By Jessica Easthope
Shattered windows, wooden boards and a crumbling façade are all part of the face of freedom at 227 Duffield Street in Brooklyn, New York.
Sandwiched between a hotel and a construction site, the three-story, red-brick home was owned by prominent abolitionists Harriet and Thomas Truesdell in the early 1850s.
Now, surrounded by skyscrapers in bustling downtown Brooklyn, the home is in danger of being demolished.
Aleah Bacquie Vaughn is the executive director of the Circle for Justice Innovations, whose work has led her to the site at 227 Duffield Street.
“We believe very strongly they were also part of the underground railroad, here, this home right here,” she said of the building. “There was an underground tunnel and there was a connection between this building and the one next door.”
Though city agencies claim they have no evidence connecting the home to the underground railroad, Duffield street was co-named “Abolitionist Place” in 2007.
“We should be remembering that others were willing to put their lives at risk, their homes at risk in order to help those people to freedom,” said Vaughn. “This place and time, the crossroads of freedom and really violent response to continue the institution of slavery is what we need to be remembering.”
A statement from the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission reads, “the landmarks preservation commission received a request to evaluate 227 Duffield Street as a potential landmark and it is currently under review.”
Activists say historians have long disputed the city’s argument there is no historical significance. One of them is abolition expert Dr. Robert Fanuzzi of St. John’s University.
“White slave owners were coming into New York City and taking black free people, sometimes, but certainly fugitive slaves,” he explained, “and people knew to come to Brooklyn.”
Not only is the home’s significance relevant after more than 150 years, but historians say it solidifies Brooklyn’s place in abolitionist history.
“The entire borough was alive with abolition activity during that time,” said Dr. Fanuzzi. “The abolition movement represented a chance for black people to remake the city in a more Democratic image. It was a movement, it was a network and all of that was in Brooklyn.”
While the goal is to save the home and have it restored and converted into a museum, Vaughn believes preserving this special place is a true way of celebrating black history, in the month of February and always.