The celebrate Black History Month and the 220th birthday at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we are looking at the obstacles and opportunities that Black people encountered at the Brooklyn Navy Yard from the end of the Civil War through the Yard’s closure a century later. The program will examine the long history of African-Americans in the maritime trades, their systematic exclusion from the uniformed ranks of the US Navy in the Jim Crow era, and the new opportunities that emerged during World War II. We will look at profiles of trailblazers, innovators, and activists who worked and served there, and how the Yard became an important to Black economic and cultural life in Brooklyn. This virtual program follows up where we left off with last year’s “An Unfree Fleet,” which looked at the Yard’s connections to the institution of slavery.
Join us for a conversation with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, which has transformed a 1.7-acre former Naval Cemetery into a public green space and an oasis for plants, animals, and humans alike on the eastern edge of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We will discuss the history of this burial ground, the innovative design of the landscaping, and BGI’s programming and efforts to complete a continuous 26-mile bicycle and pedestrian pathway along Brooklyn’s waterfront.
For over 200 years, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has been on the cutting edge of innovation, first as a leading shipyard for the US Navy, and today as a home to 500+ industrial, manufacturing, design, and technology companies. We’ll look back at inventions – some small enough to hold, some as large as ships – both groundbreaking and mundane, that shaped the history of the Yard and the wider world.
As we reflect on the deeper meaning and troubling implication of the US president describing certain foreign countries as “shitholes,” it has also opened an opportunity to think critically about how and why these places became impoverished. Often, European and American imperial intervention – or outright exploitation – played a significant role. While we celebrate the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a center of innovation, labor, and service, we must also recognize its role in projecting American power across the globe, sometimes for less-than-noble ends.
Take Haiti, the world’s first free black republic, founded as the result of a slave rebellion against French colonial rule. Following the revolution, France and the Great Powers attempted to strangle this young nation in the crib, placing trade embargoes and saddling it with astronomical debt. The United State has a long and complicated history with the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, but the height of US involvement was when the American military occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Many of the actions of this military operation originated 1,300 miles away in Brooklyn.>> Continue reading
Our friends at the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) achieved a great milestone Friday when they officially opened the Naval Cemetery Landscape at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The beautifully designed 1.7-acre green space is publicly accessible along the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a landscaped bicycle and pedestrian path that, when completed, will run 27 miles from Greenpoint to Jamaica Bay. One of 130 green spaces funded by TKF Foundation’s Open Spaces Sacred Places program, the Naval Cemetery Landscape serves as a remembrance of the site’s rich and poignant history as a once-forgotten military cemetery, while creating a new and vibrant ecological sanctuary where we can all take a moment to escape urban clutter and reflect in nature.>> Continue reading
With all the major development projects underway at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (the Green Manufacturing Center, Wegman’s, Building 77, Steiner Studios expansion – the list goes on …), it is easy to forget a very exciting, if comparatively modest, project in a quiet corner of the Yard.
For the last several years, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative has been working to transform a portion of the Yard into a publicly-accessible greenspace. After years of planning, construction is now well underway of the Naval Cemetery Landscape, built on the site of the former Brooklyn Naval Hospital Cemetery. Located at the corner of Williamsburg St West and Kent Ave, this park will be a beautiful pocket of nature and civic history along the planned Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, a 14-mile bicycle and pedestrian path which will run from Greenpoint all the way to Bay Ridge.>> Continue reading
Earlier this month, the New York Obscura Society embarked on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard to explore the rich history of the vast 300-acre property. Led by Andrew Gustafson of Turnstile Tours, the tour chronicled the Yard’s evolution, which originally served as a shipyard from 1776 to 1965 and is now an industrial park with thriving manufacturing and commercial activity where over 200 businesses employ more than 5,000 people.
This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the tragic events of Port Chicago, California, the worst home front disaster of World War II. 320 people were killed, most of them US Navy sailors, in an explosion at a naval munitions loading station, but it was more than just a tragic accident – the events leading up to and following the explosion exposed the appalling racial discrimination and mistreatment faced by African-American sailors during the war.
Located on central California’s Suisun Bay, Port Chicago was one of the largest and busiest weapons stations in the country, loading explosives onto ships bound for the Pacific Theater. All of the enlisted sailors carrying out these dangerous operations were African-American; all of their commanding officers were white. While many of these men had received training to pursue a naval rating, or a specific skill, they, like most of their black counterparts across the Navy, were employed only for manual labor. And the conditions at the port were incredibly dangerous. Commanders utilized “speed contests” to push the men to load more quickly, and almost none of the men had received specific instructions in ammunition loading or proper safety training.>> Continue reading
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is known for its muscular collection of industrial architecture. Here, the battleship Missouri and other warships were built and repaired until the yard closed five decades ago. The regular weekend tours of the Navy Yard cover that and more, but at the end comes an unexpected treat: the magnificent, slightly sagging Naval Hospital, a ghostly marble temple built in 1838 and empty for two decades. A new plan may sweep away the cobwebs.
Since it was decommissioned in 1966, the Brooklyn Navy Yard has morphed into a thriving center for independent industry and creative businesses, with many of its old military complexes and ship-building facilities being transformed into offices and studios. However, there are still areas of this massive area that once was a hub of naval ship construction that remain abandoned, and there it’s easiest to descend quickly into the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s history.
I recently visited the Navy Yard with Turnstile Tours, which offers a variety of tours at the Navy Yard, including one on World War II and one for photographers. Our final stop after an extensive exploration through the former military center’s history was one of those still-abandoned places: the Naval Hospital.