whose significance is then situated within the context of New York City. This research is informed by both primary and secondary source research.

Historical Background of Cypress Hills Cemetery

Previously farmland, Cypress Hills was founded by the Rural Cemetery Act in 1848, which spurred the creation of several large cemeteries along the Brooklyn-Queens border in what became known as the "Cemetery Belt". From its outset, all 225 acres of Cypress Hills was denoted as a non-sectarian cemetery, and as such was dubbed “the people’s graveyard” by an 1881 guidebook entitled The Cemeteries of New York, and How To Reach Them. Today, Cypress Hills is known for the ethnic, religious, and social diversity of its residents, who are buried in groupings known as “neighborhoods of the dead.” This is especially true for New York's Black communities, who have long had a strong presence at the cemetery. Two of New York’s earliest Black churches, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, purchased lots at Cypress Hills in the mid-nineteenth century as burial grounds for their congregations.

About the Creator

Alyssa is a graduate student at New York University. As a transplant to New York City, her interest in the creation of this walking tour stems from her curiosity about the long history of the city's diverse Black communities and the context of their activism within the broader history of New York.

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

Escape from Enslavement Wallace Turnage was born around 1846 into enslavement in North Carolina. Following Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, Turnage joined the mass movement of slaves who took freedom into their own ... Read more
Navigating Race Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born on January 31, 1919. Just two generations removed from slavery, his parents eked out a living as sharecroppers in Georgia. When his father left the family a year after his birth, Robinson... Read more
"Nineteenth Century Rosa Parks" Nearly a century before Rosa Parks was arrested on a Montgomery bus, Elizabeth Jennings ignited a movement to desegregate public transit in New York City. On a Sunday morning in July 1854, Jennings and her f... Read more
Breaking Into the Performance Industry James Hubert “Eubie” Blake was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1887. His parents, Emily Johnstone and John Sumner Blake, were born into enslavement in Virginia, and his father served in the Union Ar... Read more
An Aspiring Stage Performer Rosetta LeNoire was born on August 8, 1911 in Harlem. Her love for performing was nurtured by her godfather Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who helped her overcome rickets as a young girl by teaching her to dance.... Read more


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