The Civil War and Prospect Park | Episode 234

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Did you know that Prospect Park has a piece of Gettysburg’s famed Little Round Top? And one of the oldest statues of Abraham Lincoln in America? While memorials to the Civil War are prominent features of the park, the war itself also shaped its design. ​Co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted spent the war directing the US Sanitary Commission, which provided medical care to the Union Army, and that experience influenced his ideas on public space and public health. On this virtual tour, we will explore the park’s many Civil War connections, from Grand Army Plaza to the Parade Ground.

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Famous and Forgotten: Street Names of the Brooklyn Navy Yard | Episode 232

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Behind the gates of the Brooklyn Navy Yard lies a network of streets that are a mystery to most New Yorkers. Named for naval heroes, shipyard operations, and even a numbered grid, these streets trace the Yard’s history from the War of 1812 through World War II. While new attention has been given to how and whom we memorialize in our public places and streets, we will unpack the stories of the people behind these street names as we virtually walk through the history of the Yard.

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Race, Riots, and the Right to Learn: Black Education in Antebellum New York | Episode 227

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The formal education of Black New Yorkers began with the Manumission Society’s African Free Schools, which first opened in 1787. Though the city was at the forefront of Black education, it would take decades to break down barriers to higher education, and schools, students, teachers, and benefactors were under threat of racial violence. This virtual program will examine the early history of Black schools in the city and neighboring Brooklyn, and the impact the evolving political discourse – and violence – around slavery had on them. This discussion will be hosted not in New York, but near the small town of Canaan, New Hampshire, which was the site of a horrific act of racial violence in 1835: the destruction of the Noyes Academy, the first racially-integrated college preparatory school in the country.

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An Unfree Fleet: Slavery and the Brooklyn Navy Yard | Episode 106

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When the Brooklyn Navy Yard was founded in 1801, more than a quarter of the inhabitants of Kings County were enslaved, and 60% of households included an enslaved person. This program will look at how the institution of slavery was intricately linked to the operations of the Yard, even after New York enacted emancipation in 1827. From timber, rope, and nails produced by enslaved labor in the South, to the enslaved people living and working at the Yard itself, the institution of slavery was embedded in the life of the Navy. This program will be hosted by our Brooklyn Navy Yard historian Andrew Gustafson.

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Slavery and the Brooklyn Navy Yard

After nearly 12 years of leading tours at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, one of the most difficult questions we get – and almost always from young people – is this: Were there slaves here?

This question is vexing not just because of the complex and painful subject matter, but also because the historical record is incomplete. The result is usually an imprecise and unsatisfying answer. In short, yes, enslaved people were an integral part of life at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for the 60 years leading up to the Civil War, just as they were across Brooklyn and New York City.

This is an effort to unpack that complexity and get somewhere closer to the historical truth of the matter.

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