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.
February 23 marks 220 years since the founding of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, but 2021 also marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, the non-profit organization that manages the city-owned industrial park. In this birthday celebration, we will look back at the decades-long transformation of the Yard from a military shipbuilding installation into a dynamic and diverse hub of manufacturing, technology, design, and opportunity that hosts more than 500 businesses and 11,000 good-paying jobs. We will be joined by staff from BNYDC, who will share new projects and initiatives, insights on the growth of the Yard in recent years, and how the businesses have navigated the pandemic.
The Brooklyn waterfront is blessed with many cultural institutions, but three of the most unique are led by three dynamic cultural entrepreneurs. The Brooklyn waterfront is richer because of Andrew Gustafson, Carolina Salguero, and David Sharps, who lead Turnstile Tours, PortSide NewYork, and the Waterfront Museum, respectively. Join the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center for a virtual Breakfast Talk with these entrepreneurs as they speak about how they have been navigating their institutions through the pandemic. After each explains their unique mission, they will tell us what they did to carry on during COVID, how they did it, and which of the changes they have made will be carried into post-pandemic Brooklyn.
As the country transitions from one presidential administration to another, the Brooklyn Navy Yard is an instructive historical example, as it was founded amidst the rancorous transition from President John Adams to Thomas Jefferson. Over the next 150 years, more than a dozen sitting US presidents would visit the Yard, and on this Presidents Day virtual program, we will examine many of these presidential visits and their historical and political context. From ship launches to campaign speeches to memorial services, presidents have used the Yard as a backdrop for a variety of official duties. And since the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, the Navy Yards were some of the largest employers of civilians in the federal government, making them important symbols of federal power, and centers of political patronage.
Please join our friends at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for a virtual opening of new public art, Atmosphere for Invention, now on view in Buildings 77 and 92. The program will include the premiere of a short video featuring all nine artists and their new works, as well as remarks, virtual cheers and toasts, and Q&A. The Brooklyn Navy Yard has initiated a public art program for artists seeking to create site-specific installations in public spaces. With the cultural sector among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the initiative serves to economically uplift members of the Yard’s creative community while also providing the community with art activations to enjoy around the site. Each of the works on view use elements of color, texture, and light to establish a dialogue with the history of the site as well as its evolving ecosystem of people, labor, and infrastructure. Together, the works capture the innovative spirit of the Yard and its forward-looking future. Artists on view include Tatiana Arocha, Beth Campbell, Paul Campbell, JC Cancedda, Noël Copeland, Monique Luchetti, Jackie Meier, Lindsay Walt, and Tracy Wuischpard.
Since 2003, IceStone has been manufacturing countertops in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Made from 100% recycled glass, cement, and pigment, their unique designs and innovative production process have made IceStone a leading company in sustainable manufacturing. On this virtual tour, we will explore their products and process with Marketing Director Ashon McCollin, who will walk us through their factory, discuss commercial and residential projects they have worked on, and highlight the company’s initiatives to support the environment and their workers, which have made them a Certified B Corporation and a leader in the social enterprise movement.
On December 19, 1960, the Brooklyn Navy Yard suffered the worst accident in its history, a devastating fire aboard the USS Constellation that killed 50 workers. This fire was not only a tragedy for those who were killed and injured and their families, but it marked a turning point in the Yard’s history that many believe led to its closure less than six years later. Over the years, we have had the honor to meet many people that lived through this ordeal, and we will share oral histories and photos from the Brooklyn Navy Yard Archives to reconstruct this fateful day and examine its impact on individuals, the city, and the Navy.
December 7, 1941 is a date that is indelible in American history, but 24 years earlier, that date also marked an important moment: the arrival of Battle Division 9 to Scapa Flow, the first American battleships to join the British Grand Fleet, which included the Brooklyn Navy Yard-built USS New York and USS Florida. We will discuss the special role of the US Navy in the naval war, in which battleships actually played a very small part. Places like the Brooklyn Navy Yard were instead tasked with building submarine chasers and painting “dazzle” camouflage schemes to counter German U-boats, and American manufacturing was mobilized to produce more than 50,000 mines for the North Sea Mine Barrage to close off passage to the Atlantic from Germany.
On the eve of Veterans Day, join us as we explore Brooklyn’s homefront during World War II through the experiences of those who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Center for Brooklyn History archivists Amy Lau and Mary Mann team up with Turnstile Tours’ Andrew Gustafson to lead us on an intimate journey that weaves together oral history clips from CBH’s Brooklyn Navy Yard collection, excerpts of letters to loved ones overseas, and photographs of the Yard and its workers. These first-hand stories, primarily from women and people of color, bring to life the WWII efforts of those who remained at home.