Race and racism have shaped Brooklyn for centuries. But while racism persists, Brooklyn resists.
Racial slavery began here during Dutch rule in the 1600s. Slavery worsened under English rule, and continued after American independence. Liberty for America did not bring freedom for Black Brooklynites until New York state abolished slavery in 1827. Even with the abolition of slavery, however, racism in Brooklyn continued, in housing, employment, schools, and the quality of essential neighborhood services, like police protection and sanitation. Throughout each historical stage, Brooklynites resisted racism.
Slaves fled. When slavery ensnared Black lives in bondage, Brooklynites purchased enslaved people’s freedom, sheltered runaways, and advocated for abolition. Communities thrived. When White mobs lynched Black New Yorkers during the 1863 Civil War draft riots, Brooklyn’s Black communities offered refuge. People protested. When Jim Crow segregation surged, Brooklynites demanded desegregation, revitalization, and power. Whenever police snuff out a Black life, Black Brooklynites and allies take to the streets, promote protest, spread love, dance joy, and demand that Black Lives Matter.
Since the 1600s, Brooklynites have put their bodies on the line to value Black lives. They have promoted education as activism. They have turned celebration into political demonstration. They have formed alliances and allyship. Through past and present images, this exhibition portrays these themes.
For an accessible exhibition resource packet please click here.