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Crowninshield Winners Share Experiences: When Children`s Dreams Become Reality 

12-09-2015 17:35

Historic preservation is a powerful tool in the safeguarding of my community. Self-preservation being the prime directive, preservation of one`s community must surely be central to personal survival.

In the beginning, Weeksville, a real grass-roots phenomena, did not have the umbrella of a powerful church, an influential politician, or a great university. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, in large measure, performed that role by giving the Weeksville Society visibility, credibility and entry into preservation circles, even as the society interfaced with governmental, private and neighborhood entities.

The Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History, or the Weeksville Society, was founded in the 1968 to research, preserve, and disseminate the heritage of African Americans in central Brooklyn, particularly the 19th-century settlement called Weeksville. The name Weeksville derives from James Weeks, a pioneer settler from Virginia who purchased the land in 1838, eleven years following the abolition of slavery in New York State. The small community of Weeksville does not exist in a vacuum but rather on the larger tapestry of world history. The Weeksville Society represents a part of the diverse results of 1960s Civil Rights movement here in the United States. The fledgling Weeksville Society, through early research, started to offer information on how people of African descent came to live in Brooklyn. This research struck a responsive chord with thinking people, living both inside and outside our neighborhood.

In 1970 the children of local school P.S.243, an institution descended from the 1847 Colored School #2, learned that four very old houses still stood nearby. They said, "Let`s fix up these beat-up old houses and make a black history museum." That simple suggestion fueled efforts to preserve and restore and develop the buildings for an African-American museum in the New York City Landmark Hunterfly Road Historic District of Weeksville.

The students requested that the four houses be designated as city landmarks at a New York City Landmarks Commission hearing. Guided by caring parents and teachers, the kids raised the first funds for this preservation project and presented their investment of nearly $1,000 to the Weeksville Society at a school assembly.

Of course, enormous earlier investments in the future of these children were made by their ancestors whose free labor, during the period of enslavement, provided the surplus of capital that fueled the early American economy.

Now we have arrived at a moment in time when diverse interests have intersected, and we have an opportunity to demonstrate historic preservation as a dramatic force in the revitalization of our community and city.

Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden has awarded our project $3.15 million which has acted as a catalyst for the development of a consortium of foundations that have invested over the years to keep the Weeksville dream alive. This investment will allow the Weeksville Society to effectively serve its neigh borhood and city through historic preservation, education, economic development and tourism. And, shouldn`t the schoolchildren get a pay-off for their leadership investment for the benefit of all our children in the millennium?

Publication Date: Fall 1999

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Author(s):Joan Maynard