New Discoveries at Rye’s African American Cemetery

Join us for an evening with historian Dave Thomas, President and Founder of the Friends of the African-American Cemetery (FOAAC) and a 2022 recipient of Westchester County’s Sy Schulman Award. Dave has spent well over a decade of his life protecting and preserving the grounds of a sacred place first established in 1860 for the departed loved ones of free Black families in the towns of Rye, Mamaroneck, Scarsdale and Port Chester.  Beyond caring for and repairing the physical gravestones of this once neglected place of interment, he has painstakingly restored the compelling life stories of literally hundreds of the individuals buried there, freely sharing his discoveries with the public and especially with young people including scout groups. He is an ardent advocate for, and practitioner of, studying the past as vital bridge to our collective future. Dave’s research about 19th and 20th century Black heritage and events in Westchester is invaluable at a crucial time in our nation’s reckoning with telling our whole history. In 2019, our nonprofits collaborated on a well received tour of the African American Cemetery and a companion exhibit. 

Dave has also advanced the impactful work of the African American Advisory Board with his tangible contributions to Westchester County’s African American Heritage Trail and he was deservedly selected as a 2020 Trailblazer receiving the John K. Harmon Award for Historic Preservation.

In this program co-sponsored by the City of Rye Human Rights Commission and the Port Chester-Rye NAACP, Dave will share updates about Rye’s African-American Cemetery including recent discoveries and restoration projects accomplished there. The burial ground lies just behind Greenwood Union Cemetery off of North Street and was narrowly spared by the construction of I-95. It is a poignant reminder of a chapter in American history when racism existed even in death as African-Americans were prohibited from being buried in white cemeteries. But thanks to Dave’s activism and tireless commitment, it is now a well-recognized landmark and will forever bear witness to the strength and patriotism of Westchester’s Black community.