Connecting to the Archive of Weeksville: Counter-gentrification Tactics in Central Brooklyn

Weeksville was founded in 1838 by formerly enslaved persons and freedmen who sought to create a self-sustaining community in Brooklyn. Distinguished by its urbanity, size, and relative physical and economic stability, the community was the second largest African American community in the U.S. in the nineteenth century, and largely absorbed by the expansion of Brooklyn as an urban center in the twentieth century. After almost fifty years of community led persistence and vision, in 2014 the Weeksville Heritage Center (WHC) introduced a new Cultural Arts Building and interpretive landscape on the same campus as the original community.

“Connecting to the Archive of Weeksville: Anti-Gentrification Tactics in Central Brooklyn,” supports the Center’s efforts to continue to connect with the immediate neighborhood and strengthen its anti-gentrification activities through the ongoing development of archival and oral history collections held by the Center. Pratt faculty members Jeffrey Hogrefe and Scott Ruff collaborate on the project with Obden Mondésir, the oral history manager, and three Pratt students: Sadie Hope-Gund, Jared Rice and Joseph Shiveley as Taconic Fellows of the Pratt Center for Community Development.

The project supports the Heritage Center’s efforts to preserve and add to the archive, provide access to, and interpret the archival microhistory of community development and documentation activities that led to the formation of the Society and its growth. Pratt students and faculty and Weeksville staff are engaging with local residents to develop oral history and critical ethnography practices. The goal is to empower residents to utilize the archive through interviewing, self-documentation, storytelling, and appreciation of archival and oral history methodologies.

The project is connecting the Center to its immediate community through the effort to document the memory and experience of the neighborhood in the past, present, and future, and to engage with and expand the archival collections held at the Center and Pratt Institute. The project was presented at “Black Futures and Utopias,” the 2021 Black Lives Matter Teach-in at Pratt Institute on February 19, 2021. Due to its close connection with the founding and the rediscovery of Weeksville, a primary focus is on connecting with members of the Bethel Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, located at 90 Schenectady Avenue. The Pratt Weeksville Archive will continue in the future as part of the ongoing oral history and critical ethnography collections and community outreach of Pratt Institute and the Weeksville Heritage Center.

Photos of participants arranged in a grid
Pictured top row, left to right: Ronald Johnson, Jared Rice, Sadie Hope-Gund; Bottom row: Obden Mondésir, Scott Ruff, Jeffrey Hogrefe
Aerial photograph showing the campus of Weeksville Heritage Center and adjacent blocks
in 2014 the Weeksville Heritage Center introduced a new Cultural Arts Building and interpretive landscape on the same campus as the original community.