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Vets Honored at Rye African-American Cemetery

Dave Thomas led a small Veterans Day ceremony Saturday at the African-American cemetery in Rye that supporters hope to one day turn into an educational center.

“This was a segregated cemetery until 1964—there are approximately 120 veterans that are buried in this cemetery and most of those veterans are from the Civil War and what we’re doing here is commemorating their service and all the other veterans who served here from World War I and II, the Korean War and the Spanish-American War,” said Thomas, the president of Building Community Bridges. “The whole project is we’re trying to make this cemetery an educational center for those who want to study African-American history in the Town of Rye and Westchester.”

The group intends to have two ceremonies a year, one on Veterans Day and another on Memorial Day.

Rev. Frieda Smith, the pastor of the Rehoboth Christian Church in Dobbs Ferry, has a brother buried at the cemetery.

“He was only five days old. He was a twin born on Nov. 25, 1954,” she said. “He passed away and about three years ago, my sister tried to track down where he was buried and found out he was buried here, so the mystery is how he got here because our family never lived in Rye and he was not a veteran, but my father was a veteran and we found out through the funeral director that the Westchester Veterans had paid for his body to be buried here We know what grave and lot he is in, but according to the maps we cannot be specific to the exact location.”

The small slice of American history is located adjacent to the Greenwood Union Cemetery in Rye and owned by the town of Rye. The African-American Cemetery is a county landmark and was listed on the state register of historic places on May 11, 2003, and a national register of historic places on October 3, 2003.

“Years ago when I was the president of the Port Chester-Rye branch, I began visiting the cemetery to ensure that there was no vandalism or physical damage caused by windstorms—and I worked with the Town of Rye to help make sure it was maintained,” said Tom Kissner, the second vice-president of the Port Chester-Rye NAACP. “And I kept it going until we connected with the right people, Mr. Larry Hunter of our branch connected with the Town of Rye officials and they got the idea of having these ceremonies and this is our second Veterans Day here.”

Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin, County Legislator George Latimer, and a number of veterans and their families were on hand for the ceremony.

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