By Emily Drooby
Parishioners, over a hundred, fighting for their church’s history. Standing their ground on what they consider to be Holy ground.
Delores Casey, the President of Father Bernard John Quinn Guild, explained, “We want Claver Place to mean something.”
The people in the pews of St. Peter Claver Church, Brooklyn’s first parish for black Catholics, furious when they heard about a proposal that would co-name their church’s street, Claver Place, after a black activist.
Jitu Weusi, formerly named Les Campbell, was an educator and community leader who had a key role in the Ocean-Hill/Brownsville conflict that brought national changes to community control of public education. He also co-founded the East – a famous cultural institution on Claver Place, that focused on black nationalism.
His friend, Sharonnie Perry, described him an extraordinary person, “I think his legacy will live on in our community for many, many generations to come.”
The co-naming proposal brought to Bedford Stuyvesant’s community board by Weusi’s son, as a way to honor the Brooklyn activist, who died in 2013. So why are some firmly against this?
Well, St. Peter Claver parishioners, who knew Weusi personally, claim he was anti-Catholic and racist.
Parishioner and eyewitness, Meredith Chandler, said, “How he treated the parishioners, how he treated the community, how he treated the residents it was full of bigotry, it was full of hatred.”
In letters to the community board – parishioners and local residents detailed what they called bad behavior – writing things like he quote, “Disrespected our priests, and the nuns who taught our children, calling them names like “white devils” or quote, “Play time outside was interrupted by chants and harassment towards children because we were considered light skin.”
In testimonies, parishioners detail incidents where Weusi and his followers disrupted church services with a megaphone, stopped brides from getting to their wedding, screamed and cursed at children, parishioners, and nuns. They described him as violent, extreme and constantly at odds with the church.
Father Alonzo Cox, who is now the pastor at St. Peter Claver Church said, “To have Claver Place co-named after someone who was anti-Catholic and very much caused a lot of heartache to the Catholic community is really, was just unacceptable, to the parishioners at St. Peter Claver.”
Parishioners gave these letters to the community board and spoke out at a board meeting in June on the matter but the resolution still passed unanimously.
Chandler, explained, “We weren’t really heard, no one cared to heard what we had to say, in their minds it was a done deal and forget about the history of the church, that didn’t matter.”
The co-naming request now in the hands of New York’s City Council. Parishioners say they would back off if it was moved to any other street. Requesting the street be co-named for Father Bernard Quinn, the church’s founding pastor, and a candidate for sainthood.
But, Weusi’s supporters and friends say since Claver Place is the home of the East, along with a school and a festival started by Weusi, it has to be there.
Like Assemblyman Charles Barron, who explained, “That’s where it all started and that’s why we have to preserve it so that if anyone walks by there, they will be able to say this is where the East Started, this is where the international Arts Festival started, this is the birth place of a cultural revolution led by Jitu Weusi.”
The co-naming is being reviewed by City Council.