The history of St. Marks AME Church in Queens, NY reveals some insight to the woman in the iron coffin’s identity.
Secrets of the Dead: The Woman in the Iron Coffin Premieres Wednesday, October 3 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
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The Landmarks Commission explained that the property where we discovered the body was the site of the African church right on Corona Avenue.
Originally it was called Dutch Lane and it had changed names a few of times over the period of the 19th century.
I was able to uncover the original deed for the Dutch Lane cemetery property, which was sold to the United African Society in 1828.
Only one year after full emancipation in New York, the African American community in Newtown established its own church.
The African American population who lived in Newtown were either the children of slaves or they were former slaves themselves.
But at this point, they are free people, who have sufficient funds that they are able to buy property for a cemetery.
There isn''t a lot of wealth in the African American community but they are able to build a church.
The African American community organised itself right from the beginning in very, very powerful ways And the whole concept of mutual relief was really the bedrock of the African American community.
You come together in fellowship and brotherhood, and everybody puts in a certain amount of money and that is then reserved to help anybody in need.
And then you have black churches, black denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal church, AME church.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church was a church that grew out of protest.
African Americans in Philadelphia, who were members of the predominantly white Methodist church were essentially discriminated and asked to sit in segregated pews and they refused to do that and left and formed their own church the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and this took off and many other African Methodist Episcopal Churches formed as a way of sort of protesting racial discriminations and segregation in white churches.
Churches are engaged in political activism and one example would be the Amistad case, when a group of slaves who had mutinied on the Amistad come ashore.
And so black churches galvanised to send money.
So, churches are really important, not just from a religious point of view but from a social and political point of view.
Today, St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal stands just one mile from the original Dutch Lane church.
Its history can be traced all the way back to the community established by the United African Society of Newtown, more than 160 years ago.