SUNY Purchase honors graves of enslaved Africans believed to be on campus
Once, they were forgotten. Now, they're celebrated.
A plaque was unveiled Tuesday at Purchase College to honor the graves of enslaved Africans thought to be on campus grounds.
About six years ago, farmer and activist Karen Washington says she heard about the site while speaking at the school but was shocked by what she found.
"I was excited at first, but then I was taken aback because there were headstones unmarked, in disrepair,” she said.
That has changed. The space is being celebrated, honored and remembered. It's partly thanks to a Purchase College senior, Quincy Alexander.
"It was just a personal project,” he said. “I have always heard that there were enslaved people on this property – it’s a Purchase legend. I just wanted to see if I could find any evidence of that and it became a little bigger than I expected."
The student found what he was looking for – evidence that the Thomas family, who once lived on the land, owned slaves and may have buried them there.
Students and faculty since have expanded on his initial research and will continue to do so.
While it's not for sure that the enslaved Africans were buried there, the college says the possibility is enough to warrant action.
The college installed a plaque that explains the history of the site. There was also a Libation ceremony held on the grounds – an essential ceremonial tradition and way of giving homage to ancestors.
Anyone who would like to learn more about the grounds of Purchase College can visit the school’s website.