Friday, April 18, 2014

Community Conversation

On Monday May 5 at 6:30PM the Nutter Administration is hosting a community conversation about the future of the Weccacoe Playground and the Bethel Burying Ground. It will be held at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, located at 7th and Arch Streets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Habari gani Friend

Friends of Bethel Burying Ground Coalition

Habari gani Friend

During recent weeks we have been working diligently to inform the general public, especially the African-American community in Philadelphia about the rediscovery of an historic African-American cemetery that is underneath a playground in the Southwark section of the city. The cemetery contains the interred remains of at least 5,000 black Philadelphians who lived in the city between the 18th and 19th centuries almost half of the remains are those of children. It is located in the 400 block of Queen Street one block north of Catherine Street underneath the building at Weccacoe Playground.

The people buried there are the people who founded the black community in Philadelphia. They are our ancestors in the African Diaspora, the very people who are collectively responsible for our community’s continued existence in the 21st century.  Their existence was rediscovered by an independent historian, who tried to get Philadelphia leaders to pay attention, to no avail, to the significance of this major historic rediscovery and its impact. The site is completely owned by the City of Philadelphia.  The city intends to allow the local community group to renovate the playground and the building, even though they are aware of the existence of the Bethel Burying Ground underneath the building and part of the tennis court.

You have become a part of the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground Coalition to help build broader public input and oversight on the future of this historic sight.  As always there are some people who don’t welcome broader public interest in this major historic site.  They felt empowered by low-level bureaucrats in the government of the City of Philadelphia to try and take charge of the future of this nationally important historic cemetery.  Our work to educate our community and ensure broader interest and participation in protecting Bethel Burying Ground is imperative to ensuring that our history in Philadelphia is permanently protected and preserved. We cannot continue to allow people who do not share our interest in preserving our history to determine the future of this historic site. Please recruit more people and organizations to support our efforts. We are encouraging Philadelphians to contact and/or visit the Mayor and the At Large members of Philadelphia City Council. There is additional information attached to this correspondence.

This coalition now has more than sixty-five community activists from Philadelphia’s grass roots organizations.  These are all solid community leaders who are respected in their neighborhoods and in their organizations.  Since we have barely just begun, it is an indication of how much our work is supported. We must do all that we can to protect and preserve Bethel Burying Ground. It almost seems that the ancestors are guiding us. We cannot ignore their call.

We will soon be ready to attend community meetings and other gathering, to urge folks to stand up for Bethel Burying Ground by joining our grass roots campaign for preservation. Please do what you can to help get information to people, so they can join us in our mission. Your attendance and participation in recent public meetings and signing up to join the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground, has allowed us the opportunity to be sure our message reaches thousands of our neighbors.

Now, we need to know if you are ready to help in the campaign. 1)  We need operations volunteers to help build events at the neighborhood level. 2) We must also reschedule the Libation and the offering of a public prayer at Bethel Burying Ground.  3)  We want to speak at community meetings and events to let others know what they can do to help. This requires a Vanguard that is prepared to take the field. 

If you are one of those people send an e-mail to
The coalition also needs volunteers to help with communications and others to help with funding and resources. There’s a lot of work to be done and we need committed folks to step forward. We can also use as many financial sponsors as possible, to help pay for printing and other costs like the flyer and button we’ve included. So let us know how you can help.
We think it’s also important to have representatives of the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground Coalition who can attend meetings and speak on behalf of our coalition. So, send us a message letting us know where you want to become involved. You’ll be invited to a small meeting with folks who want to work on the same thing and you’ll get started. It will be necessary from time to time for all of us to perform collective assignments. You’ll be advised with plenty of time to prepare.

The next meeting of the Coalition will be on Saturday morning May 3, 2014 at the Church of the Advocate, 1801 Diamond Street (entrance on Gratz Street) at 10:00 a.m. You should make every effort to attend.  In the meantime, here is the contact information for the Mayor and the At-Large members of Philadelphia City Council.  You should contact them and let them know they must do everything they can to support our efforts.
Michael A. Nutter - D
Room 215, City Hall   
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290   
P: (215) 686-2181
F: (215) 686-2180
W. Wilson Goode, Jr. - D

William K. Greenlee - D
City Hall, Room 316
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215) 686-3414/3415
F: (215) 686-1928
City Hall, Room 508
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215) 686-3446/3447
F: (215) 686-1927

David Oh - R

James F. Kenney - D
City Hall, Room 319
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215) 686-3452/3453
F: (215) 686-1925
City Hall, Room 330
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215) 686-3450/3451
F: (215) 686-2013


Blondell Reynolds Brown - D
City Hall, Room 312
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215) 686-3420/3421
F: (215) 686-1930
City Hall, Room 581
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215)686-3438/3439
F: (215) 686-1926

Dennis O'Brien - R
City Hall, Room 582
Philadelphia, PA 19107-3290
P: (215) 686-3440/3441
F: (215) 686-1929

Thursday, April 3, 2014

“He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

On this date in 1819 a twenty-six year old woman was buried at the Bethel Burying Ground. She was Amelia Brown. Her  grave stone read: “He that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”

Ms. Brown's tombstone was discovered on July 25, 2013 during an archaeological investigation of the Bethel Burying Ground. This stone is currently on display at the Mother Bethel AME Church at 6th and Lombard Streets in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Seeking common ground over historic burial site in Queen Village

VALERIE RUSS, Daily News Staff Writer, 215-854-5987

TODAY, THE libations for what may have been the nation's oldest privately owned African-American cemetery that was not part of a churchyard will be heaven-sent, rather than man-made.

A prayer and libation ceremony to honor some 5,000 people buried at the rediscovered Bethel Burying Ground in Queen Village that had been set for today has been postponed - but supporters of the burial ground continue to fight for the honor they believe the sacred site deserves.

"This is probably one of the most important African-American memorials or monuments we have in this town," said Joe Certaine, spokesman for the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground.

The prayer service was to be an opportunity "to reconnect spiritually with the ancestors buried there and an opportunity to say a public prayer over the 5,000 souls buried there," Certaine said.

The burial ground - now beneath part of the Weccacoe Playground on Lawrence Street between Catharine and Queen - was purchased by Richard Allen, the founder of Mother Bethel AME Church, in 1810. In the late 1890s, the city purchased the cemetery, which had been filled to capacity with six to seven layers of bodies on top of each other, historian Terry Buckalew said.
The Friends of Bethel Burying Ground announced its formation last month after archaeological studies in November revealed that thousands of people were buried beneath a portion of the playground adjacent to Queen Street.
Buckalew pushed for the studies after learning three years ago that the city's Parks & Recreation Department was planning major playground renovations.
Buckalew said at first, the city seemed ready to go ahead with renovations despite knowledge of the burial ground. That's when he filed paperwork to get the site onto the city's Register of Historic Places.

"This was the first time a group of free African-Americans purchased land that was not attached to a church," Buckalew said. "That was in April 1810. It's quite a legacy."

He and other supporters are also trying to have the burial ground listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jeff Hornstein, president of the Queen Village Neighbors Association, said the neighborhood also supports protecting and commemorating the burial ground.

"When we first learned about the burial ground, I was excited," Hornstein said, adding that he thought it was "outrageous" there wasn't already a historic designation there. "I'm living half a block away from perhaps the most important black graveyard in the country."

Hornstein said for the last two years, the position of the Queen Village group has been that the renovations should not disturb the burial site and that the ground's history should be told.

The burial ground runs underneath about a third of the playground, including a small community center and about 20 percent of the tennis courts.
Duncan Spencer, president of Friends of Weccacoe Playground, proposed that the neighborhood give up the tennis courts, and instead use the space for soccer.
Hornstein said there isn't much controversy over the grounds, because all are in agreement that the site should be honored.

"There's no fight here," he said. "The city has been managing this process very well."

But Certaine and Buckalew said the issues aren't as close to resolution as some may think.

"We want that building gone," Buckalew said of the community center. "There are two public toilets. . . . There's no reason you should have public toilets over graves."

Hornstein said he would prefer to keep the community center because it is the only public space in the area. He said he had also hoped to renovate the building and turn it into a tutoring center for neighborhood children. Now, he said, he would also like to see part of the center include historical information about the burial ground and those laid to rest there.

The Rev. Mark Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel, at 6th and Lombard streets, said he had not been scheduled to take part in the prayer service today. He said he declined to participate because he hadn't been included its planning. "I am open to planning a shared remembrance or prayer service . . . provided we are at the table together doing the planning," Tyler said.

Tyler said descendants of Richard Allen have no problem with a playground being adjacent to the burial site.

The burial-ground group made some headway after meeting earlier this month with Mayor Nutter's chief of staff, Everett Gillison, and other city officials, Buckalew said.

After that meeting, he said, the Water Department agreed to either block off or replace a water line that supporters feel is threatening the burial ground.
"There is a large water main under Queen Street that was put in 1835 that is very close to the bodies," he said. "It has to be shut down or a new pipe put in. The city wouldn't want the bones of those buried people washing down Queen Street."

Certaine said he is most concerned that the city takes charge of the historical site.

"This is serious Philadelphia history and African-American history," he said. "It has to be treated that way by a city administration that is responsible for the property.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Prayer Service Postponed

The prayer service at Bethel Burying Ground on Saturday March 29 at 1:00 p.m. is being postponed because of inclement weather. The weather forecast calls for a steady rain.

Please advise anyone else you know, who planned to attend, that the service is being postponed.  We will determine when to reschedule at the next meeting of the Friends of Bethel Burying Ground Coalition.

The next Coalition meeting is scheduled for Saturday April 5, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. It will be held at the Church of the Advocate, 18th and Diamond Streets in Philadelphia, PA. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Email address

If you have any questions or comments you can reach me directly at

Terry Buckalew

Those that were interred at Bethel Burying Ground on this date over the years.

Ellen Jedler was 23 years old when she died of Tuberculosis at the age of 23 years on March 26 1812. Consumption, as it was also called, is a disease spread by poverty and the crowded living and working spaces that fosters its horrible existence. In addition to the lungs it destroys the cellular tissue of most of the bodies systems including the nervous, circulatory, lymphatic, gastrointestinal and genitourinary systems. It also devastates the bones, joints and skin of the body.

Jonathan Adams was stillborn on March 26, 1822. Lack of proper nutrition due to poverty was often the cause of stillborn babies, debilitated newborns who were very vulnerable to disease and sickly mothers who were susceptible to the deadly Puerperal Fever, commonly known as “Childbed Fever.

Marvelous Gibbs was only 8 months old when he died of Hydrocephalus on March 26, 1822. The Gibbs family lived on Lombard Street near 7th within view of Mother Bethel Church. There are two kinds of hydrocephalus. Congenital hydrocephalus is present at birth. Causes include genetic problems and problems with how the fetus develops. Acquired hydrocephalus can occur at any age. Causes can include head injuries, strokes, infections, tumors and bleeding in the brain. The cause of Baby Gibbs illness is not stated.

Sarah Ann Evans was 4 years old at the time of her death on March 26, 1824. The cause of death is listed as “Hectic Fever” which was commonly used to describe the fever that accompanied Tuberculosis.

Anna E. Anderson died at the age of 2 months due to convulsions on March 26, 1841. The cause of the seizures are not documented, but could have been cause by a long list of diseases including Cholera, Pneumonia and Scarlet Fever. Anna lived with her mother Ann at 90 Bedford Street, which was little more than an alley between South and Bainbridge Streets near the Delaware River.

Robert Carson was 31 years of age when he died from a “lumbar abscess” on March 26, 1841. This type of disorder was often caused by external violence or Tuberculosis which evolved into a high fever, sepsis and death. Mr. Carson was a cordwainer or a shoemaker who makes fine soft leather shoes. He had lived at 104 Prime Street (now Washington Avenue), however at the time of his death he resided on Brown Street below Arch Street.

Mary Ann Norton died of Tuberculosis on March 26, 1847 at 24 years of age. She lived at 3rd and Vine Street.

Elizabeth Cunningham was 21 years old at the time of her death was Tuberculosis on March 26, 1850. She resided at #1 Cox Court, a small alleyway near 2nd and Bainbridge Streets.