After a two-year hiatus, Fleet Week New York is back! So to mark the day that units arrive in New York for the celebration, we will be looking at some of the participating ships, among them two large Navy ships, four training vessels, two Coast Guard cutters, and a Royal Navy icebreaker, and the opportunities to visit them in Manhattan and Staten Island. We will also look at the history of Fleet Week and other naval reviews in New York, from the return of the victorious fleet after the Spanish-American War, the vast flotilla assembled after World War II, and our present-day Fleet Week tradition dating back to 1988. We will share images and stories of some of the special visits of military vessels to our harbor and to the Brooklyn waterfront.
Waterfront workers were at the vanguard of the labor movement; the word “strike” has its origins in work stoppages on the London docks in 1768, when sailors “struck” the sails of ships to keep them in port. In New York, skilled shipworkers organized some of the earliest trade associations, and they agitated for steady wages and reduced working hours as far back as the 1820s. At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, federal regulations and political patronage often stifled workers’ ability to strike, but by the time of World War II, the massive workforce of the Yard was heavily unionized, and the good-paying jobs would form the backbone of Brooklyn’s middle class. In this virtual program, we will examine the long history of labor organizing at the Yard, how workers fought for their rights in the absence of formal unions, and how the unions ultimately proved powerless against changing politics and economics of the shipbuilding industry in New York.
To mark the 80th anniversary since the attack on Pearl Harbor, this virtual program will examine the connections between the fleet in Hawaii in 1941 and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We will look at the histories of the eight ships built at the Yard that were moored in Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning, including the battleships Arizona and Tennessee. We will also discuss the role the Yard played in salvaging the Pacific Fleet in the aftermath of the attack, as more than 1,000 skilled Brooklyn shipworkers volunteered to go to Hawaii to help rebuild.
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.
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.
When looking back at the ship’s history from the perspective of its tragic end, one can’t help but find many omens; when taken together, they seem to have foretold its fate. They are, of course, coincidences, not curses, but fascinating nonetheless.>> Continue reading
Three years ago, in celebration of Presidents Day, we wrote about the handful of times that sitting US presidents had paid visits to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At that time, we only mentioned two such visits – by William Howard Taft, once as president-elect on November 13, 1908, and as soon-to-be-ousted-president on October 30, 1912, and by Woodrow Wilson, on May 11, 1914. But we have since done considerably more historical digging, and we would like to share a few more notable presidential visits.>> Continue reading
Earlier this year, Cindy and I had the privilege of visiting one of the largest and most decorated ships ever built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the battleship USS Iowa. Launched from the Yard in 1942, for more than a year she has resided in Los Angeles as a fantastic museum ship. Thanks to the wonderful hospitality of the Iowa‘s staff, we got an up-close view of this historic piece of Brooklyn handiwork.
When we arrived at the Iowa last spring, we were greeted by Dave Way, the museum’s curator. Over the course of two days, Dave spent several hours with us showing off the ship’s exhibits and archives, and even taking us around some of the areas of the ship that most visitors don’t get to see. Transforming the Iowa into a museum was a monumental task, and Dave has been part of this project for several years. Along with a core group of volunteers, he spent nine months living ins spartan conditions on board the ship up in the Bay Area, working tens of thousands to fix and clean the mothballed vessel. Once the work was done, the Iowa was then towed down to her berth in San Pedro, where she finally opened to the public on July 4, 2012.>> Continue reading