Based on five years of research led by curator/historian Prithi Kanakamedala and project manager Kate Fermoile, “Brooklyn Abolitionists / In Pursuit of Freedom” — now on view at Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) through 2018 — evokes 19th century Brooklyn, telling the stories of residents who fought tirelessly for equal rights through letters, sermons, pamphlets and 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. The exhibition includes historic material, hands-on interactive and multimedia elements. It was designed by award-winning exhibition designer Matter Architecture Practice, celebrated design and technology firm Potion, multidisciplinary design firm Pure+Applied and New York-based lighting designer Robert W. Henderson, Jr.
In conjunction with the exhibition, BHS is presenting a series of associated programs:
Created Equal Screening and Discussion: “The Loving Story”
Tuesday, March 25, 6:30 p.m.
Director Nancy Buirski and Co-Producer Patricia Romeu shed light on their documentary about the Lovings, whose landmark 1967 Supreme Court case legalized interracial marriage.
DUMBO Walking Tour
Saturday, April 5, 11 a.m.
$25/$15 for BHS members
Today’s DUMBO of galleries and gourmet coffee was once a bustling harbor and an important stop for goods and people, including enslaved Africans. Later the streets were home to those who envisioned an equal and free society. Suzanne Spellen, aka Brownstoner blogger “Montrose Morris,” will guide participants through this fascinating history.
Created Equal Screening and Discussion: “Slavery by Another Name”
Tuesday April 8, 6:30 p.m.
The final film in the “Created Equal” film series, “Slavery by Another Name” explores different forms of forced labor after the Civil War. Following the film Josh Saunders, Senior Trial Attorney at Brooklyn Defenders Services, connects the film’s themes to issues today.
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The exhibition is part of a multifaceted public history initiative in partnership with Weeksville Heritage Center and Irondale Ensemble Project. The project includes additional exhibits, pubic programs, an extensive on-line curriculum, an original theater piece by Irondale Ensemble Project, walking tours, a project website (pursuitoffreedom.org) and a memorial to Brooklyn Abolitionists that will be part of the new Willoughby Square Park when it opens in 2016.
In Pursuit of Freedom is made possible by the following major funders: Michael R. Bloomberg; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; the New York City Economic Development Corporation; the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program; the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; and National Grid Foundation.