Slave Theater Vacated, but Questions of Ownership Linger

The Times ran a story looking into the long, ugly battle over competing claims of ownership to Bed-Stuy’s Slave Theater. Last week the city put a vacate order on the property, locking out two tenants who each claim to have a stake in the property. The article chronicles the back stories of the various players in the theater’s drama, starting with Judge John L. Phillips Jr., who bought the theater in 1984 and “filled the Slave with African-American political art and murals celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey and other figures from black history.” The judge was placed under guardianship in 2001 and died in 2008 without a will. Meanwhile, Rev. Samuel Boykin, of Ohio, is the judge’s nephew and the administrator of his estate. Boykin has been trying to evict two longtime tenants from the building: Clarence Hardy, who used to sell DVDs in a concession area until last week and claims the judge wanted him to take control of the property, and a televangelist named Rev. Paul Lewis who held regular services in the building and says he once had an agreement to buy the theater for Boykin for $1.6 million. As it stands now, the judge’s estate owes millions in taxes, and Boykin is looking to sell the building, though it’s unclear what that means for the future of the property:

Charles Barron, a councilman from Brooklyn, said the theater should not become just “another commercial entity,” especially as the neighborhood reshaped itself around development dollars. In the Slave’s heyday, he said, going to the theater was like being in an African marketplace. “They’d have the most profound lectures from scholars and historians, and people would be selling socially conscious books and art, and food from around the world. You’d see the diversity of our culture — and it provided people with an income.” Mr. Boykin said he hoped to sell the theater to a church or community group.

Tug of War Over a Civil Rights Legacy [NY Times]
Judge Slaps Vacate Order on Historic Slave Theater [NY Daily News]
Photo by bondidwhat

3 Comment

  • The scholarly Councilman Barron evokes a rather fantastical vision of an African marketplace–a cross between an Ivy League University and Fort Greene, perhaps. It will indeed be sad if this unique historic theatre closes, but it seems to have been afflicted with a case of Terminal Rascalitis–the condition of being run into the ground by rascals–and the presence of the scholarly Councilman Barron would indicate that the condition has yet to run its course.

  • This is a mess of the first order.

    By the time they stop wrangling this one around in court, the building will be rubble. Which is a shame. Brenda, Rascalitis is perfect! If I were the judge, none of them would get the building, they are all highly suspicious. Barron wouldn’t get it either, it’s not in his district.

    Meanwhile, the place is deteriorating. I’ve seen recent photos of the interior, and it’s getting worse every year. As a member of the affected community, I have a sneaky suspicion that the hue and cry for a monument to Black Culture is not as loud as a desire to protect the building and convert it into something that A. Generates jobs and income, and B. is a draw to Bed Stuy. A theater probably wouldn’t do that, but neither would turning it into a Conways.

    I heartily wish that while all the “Rascalitis” is going on, that the building, like an underaged orphan, could get an allowance and an outside neutral guardian, that would enable the structure to be stabilized and protected before there is nothing left to protect.

  • It’s a tragic, cautious tale about greed, corruption, partonage, and other dark sides of human nature. Shame.