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Lost Black Burial Ground Located On Property Of New Milford Grammar School

Bertrand F. Gibbs Elementary School in New Milford
Bertrand F. Gibbs Elementary School in New Milford Photo Credit: INSET: Facebook / BACKGROUND: Hedy Grant

A tireless two-year search ended with the discovery of a Black cemetery on the grounds of a New Milford grammar school, a borough councilwoman announced.

“The old burying ground is at the north end of the B. F. Gibbs Elementary School,” said Councilwoman Hedy Grant, who’d been searching for the site. “More specifically, it's on the field just east of the parking lot."

The remains likely were undisturbed when landfill was laid during construction of the K-5 Bertrand F. Gibbs Elementary School on Sutton Place near Main and New Milford avenues, she said.

It’s cause for celebration, indeed, but also a painful reminder of a final indignity of segregation.

Excluded from white-owned cemeteries, Black Americans built their own.

Today, forgotten, neglected or ignored Black cemeteries – at least those that haven’t been bulldozed -- are spread throughout the United States. Black cemeteries are located beneath the University of Pennsylvania campus, on the property of the MTA bus depot in Harlem and under a golf course in Tallahassee, Florida.

Unofficial totals put the number of Black graveyards in New Jersey alone at 50 or so.

“New Jersey had more enslaved people within its borders than any other northern state,” Grant noted Wednesday. “There were still enslaved people in New Jersey as late as 1866.”

The councilwoman was researching the history of her historic house when she discovered a handwritten deed dated Jan. 23, 1883 that used an “old colored burying ground” as a landmark.

“It was either on my property or nearby,” she said.

Historian Peggy W. Norris joined Grant on what became a successful quest, culminating in an announcement at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

“I would love to see a formal, blue historic marker erected at the spot,” Grant posted Wednesday on Facebook. “It would not only be an educational tool for our children (and their parents and everyone else!) but it would commemorate and honor those buried there who were probably enslaved and forgotten.”

To do so, the New Milford Board of Education would have to submit application to the Bergen County Historical Society asking to have the burying ground accepted as a valid historical site.

“The process is complicated but not very costly,” Grant said.

She said she’s confident that the board “will see this as the right thing to do for the reasons noted above and will vote to go forward.”

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