Story written by Leslie Palma-Simoncek, Director of Communications at Priests for Life
Dr. Alveda King, director of African-American Outreach for the Staten Island-based Priests for Life and niece of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was given a special tour of the Sandy Ground Historical Society Museum in Rossville by Sylvia D’Allesandro, executive director, who grew up in the community and is linked to several of its founding families.
Dr. King, an Atlanta resident, watched the 20th century civil rights movement unfold as she grew up in Birmingham. Ala., where her home was firebombed and her classmates killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Her father, Rev. A.D. King, was found dead in his family’s swimming pool, and the family holds firm to the certainty that he was murdered for his advocacy of the rights of people of color. Dr. King’s Uncle Martin was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, when she was a teenager.
Dr. King travels to Staten Island every month for pastoral team meetings at Priests for Life and when she learned about the free African-Americans who came to the borough of New York City in the 19th century and settled Sandy Ground, she wanted to visit the community that at first grew strawberries in the sandy ground of the Island’s South Shore and later harvested oysters that were served in the finest restaurants.
The community was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and an exhibit currently on display at the museum highlights some of the lesser-known individuals who were committed to restoring freedom to African-American men, women and children.
Dr. King also got to visit the landmarked Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church, which also was an important part of the Underground Railroad, and greet the Rev. Janet Jones, pastor.
Anyone planning a visit to New York City should make the trip to Staten Island’s South Shore to visit Sandy Ground, located at 1538 Woodrow Rd. For information, call (718) 317-5796.