Brooklyn’s Role in Freeing America’s Slaves

Tags: Currents Abolition, Abolitionist, Black History, Black History Month, Brooklyn, NY, Inspiration, New York, New York City, New York News, New York State, Queens, NY, Slavery, World News

By Emily Drooby

Weeksville, Brooklyn was one of the first communities for free black Americans in the nation.

Now, this almost 200-year-old neighborhood is preserved for all to experience – at Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights.

The historic houses have been basically untouched by time.

“It’s a piece of history that’s still alive, that’s still there. It’s tangible, you can see it, you can touch it,” explained Anita Warren, deputy director of the Weeksville Heritage Center.

The original Weeksville community was established in 1838, 11 years after slavery was abolished in New York State. 

“John Lefferts of the Lefferts family dies, and his heirs find out that he is land-rich but cash-poor, so they begin a process of starting to sell parcels of land to make money,” said Rob Fields, the center’s executive director.

Some sold to James Weeks, who helped create Weeksville. It was a safe haven for freed black Americans — created during a time when slavery was still legal in many areas – and slave catchers were still a threat. 

This safety fostered success: the neighborhood produced  influential members of society, like the first black female doctor in New York. 

The community thrived too: it had a school, its own newspaper and three Christian churches. 

“Weeksville represents black people trying to live out the American dream, trying to be self-sufficient, trying to be entrepreneurial,” explained Fields. 

The Weeksville Heritage Center now protects this important history and teaches it to others, conducting tours on Saturdays during Black History Month and creating more opportunities to introduce the world to this hidden historical gem.