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Staten Island street to be renamed for Benjamin Prine, last enslaved person born there

Street to be renamed for last enslaved person born in Staten Island
Street to be renamed for last enslaved person born in Staten Island 02:27

NEW YORK - A Staten Island street will soon be named after the last enslaved person born in the borough. 

It's the recognition of a man who lived a difficult and fascinating life. 

But as CBS2's Nick Caloway reports, it's not exactly a happy ending. 

With help from the chorus at P.S. 22, it was all songs and smiles at the announcement that Livermore Avenue in Port Richmond will soon be co-named Benjamin Prine Way. Prine is considered the last person born into slavery from Staten Island. 

"This is in recognition of a man who was very proud, who I had no idea even existed," David Thomas said. 

Thomas found out just a year ago that Prine, once enslaved and a veteran of the war of 1812, was his great, great, great grandfather - but that was only the beginning. 

The African American cemetery where Prine was buried more than a century ago is now a strip mall. Decades ago, the property was sold, paved over, and overlooked - until now. 

"That was the part that was most disheartening. You come in here, and they're being desecrated over and over and over again. He's not the only one. There are children buried here. There was a church. It was a cemetery. And all that's been obliterated and gone," Thomas said. 

Documentarian Heather Quinlan made the discovery that Prine and up to 1,000 others are buried under the strip mall at the busy intersection of Forest and Livermore Avenues. 

Quinlan's work sparked inspiration for the street renaming, and her work continues. 

"This was an opportunity for me to give a voice to people who don't have a voice right now," Quinlan said. 

Ruth Ann Hills is another descendant of Prine suddenly grappling with her family's complicated history. 

"And I'm just glad that something has happened. Something. It's a start," Hills said. 

In addition to the street renaming, officials hope to eventually have a small memorial built at the site to honor those who are buried on the property - those who may never truly rest in peace. 

Monday is the 122nd anniversary of Prine's death. 

Nick Caloway contributed to this report. 

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