Hundreds gather at Sandy Ground Festival

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STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Hundreds flocked to the Sandy Ground Festival Saturday to partake in an annual gathering of friends, down-home food, music and community spirit.

The annual tradition celebrates the history and culture of Staten Island’s African-American community at one of its most significant spots: The grounds were a haven from persecution for freed African-Americans, starting with the first documented land purchase by an African-American on Staten Island in 1828 — three months after slavery was abolished in New York state.

The on site, a historic museum features an exhibit detailing story quilts and the history of  Sandy Ground and its storied families.

The featured heroes of these quilted journeys range from regal African mothers guiding their sons to fallen members of NYPD’s finest and FDNY’s bravest.

“These heritage quilts tell the family histories of individual quilters using family photographs; these quilts are works of art,” says Sylvia Moody D’Alessandro, executive director and a descendant of original settlers at the oldest continually inhabited black settlement in the United States.

In speaking of the festival she adds: “This is our annual festival for people to have a look at what we have to offer, food music, our historic museum and our secret sauce passed down from generation to generation. Two men know about the sauce and they’re sworn to secrecy. And as young adults learn to barbecue and become interested they will learn the secret.”

Mrs. D’Alessandro, an Advance Woman of Achievement in the Class of 1998, said: “People know they can come to our building where admission is free to enjoy the ambiance of neighbors and friends. Visitors consist of people from all over Staten Island.”

“It’s really a mystery community of settlers that first existed in 1828 and grew to 180 families, two churches and two schools interacting within the surrounding communities. The museum was actually built in 1828,” she added.

Sheree Goode, an Advance Woman of Achievement in the Class of 2016, is a member of the board of directors. “This is one of the first fabulous barbecues and the best you’d ever want to go to,” she stated.

The Southern-style feast included stacks an stacks of succulent barbecued ribs and sumptuous chicken, sweet corn on the cob and all the sides, including fresh veggies and salads.

The recipe for Sandy Ground Secret Sauce survived the enslaved South, etched only on the souls of freed oystermen from Maryland and Virginia, to make its way through the Underground Railroad and across the Raritan Bay to live on the first plot of land on record purchased by a black man in Richmond County.

Sworn to secrecy by the Society, they reveal only that the tomato-based sauce — in mild and spicy versions — contains 13 ingredients.

Dinner and dancing was enjoyed under tents with a full lineup of musical sets by the  rhythm and blues Motown sounds of the Deja Blu Band.

By Carol Ann Benanti | benanti@siadvance.com
on June 18, 2016 at 6:20 PM, updated June 18, 2016 at 6:25 PM

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