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Brooklyn Hamlet was Ahead of Its Time for Free African Americans

Written by PlayBack

By Evette D. Champion

If you were to go to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you will be greeted by the skeletons of three abandoned homes that were once part of Weeksville. These homes were one of many, where over 500 already free African Americans were able to experience the American dream. Oh, did we mention this settlement was founded years before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863?

The state of New York abolished 36 years before Abraham Lincoln’s declaration that slavery would be no more in the United States and all African Americans were free. Between 1832 and 1838, the free men began purchasing land and created a community called Weeksville. The community was named after James Weeks who was believed to be the man who pushed hard for voting rights.

The community was well rounded, as they had everything from shoemakers to horse dealers, teachers, to cigar makers. The suburban community was divided so that there lots offered enough space for owners to plant gardens, have a few animals like pigs or chickens, and still be affordable.

People of Weeksville placed a lot of value on education. When the first residents of the community moved in, the literacy rate was considered to be quite low, but when the school was built and teachers started educating the children, the literacy rate jumped to 93 percent by 1865.

Why, a pair of sisters, Susan Smith McKinney-Steward and Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet became influential women in the community. McKinney-Steward became the state’s first female doctor while her sister was a suffragist and the school principal.

Megan Goins-Diouf, the archivist of Weeksville, tells the New York Times: “It’s not that we don’t talk about slavery, but it’s not part of our story. There were thousands of slaves, and we’ll never know their names. At Weeksville, they had names written on documents in elegant cursive.”

When the Civil War had ended, the community began to see an influx of immigrants from Europe. The founders of the community were dying or decided to move away. Weeksville became a forgotten town by the 1950s and the buildings were eventually torn down.

When archaeologists went digging around the area, they found some incredible finds from the 19th century. Items like shoes, bottles of hair dye, dolls, and rusted roller skates.

Since the dig, the three remaining homes on Hunterfly Road were restored and opened to the public. You can find more information about house tours and hours at www.weeksvillesociety.org.

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