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Bed-Stuy Garden Honors Past and Present With New Memorial

 The Hattie Carthan Garden in Bed-Stuy unveiled the memorial on Aug. 24.
A new memorial at the Hattie Carthan Garden honors its past.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — One of Bedford-Stuyvesant's oldest and largest gardens is paying homage to its past and present with a memorial to the people who tended it.

Hattie Carthan Garden's memorial project combines audio, video and photography, along with a memorial wall with the names of farmers who have passed away, to honor the work of the volunteers who tended the space, said garden Vice President Yonnette Fleming.

"This is our attempt to honor our people, our place and our stories," said Fleming, 46. "This is about telling our stories in our own words, this is about honoring our lives and our commitment to the land and this is about announcing our commitment to Bedford-Stuyvesant for 30 years."

The memorial was unveiled on Aug. 24.

Though it officially became a garden as part of the city's GreenThumb initiative in 1991, Fleming said neighbors had begun tending the land as early as the 1970s after St. Augustine Church, which previously occupied the space at 677 Lafayette Ave., burned down.

Since that time, gardeners have come and gone, and longtime friendships were forged, Fleming said.

"I know many of the people on the wall," Fleming said. "They walked with me and worked with me, some up until the day they died."

Melvin McLaughlin, 59, is a long-time member of the garden who said he spends most of his time at Hattie Carthan.

On a recent visit, McLaughlin reminisced about former members listed on the new memorial wall, like Gline White, a founding member of the garden with a knack for building things, who died in 2008 at the age of 53.

"We call him the pioneer of the garden," McLaughlin said. "He built a lot of the benches, the tables, the barbecue pit. If things got broken, he'd fix them."

McLaughlin, who grew up in Rockingham, N.C. before moving to Bed-Stuy in 1966, said what he remembers most about the eight men and women on the memorial wall are the times spent relaxing with each other in that garden.

"We'd have a few laughs, maybe drink a beer," McLaughlin said. "Most of these guys were retired. That's why I spend my time here, because I'm retired, too. I'm up every morning as if I'm still coming to work."

As part of the memorial, members of the garden also hung pictures of the garden's history around the perimeter fence and have begun recording each others' stories in audio form.

The Oral Histories Project is a compilation of those recordings, which Fleming said would be updated regularly on the garden's website.

Fleming said she hopes that each of these projects will help the gardeners leave a lasting legacy in the community.

"Life is not promised to any of us," Fleming said. "So we have to honor the work we're doing and be very careful and intentional about telling our stories while we're alive."