Queen Village Neighbors vs. Friends of Bethel Burying Ground

Part of the Weccacoe Playground sits on top of a 19th-century African-American cemetery.


Newspaper clip from Friends of Bethel Burying Ground website.

Last month Duncan Spencer, chair of the Friends of Weccacoe Playground, and Jeff Hornstein, president of the Queen Village Neighbors Association (QVNA), posted an appeal on QVNA’s website to attend tonight’s meeting with Mayor Nutter’s chief of staff, Everett Gillison, about the proposed renovation of the Weccacoe Rec Center in the playground at Fourth and Catherine.

The issue is that a historic African-American cemetery, Bethel Burying Ground, is underneath part of the playground, and that has caused two separate factions to form. Friends of Weccacoe, Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church and QVNA want to renovate the rec center. Friends of Bethel Burying Ground worry about activity on the sacred site and want the building dismantled.

Spencer and Hornstein put their renovation goal this way: “to create an area, functioning within a children’s play setting, that promotes dialogue on the past uses of this sacred piece of ground.”

“We believe that the best way to protect, commemorate, and interpret the historic Bethel Burying Ground is by building an appropriate memorial and renovating Weccacoe Recreation Center to make it a center for learning for our community’s children.”

As for their opponents, they write:

“As you may have read in the newspapers, a group calling itself ‘Friends of Bethel Burying Ground’ — which has no affiliation with Queen Village Neighbors Association or Mother Bethel Church — wants to shut down Weccacoe Recreation Center and possibly the entire playground. This would take a vital play space away from our neighborhood’s children.”

I don’t have an opinion about what should happen to the rec center. But the obvious attempt to discredit the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground is unappealing. Must a group be affiliated with other established groups to have an opinion, express it, and be heard? Are they not entitled to pick a name?

In fact, in today’s Daily News, the two named members of the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground are Joseph Certaine, a former city managing director, and Michael Coard, the well-known lawyer and activist. But even if they were two men who’d never held jobs, and lived on the streets for the past 10 years, they’d be equally entitled to an opinion.

Spencer and Hornstein urge residents to attend the meeting or to call Mayor Nutter “and tell him ‘Do not play politics with our community’s kids.'”

I would say don’t play politics with cries of “the children!” either. After all, this discussion is about more than just this generation of children. Let’s hope both sides can appreciate the other’s perspective tonight and keep it civil.

WHAT: Public Meeting on Renovation of Weccacoe Rec Center and Playground
WHERE: African American Museum, Seventh and Arch streets
WHEN: 6:30 p.m.