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‘In Pursuit of Freedom’

The Brooklyn Paper
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Remembering Brooklyn’s history in fighting off the evils of American slavery will get easier thanks to two federal grants totaling $1.336 million.

The money will allow the recipients of the grants -- the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), the Weeksville Heritage Center and Irondale Ensemble Project -- to further fund ‘In Pursuit of Freedom,’ a multi-faceted program that memorializes the history of the Abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn.

“The history of Abolition is complex and powerful,” said BHS President Deborah Schwartz. “The struggle for freedom was not only fought on battlefields, but also in churches, schools, newspapers and communities all over America. Brooklyn leaders and activists, black and white, were vital to the national movement. Their untold stories need to be understood. With this project we hope to invigorate civic discourse about the relationship of this pivotal history to our present lives.”

Schwartz said the three-year funding project will be done in two stages with the first year consisting of research through both the BHS collection as well as in the Schaumburg Center in Harlem and the archives of several local churches that might bring new light to the borough’s role in the Abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad.

While it is fairly well-known that Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement as well as such churches as the Lafayette Presbyrtarian Church in Fort Green, other areas of the borough also appear to have been involved in the Underground Railroad such as the Lott House in Marine Park, said Schwartz.

The second part of the project will provide new resources for understanding Brooklyn’s leading role in the abolitionist movement through exhibitions, a website, historic markers, walking tours, a commissioned outdoor public art work, an original theater piece, an educational curriculum that will be distributed nationally and a scholarly symposium.

The federal awards are in addition to $2 million in city funding already allocated to commemorate the borough’s Abolitionist and Underground Railroad.

The city money stems in large part from a court settlement, in which the city tried to seize several houses thought to be part of the Underground Railroad under eminent domain to create a 1.5-acre open space park in Downtown Brooklyn.

Under the court settlement, the home located at 227 Duffield Place and owned by prominent abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Lee-Truesdell, was spared from being seized.

Schwartz said a component In Pursuit of Freedom will be located in the park.

Joy Chatel, an owner of 227 Duffield Street, said she wants the house to be a cultural center and museum dedicated to the Abolitionist and Underground Railroad movement, but nobody contacted her about the new funding stream.

“I feel hurt, but not resentful because no matter how the story is told it needs to be told,” she said.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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