Black History Month at the Brooklyn Collection
In observance of Black History Month, Brooklyn Public Library has created several webpages exploring different aspects of Black history in America. In tandem with that project, we've pulled together several of the Brooklyn Collections resources on the same subjects -- the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil Rights struggle, and family legacies.
Slavery was abolished in New York state in 1827, making it a relative haven for runaways fleeing bondage in the southern states. Abolitionists like the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and the congregants of his Plymouth Church raised money to free slaves through "auctions" that mimicked the cruel conditions under which human lives were traded for money. The church itself was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
At right is an article published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on February 6, 1860 describing a slave auction at Plymouth Church. Below is a portrait of Sally Marie Diggs, more famously known as "Pinky", who was freed by the Plymouth Church in 1860 (click here to read the bill of sale). For more information on abolitionist activity in Brooklyn in the years leading up to 1863's Emancipation Proclamation, visit our Brooklyn in the Civil War website.
Living and Working in Brooklyn
Throughout the mid-18th century, especially after the end of the Civil War, Black populations moved to the industrial centers of the North, and Brooklyn was no exception to this trend. City directory listings give us a unique statistical insight into what life was like for them here. Directory listings from 1863 show us what kinds of jobs Black Brooklynites held, and also show where Black populations settled. Church records from the A.M.E. Zion Church provide illumination into the religious and cultural life of Black residents establishing their own communities within the larger urban society.
This Google map plots addresses of Black Brooklyn citizens from the 1863 city directory.
View African American Brooklyn 1863-64 in a larger map
Read more about Brooklyn's Black populations during this period on our blog:
- A Black Church in Williamsburg
- What's in a Name?
- What's in a Name Part 2: Looking for a Community
- And They're Off! Part 2: the First Baptist Church of Sheepshead Bay
Civil Rights in Brooklyn
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is a national civil rights organization that played a pivotal role in securing rights for African Americans in the 20th century. Their Brooklyn chapter was especially active, organizing sit-ins, boycotts and demonstrations to demand equal treatment in schools, housing, and employment. Several members of Brooklyn CORE walked 237 miles for the historic March on Washington in 1963.
One of their more audacious plans was a "stall-in", during which hundreds of members' cars would strategically break down on roadways leading to the 1964 World's Fair grounds in Flushing Meadows, Queens, bringing the fair to a grinding halt. Although the controversial stall-in idea was largely abandoned after strong opposition from city officials and the National CORE office, many of Brooklyn CORE's actions were effective in raising awareness of persistent inequalities in New York City. One such was Brooklyn CORE's boycott and picketing campaign against unfair hiring practices of Ebinger's Bakery (pictured at right). As a direct result of CORE's efforts, African American and Puerto Rican workers were hired on as saleswomen at the bakeries. Our Civil Rights in Brooklyn Collection and Oral History contains much more information on Brooklyn CORE and other civil rights organizations in the borough, as well as interviews with original members.
Later in the 1960s, activists in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood began publishing a newsletter devoted to documenting injustices against African Americans and mobilizing readers to do take action. It's motto was "Agitate. Educate. Organize.", which it did through articles on topics ranging from police brutality to sickle cell anemia.
The Generation Preservation Project was created by librarian Philip Bond at BPL's Macon Branch in 2009. Working with photographer Niqui Carter, Bond invited neighborhood families into the library to sit for group portraits. The project celebrates the multiple generations of family in this community by providing the space and opportunity to capture a wonderful moment in time and preserve it for future generations to see. See a digital slideshow and learn more about the project here.
The Brooklyn Collection has a wide array of resources touching on Black history in our borough. Here are a few that can be accessed online; you can use our full range of resources by visiting the Brooklyn Collection in person.
- Black Brooklyn Renaissance Digital Collection finding aid
- Brooklyn in the Civil War Website
- Civil Rights in Brooklyn finding aid
- Civil Rights in Brooklyn Oral History finding aid
- Brooklyn Life: African Americans Historic Photo Gallery
- Digital Photography Slideshow: Jamel Shabazz's Prospect Park -- an Oasis in Brooklyn