Saturday, December 20, 2008

Remembering Sherri Williams, fatal victim of mortgage fraud

A friend of Sherri Williams posted about her on this blog, and I thought it deserves more attention:

Sherri and I were classmates and I loved her like a sister. We studied together daily, she was a great person, her smile was contagious so was her laugh. I look at my degree fromm BMCC and say I did this for us. 3 years later I still think of her, especially when it snows ... he funeral was just after a snow storm so it reminds me or her death. That killer will be bought to justice ... she's in a better place and is greatly missed ... Carnel, keep strong, mommy loved you more than you can ever imagine .... Take care!! Thanks for this posting ... Happy 25th Sherri, I Miss You ... Love Quanee

Sherri's death is tragic, and it is heart-wrenching to find out the reason for her death. According to the most recent information, the fire that killed her was a distraction for another fire, which was set for the purpose of mortgage fraud. 

It puts things in perspective. Bernard Madoff may have been responsible for a $50 billion fraud, but I don't think he killed anyone. 

One of the last people to write on the subject of the arson/murder at 1033 was activist Phil DePaolo in "Drug Dealer" Theory of Pacific Street Fires Debunked, It Was Fraud. The New York Times wrote about it here

God bless you, Sherri Williams. 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting rid of those pesky Abolitionists

The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership

is proud to bring Brooklyn forward by obliterating any bit of history of those pesky Abolitionists. Oh, maybe a plaque or two will be nice, but those homes have to go.
No, they haven't actually said that in words, but they have said this in images found here:

Here is an annotated version of their vision:

Click here for animated version.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Hopper-Gibbons Safe-House Gets Reprieve

The Underground Railroad Free Press reports on the good news about the Hopper Gibbons home:

In October, a group of neighbors and local historians secured a last-minute reprieve for the only documented Underground Railroad safe-house in Manhattan Borough of New York City. The current owners of Hopper-Gibbons House had sought to substantially modify the building and the City of New York had mistakenly issued a work permit for the changes. The group's efforts got the permit revoked after a city review found that the architectural plans violated building and zoning codes. The home, located at 336 West 29th Street in Manhattan, dates from 1847 and was purchased by Quaker abolitionists Abigail and James Gibbons in 1851. The Gibbons home is part of an elegant two-block oasis of townhouses built as a piece in 1847 and known as Lamaratine Place at the time.

Mobs of the 1863 Draft Riots, which lynched blacks and attacked the homes of abolitionists, assaulted the Gibbons home, threw furniture out the windows and set fire to several rooms. Gibbons daughters Lucy and Julia escaped only by scrambling over rooftops to the neighboring Hebrew Orphans Asylum.

For more info, visit the Underground Railroad Free Press.

For a video of Hopper-Gibbons and Fern Luskin, please click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Albee Square Mall hearing 11/18

This from The Campaign for Community Based Planning:

The building that was once Albee Square Mall, the gateway to Downtown Brooklyn’s Fulton Street Mall shopping area, is now a construction site. Eventually, a mixed-use tower development called CityPoint is planned for the site. In the meantime, the Brooklyn Paper reports, Albee Square, the triangular intersection of Fulton Mall, DeKalb Avenue and Bond Street, is “a wasteland.”

According to the article, the City’s Department of Transportation and Economic Development Corporation will hold a hearing on Tuesday, November 18 to collect ideas for the site. The meeting will take place at 5pm at St. Francis College (180 Remsen St., between Court and Clinton streets, room 6301). Call 718-222-7271 for info.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Aloft Erect on Duffield in Downtown BK

Curbed gives some updates on hotel going up in their post "Construction Watch: Aloft Erect on Duffield in Downtown BK":

The Aloft/Sheraton on Duffield Street in Downtown Brookyn is well on its way to becoming an actual hotel. The building is at 222 Duffield, basically across the street from those Underground Railroad buildings that generated so many headlines and up the street from a hip Hot Karl Fischer Hotel that is just starting to get underway in the sense of demolition going on on the future site. This baby will have 500 rooms when all is said and done, introducing a lot of people to the pleasures of stays on Duffield St.

Article >>

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Joy Chatel is #27 of Brooklyn's Top 50 Most Influential is publishing its list of Brooklyn's Top 50 Most Influential. In their list of numbers 21-30, they recognized the achievements of Joy Chatel:
27. Joy Chatel tirelessly fought to save her home, which a national network of historians believe was involved in the Underground Railroad, from eminent domain ... and actually won. Now the city must build its underground parking garage and public plaza around her home. Without Chatel, hundreds of pages of history on Brooklyn's role in the abolitionism movement would not have been written. As a concession, the city has already agreed to commemorate Brooklyn's abolitionist movement in the planned plaza. And if Chatel succeeds in her dream, the home will be turned into a museum, an unplanned addition to the glitzy Downtown Brooklyn overhaul.
Joy repeatedly states that this effort is not about her— in her view, the history of Duffield Street is owned by everyone. But we're still very glad to get the recognition.

Thank you Brownstoner!

Friday, September 26, 2008

City chooses Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville & Irondale Ensemble to commemorate Abolitionism

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and friends announced today the groups they have chosen to memorialize Brooklyn's Abolitionist history:

New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), in cooperation with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, and in partnership with a Commemoration Advisory Panel, has selected In Pursuit of Freedom, a multi-faceted proposal to memorialize the history of abolitionism, the anti-slavery movement, and the Underground Railroad in Brooklyn. The proposal was designed by the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Ensemble Project in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by NYCEDC. The project will provide new resources for understanding Brooklyn’s important role in the abolitionist movement through exhibitions, marked walking tours, a theater project and a website.
We applaud the City's efforts to celebrate this history, and it is encouraging that they see that this history as an important part of Brooklyn's future. Here is a description of the project:

In Pursuit of Freedom contains four inter-related components:

  • A commemorative artistic installation in Downtown Brooklyn will be the starting point for visitors to follow a series of historical markers at sites throughout the borough. A self-guided walking tour of these sites will also be created and distributed at key locations in Brooklyn.

  • Interpretative exhibits will be installed at the Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center and the Irondale Center at Lafayette Avenue Church. Each of these installations will include images, maps and primary source documents, and will be closely aligned with the needs of teachers and students.

  • An original theater piece will draw upon the story of abolitionism in Brooklyn as it relates to important issues that continue to challenge contemporary society.

  • An interactive website will connect all of the components to make the project available to a national and international audience.

    There was no mention of Duffield Street in the press release, and to this day, the City has not acknowledged any historical importance to the street.

    We invite everyone— especially the EDC and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership— to come to 227 Duffield and the neighboring historically significant sites. In the words of Deborah Schwartz, President, Brooklyn Historical Society (via the EDC press release):

    The struggle for freedom was not only fought on battle fields, but also in churches, schools, newspapers and local communities all over America. Leaders and activists who lived and worked in Brooklyn were vital to the outcome; their stories need to be told and understood. With this project we hope to invigorate a lively civic discourse about the relationship of history to our present lives.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2008

    Photo essay of Duffield on June 30, 2008

    For a peek into how Duffield Street looks as of June 30, 2008, please visit this photo essay.

    Friday, June 20, 2008

    Rev. Daughtry celebrates Brooklyn's Abolitionist History

    Rev. Herbert Daughtry celebrated Juneteenth in Downtown Brooklyn today. He spoke in detail about the history of the Civil War period and of Brooklyn's importance to the cause of Abolitionism. The crowd included several respected scholars, business leaders and clergy. Notably, Christopher Moore spoke with great knowledge and passion about the people who stood up against slavery.

    To hear Rev. Daughtry in his own words, click to see the video here.

    To hear Christopher Moore in his own words, click to see the video here.

    See photos here

    Rev. Daughtry acknowledged several outspoken activists, including Joy Chatel and Ed Carter.

    It was a large crowd and it was wonderful to have so much attention given to Brooklyn's proud history....

    ....but I wish that was the end of the story. For an off-the-record analysis of who attended, please email me. For comparison, here is coverage of the Duffield Juneteenth events from 2007:

    Saturday, May 17, 2008

    May issue of Underground Railroad Free Press released

    The Underground Railroad Free Press just released its May 2008 issue. Their email states:
    Underground Railroad Free Press is distributed internationally free of charge to nearly 1,700 Underground Railroad site owners, program operators, Congressional leaders and their staff, federal and state officials, librarians, historians, experts and enthusiasts.
    You can visit their site here or download the PDF here. There's nothing on Duffield Street in this issue, but the organization has been supportive of our efforts in Brooklyn in the past.

    Friday, May 16, 2008

    HDC Honors Duffield Defenders

    The Historic Districts Council honored the Duffield Street coalition yesterday at their 2008 Grassroots Preservation Awards. The event got off to a strong start with Reverend Billy, who gave a rousing defense of the importance of free speech icons such as Union Square. Here is a video of Rev. Billy's defense of public space, or as he would say, Preservaluliah. The other awardees were Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, DUMBO Neighborhood Association, Juniper Park Civic Association, Council Member Jessica Lappin and Brownstoner.

    The advocates for 227 Duffield closed the event with several moving speeches by FUREE, Jennifer Levy, Lewis Greenstein and Joy Chatel. Many groups and individuals deserve credit for our efforts to promote Brooklyn through the celebration of the heroic defiance against slavery all along Duffield Street. HDC has long been an advocate, and we would like to thank them. There are too many people to thank, but one group that does deserve recognition is Four Borough Neighborhood Preservation Alliance.

    Here is a photo essay from the awards.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Mapping the African American Past

    Jacob Morris pointed out a great website hosted by Columbia called MAAP— Mapping the African American Past. Here is part of their entry for Abolitionist Place in Downtown Brooklyn:

    In the 1800s the harbor nearby was one of the busiest in the world. Hundreds of ships loaded with cotton or tobacco from the South came and went. The ships also carried stowaways bent on stealing their own freedom. Other runaways were brought here by conductors of the Underground Railroad, such as the famed Harriet Tubman. They all found shelter in the neighborhood’s churches and safe houses. In addition, they were given food and clothing collected by local women’s organizations.

    There are many interesting tools on the site! It is especially useful for teachers since it includes lesson plans.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    The Quest for "it": The 227 Abolitionist Place Benefit

    The Quest for "it" has a bold-name run-down of the Duffield St. fundraiser on Feb. 29:

    The evening was attended by loyal supporters such as Brooklyn based Designer Sena, Historic reservationist Julie M. Finch, and Jumbie Records Partner Raul Rothblatt among others. Libations led by Activist and Author Nana Camille Yarbrough, and Author/Radio Personality Sister Olyade Stokes included thanks and prayer for the ability to be present, and to take part in the recognition of and preservation of African American culture. Words of wisdom were also imparted by guest speakers. Noteworthy speeches came from Activist and Author Kevin Powell (see photo far right), Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, Fort Green Councilwoman Letitia James, and of course Joy Chatel herself (see photo, center). Other highlights included a riveting film short entitled Brooklyn's First Subway: The Underground Railroad, which cataloged Ms. Chatel's process in saving the historic site as well as live performances ranging from spoken word to dance.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    It's not unusual: NY screwing you

    What's surprising about the governor getting caught with his pants down is that they've been down for so long. Of course, if Spitzer can spend his own family's money on prostitutes, what do you think he's been doing with yours? If he makes those sorts of deals with his personal finances and as a father, why do you think he will do any better with other people's money?

    Spitzer's style of government is not new, and he's pretty much followed an important part of the governing style of the previous administration. New York has the most dysfunctional state government in the country (see the PDF of the Brennan report here). While Spitzer's personal foibles may not have cost the tax payers money, his failures as the leader of the state did cost real money- and real lives.

    One thing Spitzer may have learned from our state government is to use shell companies. This is what happened in the disaster known as the World Trade Center clean-up. Our state government, in cooperation with our city government, showed fine partnership by hiring shell companies to hire mob-related companies to dismantle the Deutsche Bank building. The result was not only embarrassing delays, but a fire that cost the lives of two of New York's Bravest.

    In the case of the Atlantic Yards, the state is using made-up community groups whose only function is sign on to the supposed "Community" "Benefits" "Agreement." These are shell organizations whose main purpose (this is my own opinion and does not represent the views of all who support 227 Abolitionist Place) is to take real money from the taxpayers and give it to a private developer.

    In the case of the Downtown Brooklyn Environmental Impact Statement, the problem was a shell government. The city hired AKRF for its environmental review, and when their own experts concluded that there was powerful evidence of Underground Railroad activity on Duffield, the City simply ignored the experts. They decided to stay in their own fantasy land.

    There is so much fantasy in all of this. Spitzer's sexual fantasies haven't cost the taxpayers too much money, but his administration's hiring of the John Galt Corporation did. You might think that our state government would think twice about hiring a company with no track record, especially since it was named after a fictional character thought up by Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged.

    I once thought that a spectacular disaster at the World Trade Center clean up site would spur New Yorkers to look more carefully at our state government. It did not. But now that all eyes are on Albany, I hope more people realize that Spitzer represents government as usual in this state.

    It is time to start demanding real action in Albany. While Spitzer was off on his dalliances, he forgot to work on real reform. I would like to see our governor (whoever that is) work on eminent domain reform. Almost every other state in this country (42 out of 50, according to the Castle Coalition) has tried to limit the state's power to take property from one individual and give it to a preferred individual.

    Spitzer's rule has been a huge disappointment, to put it mildly. But at least we can thank him for his novel way of bringing attention to Albany.

    Sunday, March 9, 2008

    NY Times: Discussing an Underground Railroad museum

    The New York Times continues its coverage of the Underground Railroad home on West 29th Street in Manhattan. They published "Retracing the Elusive Footsteps of a Secretive History" on 2/24, and today they published a Letter to the Editor. Here's an excerpt:

    In considering the Underground Railroad, people often look at the intake states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. However, New York’s role was not only vital but has been often overlooked in the city’s history.

    New York was a jumping-off hub. Once escapees reached New York, they could often make a single jump to Canada, on boats going up the Hudson River, or even occasionally on trains.

    A museum of abolitionism and the Underground Railroad here would be a welcome tool in teaching tolerance, and a way of illustrating that some New Yorkers reached across barriers of intolerance to help others, at great risk.

    For the full letter, click here. Our previous coverage can be found here.

    Saturday, March 8, 2008

    New Duffield Street photos

    Dana L. Oliver has blogged about 227 Duffield here, and included a new slideshow with the first published photos of the Duffield fundraiser on 2/29. For more photos, click here.

    Friday, March 7, 2008

    Glassy new retail-condo rises on Duffield

    In addition to the three hotels rising on Duffield Street between Fulton and Willoughby, other developments are shooting up. Brownstoner reports:

    The plan to bring a 600,000-square-foot development to Fulton Street is apparently moving forward. In recent weeks, developer United American Land has filed air rights agreements in city records for the block bounded by Fulton, Duffield, Willoughby and Bridge streets.
    As usual, most comments to the post are not worth reading, though one person makes an important observation:
    What you don't see in this rendering is the huge tower that will rise on the Willoughby side of this site.
    Click here to read "Glassy New Retail-Condo in the Works Downtown."
    Curbed picked up on the story, and says the rendering "looks like the Apple cube."

    Downtown Brooklyn Housing Sizzle Fizzling?

    Curbed reports on questions regarding the Downtown Brooklyn boom:

    Is the much hyped Downtown Brooklyn housing boom fizzling? The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which is often exceptionally bullish on development in the borough reports that "construction of market-rate condominiums and below-market apartments has fallen far short of earlier predictions." The paper looked at 58 projects listed with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, accounting for $9.6 billion in investment. It found that of 5,285 market rate condos planned, about 1,400 have come on the market and about half of them are still listed for sale.
    For the full Curbed post, click here.

    To read the Eagle article, click here.

    Thursday, February 28, 2008

    Retracing the Elusive Footsteps of a Secretive History

    The NY Times published an article on the challenges of preserving homes tied to the Underground Railroad. Sound familiar? This is a story that takes place not in Brooklyn, but in Manhattan, on West 29th Street, also known as Lamartine Place.

    Here is a quote from Retracing the Elusive Footsteps of a Secretive History:

    Though buildings throughout the city are often thought to have been part of the escape route north, finding documents that provide proof is extremely difficult. “It’s incredibly rare that you can substantiate it,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “Locations were secretive by their very nature.”

    Despite the documentation Ms. Luskin collected, No. 339 could not originally be considered for designation as a landmark because a building permit had been issued for the construction project. However, construction is at a standstill; according to Kate Lindquist, a spokeswoman for the Department of Buildings, the permit for construction of the penthouse is being revoked, in part because an agency review determined that the architectural plans did not comply with building and zoning codes.

    The Landmarks Preservation Commission is currently evaluating No. 339 to see if it is eligible for designation as a landmark, news that will no doubt delight some local residents.

    “Being one of the few African-Americans on the block, I have an emotional connection to this history,” said Curtis Jewell, a 55-year-old truck driver for the Postal Service who has lived in Ms. Luskin’s building for 10 years. “You have a lot of cultural history in New York that money seems to want to push out of the way.”

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    African American PlayWrights Exchange spreads the word about Duffield

    The African American PlayWrights Exchange is helping to spread the word about our upcoming fundraiser:
    227 Abolitionist Place
    Home of Brooklyn’s Abolitionist Movement

    Help support the creation of an Independent museum/cultural center for the celebration of American history and Brooklyn’s resistance to slavery
    Friday, February 29th
    7:00 to 10:00 PM
    Danny Simmons'
    Corridor Gallery
    To visit their blog, please click here.

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    1010WINS revisits 227 Duffield for Black History Month

    1010WINS continues its excellent coverage of 227 Duffield with their article "Black History Month: Saving History in Brooklyn":
    The good news is that Joy Chatel has saved her home at 227 Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn from eminent domain.

    A bricked-up tunnel in the building's basement is believed to be an escape route used in the Underground Railroad.

    Chatel now hopes to turn it into a cultural center and museum. People have already showed up on her doorstep.
    The text version of the article can be found here. The audio version of the story can be found here.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Duffield Street is the #1 story of the year

    On Jan. 3, the Downtown Brooklyn Star published its countdown of the Top 10 Stories of 2007, and Duffield Street even surpassed the Atlantic Yards. They wrote:
    #1: City Backs Down on Duffield Street

    Who says you can't fight City Hall and win? Don't tell that to Joy Chatel, who was in danger of losing her home through eminent domain so that the city could tear it down and build a parking garage. A bad enough situation as it is, but Chatel's was no ordinary home. She, and may others, contend that the home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, run by members of the Abolitionist movement who were active in Downtown Brooklyn. Late in the year the city did an about face, claiming they no longer needed the home and Chatel saved an important piece of history.
    Joy constantly repeats that this was not just her victory, but a great achievement for everyone involved, including City Hall. There are many people who helped make this happen, including a vigilant press— such as the Downtown Brooklyn Star.

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    HDC: Duffield is Best of 2007

    "I commend the City for their flexibility. They have shown that it is possible to do development thoughtfully, in a manner that is responsive to community concerns, and with an eye to preserving our history. "
    — Jennifer Levy, quoted by the Historic Districts Council

    The Historic Districts Council sent out their Best of 2007, a list of notable preservation victories in New York City over the past twelve months, and Duffield Street made the list:

    Historic Duffield Street Residence Spared from Eminent Domain Efforts

    Sometimes you can catch lighting in a bottle. In 2004, when Joy Chatel learned that her mid-19th century rowhouse at 227 Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn was to be seized for demolition by the City as part of the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning plan, she began a tireless campaign to preserve the building against enormous odds. In addition to her personal connection to the historic building, local legend connected the house and its neighbors with the Underground Railroad and the mid-19th Century Abolitionist Movement. Thanks to Joy’s indomitable spirit and ceaseless efforts, she gathered support from a wide array of community members and organizations, as well as out-spoken champions in public official such as Council members Tony Avella, Charles Barron and Letitia James. Thanks to their support, the City sponsored a study of the properties which showed a direct link with prominent Abolitionists and recommended that further research into this important and largely-invisible social history. Finally in December 2007, after years of struggle and two different eminent domain hearings, the City reversed its decision to demolish the home for a parking lot and announced its plan to look into re-use options for the site. Jennifer Levy of South Brooklyn Legal Services, who brought the legal action against the City which resulted in this outcome, put it best when she said “I commend the City for their flexibility. They have shown that it is possible to do development thoughtfully, in a manner that is responsive to community concerns, and with an eye to preserving our history.” We applaud Joy, Jennifer and everyone else involved in the campaign to preserve these houses for their passion, dedication and fortitude, Hopefully, decision-makers will learn from this that flexibility and community concerns are pivotal in guiding appropriate development within our historic city. There are certainly enough opportunities coming up to exercise this new wisdom; from Admiral’s Row to Moynihan Station to (dare we hope?) Atlantic Yards