Commemoration or Preservation on Duffield Street

From the Downtown Brooklyn Star

Preserving Brooklyn’s Abolitionists
By Shane Miller
Dateline : Thursday, August 16, 2007

The city has agreed to undertake a project to commemorate the role Brooklyn played in the abolitionist movement, but it likely won’t silence the loudest critics of the city’s refusal to spare homes on Duffield and Gold streets that many believe played an integral role in the Underground Railroad.

On Monday, the administration announced the formation of a six-person panel to assist in the creation of a Request for Proposals (RFP), as well as the selection of a local community group, to administer programs to commemorate the borough’s role in the fight to end slavery.
“Recognizing and honoring the historic role that Brooklyn played in the abolitionist movement is a worthy endeavor, and a role we should be proud of,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Downtown Brooklyn was home to many noted abolitionists in the 1800s, including Harriet Truesdale. Polytechnic University was actually founded by abolitionist John Howard Raymond, and Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Church was a documented stop on the Underground Railroad.

The Commemoration Panel will identify potential commemoration proposals, review responses, and select the finalists. Plans call for issuing the RFP by this fall, and the city has pledged $1 million for planning expenses over the next three years, as well as an additional $1 million to be awarded to the chosen respondent to implement their proposal.

The city has put forth a large-scale plan – the Downtown Brooklyn Plan – which aims to transform the area into a major economic engine, attracting businesses and residents alike. Bloomberg said that recognizing ties to the anti-slavery movement was part of that plan.

“It’s important that as we work to bring new jobs and housing to Downtown Brooklyn that we also work to ensure that the noteworthy deeds of our ancestors will not be forgotten,” he said in a statement.

But critics argue that the city’s failure to recognize those “noteworthy deeds” is the very reason the Downtown Brooklyn Plan has yet to be officially implemented. Part of the plan calls for the seizure by eminent domain of several houses on Duffield and Gold streets, which many people believe were also stops along the Underground Railroad.

They would be razed to make way for an underground parking garage.

“I think it [the panel] is a good idea, but it doesn’t go far enough to preserve the homes on Duffield Street,” said Councilwoman Letitia James. “I applaud the administration with one hand.”

James has filed a brief in support of a lawsuit filed by residents on Duffield Street to block the seizure of their homes.

“I already told the administration that I will continue to advocate for the homes in the Downtown Brooklyn Plan,” she said.

One of those residents is Joy Chatel, who lives at 227 Duffield Street, and first heard of the new panel when contacted for this article.

“That’s absolutely horrible,” she said. “Why is the local community always shut out?”

The panel will consist of Reverend Lawrence Aker, senior pastor, Cornerstone Baptist Church; Richard Greene, executive director, Crown Heights Youth Collective; Colvin L. Grannum, president, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp.; Chris Moore, research historian, curator, Schomburg Center; Pamela Green, executive director, Weeksville Historical Society, and Antonia Yuille Williams, director of Community Relations, Con Edison.

“What does somebody from Con Edison know about the abolitionist movement?” counters Chatel.

Posted Under: Brooklyn, Downtown Brooklyn, Eminent Domain, Lingering Pain

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