Sunday, February 17, 2008

Weeksville 2

From the Underground Railroad audio tour that times did on 10/12/07. Here I matched the audio with images of Weeksville. The text from the article

From downtown Brooklyn I rode the A/C line to Utica Avenue in Crown Heights, then walked four long blocks to another cluster of small 19th-century houses enjoying a happier fate. Like a sliver of the rural past, a row of freshly painted wooden homes stands on green grass near the corner of Bergen Street and Buffalo
Avenue, surrounded by modern red-brick monotony. They’re all that remains of the African-American community of Weeksville, which thrived from the 1840s through the 1930s, then was swallowed up by Brooklyn sprawl and all but forgotten. In 1968 the last dilapidated houses were scheduled to be demolished to make way for public housing when preservationists identified and saved them. They were restored and opened for public tours as the Weeksville Heritage Center. Each house is furnished to represent a specific decade, from the 1840s — simple wooden furniture and no indoor plumbing — to the electric lights and washing machine of the 1930s. “Weeksville was founded in 1838, 11 years after the end of slavery in New York state,” Kaitlyn Greenidge, a research assistant, told me. “It was a community founded on land purchased by James Weeks, a free African-American, along with two other investors, buying land in central Brooklyn and cutting it up into plots to sell to other African-Americans.”
By 1855, Weeksville was home to more than 800 residents. They included doctors, craftsmen and businessmen. Weeksville had its own elementary school, orphanage, old-age home and churches, and its own abolitionist newspaper, The Freedman’s Torchlight. Ms. Greenidge said that although Weeksville was widely known as a safe haven for African-Americans, and many blacks from Manhattan relocated there after the vicious draft riots of 1863, there was no documentation to confirm that it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. “But we do know from census records that up to 30 percent of the black people who were living in Weeksville in the 1850s had been born in the South,” she said, which suggests that at least some were escapees. Pamela Green, Weeksville’s executive director, said its mission today is to have an impact on young people. “We want them to see that here were a group of people who were active post-enslavement, who were able to create institutions, to persevere, to create communities,” she said. “What is it about their lives that enabled them to do that in arguably one of the worst periods in history? What can you learn from what they did that will help you in facing the challenges of the 21st century?”
On Abolitionist Place, Ms. Chatel said she would like to see her house put to similar use. “There’s no black museum in Brooklyn to celebrate the Underground Railroad,” she said. “This is the house to do it in. It’s important that the children and all of the people can see what people had to go through to be free.”


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