Council Speaker Johnson Remembers Those Forgotten On Hart Island

November 30, 2018 - 6:02 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — Hart Island is out of sight and out of mind for many New Yorkers, but the small plot of land has a significant spot in the city’s history.

During the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, thousands of bodies were buried on the island in what has commonly become known as Potter’s Field.

It’s not clear the exact number of AIDS victims that are buried there and unfortunately, state officials have been reluctant to investigate.

Though, just days before World AIDS Day, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson visited the island to pay respects.

Arriving on Tuesday, he called his visit “emotional” and noted that the mass graves seemed forgotten there.

“Sadly, I think because it's a small island where the East River and the Long Island Sound meet, it's sort of out of sight, out of mind for many New Yorkers,” Johnson said.

“Almost a million people, almost a million souls are buried on Hart Island,” the speaker told WCBS 880.

Johnson is openly gay and HIV positive and has been active in educating New Yorkers about the HIV and AIDS virus.  

He emotionally recounted his visit to WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb, saying he was grateful for the chance “to visit one of the early mass grave sites on the southern tip of the island, from 1985, where tens of thousands of people who died of AIDS were buried.”

Hart Island has become an untold chapter of the AIDS crisis, and due to the stigma and lifestyle associated with AIDS, many patients that were then buried there were often forgotten by estranged loved ones.

“People wouldn't even provide funeral services for them, their family wouldn't claim them, and so they were sent to Hart Island and put in 30-foot mass graves,” Johnson explained.

It’s unclear if there will ever be an investigation into the exact number of bodies buried in Potter’s Field, but Johnson's visit told him the Department of Correction is not the right agency to oversee the 131-acres.

He notes that the people buried there deserve more remembrance and respect.