Black Sailors and Shipworkers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 1866–1966 | Episode 195

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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.

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The Brooklyn Navy Yard and the US Occupation of Haiti, 1915–1934

Portrait of Gompers as a young man in a suit and a newsboy style hat.

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