On Monday, October 30, 2017, Vivian Warfield and Aimee VonBokel spoke with Mark Winston-Griffith, Veralyn Williams, and, TK / Tasty Keish / Keisha Dutes. at the Brooklyn Movement Center in Central Brooklyn, NYC. The topic of our conversation: Vivian’s family history in Weeksville, the history of black home-ownership in Brooklyn, and racial wealth equity. Also check out Mark Winston-Griffith’s interview with the Weeksville Heritage Center’s executive director, Rob Fields; episode47, here.
I created this page to answer some of the questions Mark Winston-Griffith asked us when we spoke on the Third Rail podcast.
Q1: What is the Weeksville Heritage Center?
A: The Weeksville Heritage Center consists of (a) the historic Hunterfly Road houses (pictured), and (b) a new cultural center (opened ~2015, also pictured below). The complex covers the eastern portion of the block opposite the Kingborough Houses. See the slideshow below for illustrations or explore the area in Google Maps.
Q2: What is Weeksville?
A: Weeksville was a settlement of black landowners formed in the 1830s — in what was then the rural outskirts of the city of Brooklyn — in the Bedford Hills, along the Long Island Railroad. Black families bought property, subdivided it, and sold to other black families.
Q3: What happened to Weeksville?
A: The short answer is, many Weeksville descendants are still living in Central Brooklyn. Many have moved away. I’m slowly connecting with more descendants so we can work together to tell a more detailed story. Do you have roots in Weeksville? Please get in touch!
Q4: How did the Weeksville Heritage Center come to be?
A: The Hunterfly Road Houses were preserved in the 1970s, but only after a separate preservation project several blocks away — at the corner of Troy and Schenectady. The city selected Central Weeksville for a slum-clearance site (see slideshow below), and as the houses were demolished, residents and volunteers picked through the rubble to find important artifacts. After the excavation of Central Weeksville, William Harley, James Hurley, and others turned their attention to the houses along Hunterfly Road.
‘Model Cities’ Demolishes Central Weeksville
See the 1968 headline above? About the Model Cities Construction? It comes from this New York Times article by Ada Louise Huxtable. Residents wanted better housing. But, where to build? Housing officials looked for structures without indoor plumbing, etc. and selected a site for clearance. The problem is, the least “modern” houses, of course, were the most historic. On this block stood one of the community’s oldest churches: Bethel AME (rebuilt by NYCHA I presume, because it’s still there). It was the center of old Weeksville. See this map to explore how Weeksville changed over time (hover over the menu in the top right corner of the map to see different historic map layers).
Archaeology Dig at Schenectady and Troy
So residents decided to use the opportunity — to collect the material traces of their past. As resident William Harley put it, “When the bulldozer stops, we rush in and grab, grab, grab… The neighbors are getting to know us. They say, ‘Here come Hurley and Harley’— like a dance team.”
I’ve annotated a series of photos to orient those familiar with the neighborhood today. I’ve also included a photo of William Harley, via the Weeksville Heritage Center, and one of the items the group found (Mark, I think the Abyssinian Daughters of Esther Association, ca. 1850s, was similar to the Credit Union and Paragon — a mutual aid society?)
(PS I said ’67 in the podcast, but that was the community workshop that preceded the Model Cities dig.)
Learn more about 1960s-era Weeksville-preservation efforts
- Ashley Bowden’s terrific oral history with Jim Hurley
- Judith Wellman’s recent book about Weeksville: Brooklyn’s Promised Land