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January 15, 2014 to December 31, 2018


Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
at Clinton St
Brooklyn  New York  11201
United States
Brooklyn Historical Society

Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom

Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom explores the unsung heroes of Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement -- ordinary residents, black and white -- who shaped their neighborhoods, city and nation with a revolutionary vision of freedom and equality. The exhibit is part of the groundbreaking In Pursuit of Freedom public history project that features new research on Brooklyn's abolition movement in partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center and Irondale Ensemble Project.

Many Americans will be surprised to learn the extent to which slavery existed in Brooklyn. As late as 1790, 30% of Kings County residents were enslaved Africans. Though enslaved people were emancipated in New York in 1827, Brooklyn’s economy remained deeply tied to slavery in the south. As Brooklyn grew into a commercial center in the early 19th century, goods such as cotton, tobacco and sugar, all harvested by slave labor, fueled the growth of the bustling harbor. At the same time, Brooklyn residents – both black and white – organized associations, schools and churches to advocate for black civil rights and the end of slavery across the country.

Based on five years of research led by curator/ historian Prithi Kanakamedala and project manager Kate Fermoile, Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom, evokes this 19th-century Brooklyn—and tells the stories of residents who fought tirelessly for equal rights—through letters, sermons, pamphlets, advertisements. Landscape paintings and historic maps provide visitors with a vivid backdrop of the area’s growth. In addition to seeing BHS’ rare edition of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, exhibition visitors will be introduced to little-known anti-slavery activists including William Wilson (aka Ethiop), James and Elizabeth Gloucester, William and Willis Hodges, James Pennington, Peter and Benjamin Croger, and Sylvanus Smith, one of the original land investors in the free black community of Weeksville. Featured stories raise questions about racial equality in education, fair and equal treatment under the law and the political and economic significance of owning property—issues that remain relevant in today’s struggle for social justice.